I only met them towards the end of their lives, after they had used up their bag of tricks.
Over the last couple of years I've shot a lot of film, and there comes a time when a man who shoots a lot of film decides to photograph his stash of film. It's a way of showing off, like photographing your car or taking nude selfies or blogging about your kids. The message is "look, I'm really good at raising kids, unlike other people (but not you, you are alright)".
And you, dear reader, you are alright. There was a time when the only people likely to read an article on the internet were nerds, and I mention this because I am reading a book called Virtual Worlds, which was published in 1992 and is about the coming virtual reality revolution.
Here is a photograph of the sole, solitary paragraph about "internet", which in 1992 was just a boring computer network of no special importance:
To be fair, the book is otherwise level-headed - author Benjamin Woolley generally dismisses VR in the first chapter as a lot of hype put out by a clique of backslappers. The book is thenceforth a primer on emerging issues in the computer landscape circa the early 1990s, touching on post-modernism, artificial intelligence, the future of the written word, fractals, simulation and imitation, EuroDisney, Fly Fishing by J R Hartley - a fictional book by a fictional author created for an advertising campaign, that became "real" when the advertising agency hired an author to ghost-write Fly Fishing albeit that you can't ghost-write a... but it was a literal ghost, a literal literary ghost almost a literal ghost because he wasn't dead because HE WAS NEVER ALIVE he was never alive
Be hol never alive. He was n . the book appears to be loosely spun-off from "Signs of Life", an episode of the BBC2 documentary series Horizon. Back when Horizon was hardcore, difficult to follow and full of wonder. Virtual Worlds is at heart a philosophical exploration of post-modernism and the nature of reality, with a bit of VR running through it. It's a breathless read and I wish the author would go back and edit it, extend it out a bit, slow it down. I imagine that readers in 1992 were disappointed that it didn't have more coverage of teledilonics, or an accompanying CD-ROM with some tiny video clips of Japanese noise musicians or Californian techno-nomads.
There has always been a huge strand of commercialism running through the world of computing, driving it along, but in the early 1990s the money seemed to take a back seat, if only temporarily, to dreams about how the emerging new mediums of hypertext and non-linear navigation might reshape human thought. We were on the cusp of a hyperrealistic paradigm that would usher in the third and final millennium. But human thought tends to route around disruption and revert back to a fixation on fighting and drinking and studying women's bottoms thus the internet as we know it today. The irony is that most people who tried hard to make money out of the internet in the 1990s ended up no better off than the theorists; and many of those who made a personal fortune only made a small fortune, and they had better look after it because it was their one and only trick.
I was alive and conscious in 1992. Just like everybody else I remember thinking that the buzz surrounding VR was out of all proportion to its reality and to its expected prospects. A few years later mobile phones suddenly became ubiquitous in the UK, not because they were featured in Horizon as the hot new thing, but because people wanted them. Nokia did not need to sell the benefits of mobile communication or convince us that we might want a phone. We craved, desired, needed mobile phones, and in the space of what seemed like a few weeks everybody in Britain suddenly had a Nokia 6110. If people had wanted VR, it would have taken off. Instead it was a market-led phenomenon that struggled to find a niche. A 3D simulation of the real world is a surprisingly inappropriate interface for most things that people do with computers today.
The VR pioneers of Virtual Worlds wanted to apply a 3D interface to everything, because in their opinion it was the future. Hence the stereotype of the virtual reality 3D shopping mall, where the customer is represented by a 3D hand that he had to move along 3D shelves, putting 3D items into a 3D basket. Because people were used to real-life malls, and it would be cool to replicate that in 3D. Because it would be in 3D. Notwithstanding that it would take ages to do anything, and require a monster PC. The idea of a 3D shopping mall was superficially attractive but made no sense on further reflection. Why not simply click department - computer - USB sticks - order? It takes a few seconds, and is the model Amazon and other shops use nowadays.
Interfaces that evolved in the physical world do not map effectively to a flat computer screen, because they have evolved to solve fundamentally different problems. In a way, the VR pioneers were retrograde, because they were trying to apply the paradigms of the old, physical world to the new world of instant everything and travelling without moving.
Or travelling without travelling, because the future of human endeavour is not travel. Not travelling to the video store, not travelling to the supermarket. Not travelling to the travel agent or the cinema, and perhaps one day not travelling to work. The future will be a fundamental paradigm shift; not the transformation of travel, but its elimination.
But I digress. I like to think that postmodernism has given way to a pragmatic modernist revival - pragmodernism, if you will. But put your trousers back on and have a look at my current stash of film:
A mixture of "speedy green", "K", "spangle", "top white" and "electric knockers" as the youth of today call them. Just one of those packets is enough to stun a horse, so imagine what it could do to your daughter. Do you know where she was last night? It wasn't choir practice, I'll tell you that for sure. She's a groupie, and you're not the only man she calls daddy.
You know, sometimes writing a blog post is a bit like having sex. It goes wrong, you bite off more than you can chew, and you have to make a decision whether to give up and try something else, or press on and chalk it up to experience. I will press on. What use is all this film if I don't use it? And bearing in mind the absence of a scientific method, what is this film like? More importantly, how does it feel? Do I like it?
None good good yes yes in that order. Kodak Portra is still available, in both 160 and 400-speed versions. It has a subdued palette aimed squarely at portrait and wedding photographers, and is often overlooked by modern hobbyists because of this because it's boring. The most dramatic, exciting films tend to have high contrast and a saturated palette, which is no good for human skin. Unless you happen to be Lupita Nyong'o, and I'm not mentioning her as clickbait; she has a fascinating skull. Skulls and mountains and buildings and planets are basically shapes, collections of shapes, they appeal to the same part of the brain that responds to shapes.
Straight from the Epson V500, the ISO 160 version is downright pale, especially when shot in overcast conditions, but it buffs up nicely with Photoshop. Outside the context of shooting people in sunlight it feels a bit unspectacular. Portra 400 shot at ISO 200 in sunshine apparently has a lovely subtle pastely look, but I haven't shot any yet so I can't comment. I have some rolls of it, I will have to take notes.
One of the good things about print film, and Portra in particular, is that it retains highlights without blowing them out. Viz the shot above, which isn't much cop as a picture but illustrates Portra's dynamic range well (a digital sensor would have captured the glowing light as a 255, 255, 255 white circle).
Kodak Ektar 100
Ektar was introduced in 2009 and essentially replaces Kodak's slide films, although it's actually a print film. It has a punchy look with a distinctive colour palette - magenta shadows, with foliage turning straw-coloured - and can be used all the time. For portraits it's apparently too saturated without Photoshop alteration, but it was designed with Photoshop in mind, so that's okay. If this was a magazine, the following few paragraphs would be in a box separated from the main text. Imagine that they are.
BOXOUT: That's the Look, That's the Look, That's the Look (of Film)
At the risk of repeating myself, when people talk about the look of film they're probably talking about the look of faded prints, or faded slides. When the photographs were first taken they didn't have the popular Instagram look; our memories of film are actually of film plus twenty years of poor storage.
Without having access to the negatives it's difficult to form an opinion on the look of old film from looking at classic photographs on the internet, because they were often edited at some point, if only to burn in the sky or paint over some of the imperfections. The famous shots of landing craft hitting the beach at D-Day, for example, were all shot with film, but the reproductions we see are actually scans of edited prints.
Contemplate the following. In both cases I've put the image that, in my opinion, looks most like the original negative at the top, with the edits beneath them:
You can see where someone has burned in the sky to make the print look more dramatic. In the "Jaws of Death" image the top of the ramp's support struts have been burned in as well. These edits have become the new standard, and are repeated in newspapers and websites, displacing the originals. Historians in the future will write about how the sky at Normandy was "black, as if the sun itself had died... the sky was blackened with the ashes of the Third Reich... as they stormed the beach, the soldiers had to contend with a deathly pall etc" because they will base their opinion on edited prints. They won't realise that it wasn't like that in real life. How much of our history is wrong?
In the past it was common to make a big print and then run over the spots and scars and so forth with an airbrush, which was especially easy with high-contrast black and white. The Soviet Union famously airbrushed entire people out of the historical record, so that the audience of the future, forming its opinion from photographs, would remember a constructed reality. This was Winston Smith's job in 1984, albeit that he was altering newspapers rather than pictures. No doubt in recent years there was a man at the BBC whose job it was to flag up any media featuring former top DJ and sex predator Jimmy Saville, whether it was video clips of Top of the Pops, archived webpages, recordings of Radio One, articles about the London Marathon etc. Perhaps the BBC has a full-time historical multimedia sanitiser who does this every day, as people fall out of favour.
Our memories of the past outside our small circle of direct experience, and from before we were born, are formed from secondary sources, and ultimately our memories are not of the past at all, they are of the secondary sources. We remember the record, not the reality. It is often opined that history is written by the winners, that there is no fate but what we make. The USSR was shrewd enough to recognise that it had to construct a fake present, because the real present wasn't working. The USSR was prepared to let its citizens starve rather than admit it was wrong, and although that kind of resolve is admirable - and sustainable, if there are enough citizens - it falls apart in the presence of external competition.
A part of me wonders if they were all misguided, all the future-constructors, the historical spinners. They assumed that people in the future would care about the past, and that if you could own the historical record you would own the future. Historians believe in the power of history - their jobs would be meaningless otherwise - but in reality people blunder into the future without thinking about the past. What is the point of owning the historical record if no-one looks at it?
But, film. The only readily available high-resolution scans on the internet of technically excellent photography from the 1950s and 1960s are of Playboy centrefolds, which were shot by skilled photographers using large-format cameras. To my eyes Playboy's centrefolds don't look particularly film-y - they look large format-y - because Playboy had high standards, and both digital and analogue photographic workflows have been designed to approach a common standard of colour reproduction and tonality.
I mention Playboy in particular because I have the impression they scanned their image library at a very high resolution in the late 1990s, on the assumption that it would be a valuable asset in the then-new internet economy, and that the files available today are essentially those available in the late 1990s, and that they were relatively untouched from the originals when they were scanned. Of course the originals were probably edited via analogue means, but I assume this was more for unsightly details rather than the general look.
The images in this article that you're reading now - something about Kodak Ektar, remember? - were scanned with an Epson V500, an unexceptional but versatile desktop scanner that scans medium format and 35mm. I used Epson's own scanning software, running under Photoshop. For the most part I set the black point and then played with the levels until they resembled my memory of reality; the V500 doesn't have colour profiles for different film stocks, and I'm not prepared to carry a grey card around with me.
Ektar is technically a professional film although it could easily become Kodak's only consumer print film, if there was a 400-speed version for dim light. I've shot it a lot but never really warmed to it. The colours go a bit odd, yellowy and saturated, if the exposure is off, which serves you right for using the wrong settings but is irritating with print film. ISO 100 is limiting indoors.
Kodak sold another Ektar film in the 1980s, which occasionally pops up on eBay although it expired long ago. I have no idea what the old Ektar was like; it was available in an odd range of speeds (ISO 25, 100, 125, and 1000(!)).
Kodak Ektachrome 160T
This is a tungsten-balanced film which looks blue under daylight, although Photoshop will correct it:
It's therefore a viable choice for everyday shooting if you find some cheaply on eBay, doubly so if you have a yellow filter. Shooting 160T through a yellow filter will, as far as I can tell, transform the film into an equivalent of plain daylight-balanced Ektachrome 100. Tungsten film was a niche even in the heyday of film, and fell out of use in the 2000s; Ektachrome itself was discontinued a few years ago, indeed all of Kodak's slide films are now gone.
Plain Ektachrome was available in several different flavours. Over time, Kodak increased the saturation, especially after the launch of Fuji's Velvia in 1990. Like all slide films it makes you feel like a God, because the negatives look awesome, especially if you shoot medium format.
The older Ektachrome
Ektachrome 100VS, the latter-day vivid saturation version, shot on a sunny day with a polarising filter
Kodak Black and White
I'm wary of opining on black and white film, because I develop my own, to my own unexacting standards. There are too many variables. I've only ever shot Tri-X at ISO 400, for example, generally in dim light, which tends to involve lots of point light sources and patches of blackness; photojournalists usually push-processed it, which boosted the contrast. My emotional impression is that Kodak Tri-X is black, and resembles old textbooks and newspapers from the 1970s. The shadows tend to be black. Whereas TMax is grey, and resembles colour film that has been desaturated; but with Photoshop the difference is just a few clicks away.
Ilford HP5 and Fuji Acros
The other most-popular black and white print films. To my eye they resemble TMax, in the sense that they don't inherently stand out, although HP5 feels grainier and Acros has some of Tri-Xs clipped blacks.
Ilford has a wide range of black and white films, but I have only shot the odd roll or two of them. FP4 is a low-grain cousin of HP5, Pan F is a low-grain, slow-speed film, Delta is apparently a low-grain analogue of TMax, and I suspect that Ilford could slim its range down without anybody complaining. Ilford also sells a range of photo papers and developers, and my hunch is that these films work best with a certain Ilford-specific workflow - film, developer, paper - that I have not tried. I develop film and then scan it, I don't make analogue prints.
There is also Ilford XP2, a chromogenic film that shoots black and white but can be processed with colour chemicals, in a standard colour minilab. Kodak has a similar film called BWC400N, which I have not used. I shot a lot of XP2 about fifteen years ago, when I first became interested enough in photography to spend money on it. My recollection is that the results were muddy. This is a common opinion on the internet (a quick google for "ilford XP2 muddy" throws up half a dozen people who have the same impression), and can apparently be alleviated by dialling the ISO down and shooting for the shadows.
XP2 can be processed in standard black and white chemicals, but I imagine the results would be very flat. In fact, colour films in general can be processed as if they were black and white, for example the following image, which was shot with a roll of Fuji 400N that became mixed in with a bunch of black and white rolls I processed in Rodinal:
My other recollection of XP2 is that, although its raison d'etre was standard minilab processing, most minilabs wouldn't take it, and insisted on posting it off to be developed as black and white. Now that I develop my own film it doesn't make much sense for me, so I never use it. It would actually cost me more to develop than regular black and white.
Chromogenic film was launched at the dawn of the 1980s, and according to an article in the Feb 1981 Pop Sci its original selling point was that it used less silver than conventional black and white film, which was important because silver prices had climbed sharply in the late 1970s. The Hunt Brothers were trying to dominate the world silver market by buying all the silver they could get hold of, which had the knock-on effect of causing film prices to rise, because photographic film needs silver. The article mentions Ilford XP1 and Agfa Vario-XL as the pioneers. The writer is keen on XP1, unimpressed with Vario-XL, but concludes that conventional Panatomic-X beats them both.
I have the impression that chromogenic films went nowhere until the 1990s, at which point the cost and awkwardicity of black and white development gave the concept a second wind.
Fuji Velvia and Velvia and Provia
During the 1980s and 1990s one of the big photographic rivalries was between Japanese upstarts Fuji and big American V8 muscle car titans Kodak. Fuji had long been number two, and like Avis the company tried very hard during the 1980s to build up its market share. Fuji eventually became the official photographic sponsor of the 1984 Olympics, and although Kodak managed to effectively fight back (by outspending Fuji's advertising department) it must have irritated Kodak's management. The rivalry broke out into a full-scale price war by the late 1990s, by which time it was becoming generally accepted that Kodak was relying too much on its size and past glories.
In 1990, Fuji shook things up with Fuji Velvia, a new slide film that had a distinctive and very attractive look that made Kodak's Ektachrome seem staid. If you ever saw a magazine advert in the 1990s, you saw Velvia. National Geographic fell in love with it. It makes the sky look purple and flatters greens and reds. In the UK it is particularly handy because it makes overcast light look good. It is not the same as turning up Photoshop's "vibrance" slider.
My experience of scanning it is that Velvia 50 often looks and feels very dense; some photographers shoot it at ISO 40 or 32 so that the shadows don't block up. I mentally imagine the scanner trying hard to push light through it.
Velvia was originally available in a super-saturated ISO 50 version called Fujichrome Velvia RVP, which was discontinued and replaced with a less-saturated ISO 100 version called Velvia 100F, which was joined by a new ISO 50 Velvia called Velvia 50 that was supposed to resemble the original, and then there was a new ISO 100 version called Velvia 100 (no F) that was also supposed to resemble the original, but faster. And 100F was discontinued because nobody liked it.
Got that? I have mostly shot the ISO 50 versions. The medium format images above and below were taken with the new Velvia 50, the half-frame images were shot with some expired Fujichrome RVP. When faced with the choice, why not shoot the real thing? Albeit that it's not really the real thing, unless you buy expired, preserved rolls of the original Velvia. NB All of the slide films in this article can still be processed at any self-respecting photo developer, although smaller outfits will probably have to send it off somewhere. Tick the box marked E6. I've left out Kodachrome because the process has been discontinued and there's no reason to shoot it any more.
Provia is Fuji's regular slide film. It doesn't grab me. It appeals to landscape photographers who want something subtler than Velvia, but for my needs why not shoot Velvia 100F, or use print film instead? Fuji also sells Astia, a slide film analogue of Kodak Portra, with a subdued colour palette. I have never used it.
For a while the ISO 400 version of Provia, 400X, was the only fast slide film on the market, but sadly it was discontinued last year. As far as I can tell this leaves Velvia 50, Velvia 100, and Provia 100F as the only remaining slide films that you can buy new from anyone anywhere. Fuji won the war. Kodak was not too big to fail after all. "But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him."
Slide film itself is probably not going to be around for much longer. Which is sad, but sad. Slide film looks fantastic when you hold it up to the light, as if you were peering through little glass windows into another world. It tends to have less obvious grain than print film and has a smooth look that resembles digital photographs, which is one of the reasons why it died out in the professional marketplace; once digital cameras could output sufficient resolution, slide film was pushed into ever-smaller niches.
Slide film is awkward to use, too. Photoshop helps the old problem of balancing colour, but overexposed slide film defies correction. Clouds in particular look awful if you try to burn the sky. The next and next-but-one images (the camels and the boat) are overexposed, and will never look natural. I was not prepared to stand around until sunset with a tripod and a bunch of graduated filters, which is what separates me from Mr National Geographic. Not prepared because I was not being paid.
I ended up with some Provia hanging around, so I had it cross-processed, in which case it came out a little green but otherwise much the same:
Fuji Pro 400H
400H is Fuji's professional general-purpose print film. It has wide latitude and I usually shoot it at ISO 200, in which case it develops a subdued, somewhat pastel appearance that would remind me of Kodak Portra 400 if I had shot any Portra 400 to remind me of.
The lovely Nikita Sablier
Demonstrating that men are programmed to respond to shape, not size, and that good packaging is sexy
Fuji 400H, run through Photoshop
Fuji 400H not run through Photoshop
There is a 160-speed version, which I have only shot a few times. It reminds me a lot of Kodak's Portra 160 but less stark, warmer, a bit yellower.
Shot with a Holga on an overcast day, so the exposure is probably all over the place
This is Fuji's consumer film. I like it a lot. It has punchy greens and reds and is available in two speeds - 200 and 400 - although I tend to shoot both at ISO 200, and they may well indeed be the exact same film. Kodak's equivalent is Kodak Gold, which I rarely see in the shops any more, and I haven't used for years. This is I assume a legacy of the price war mentioned above; Fuji got their films into more shops than Kodak.
I haven't mentioned pound shop film, which here in the UK used to be Ferrania Solaris, but now seems to be Agfa something or other. My memory of Solaris was that it was perfectly okay but a bit grainy, and I haven't tried Agfa something or other.
Superia has a thing for green, which I've exaggerated in the following image. It makes things look a bit like The Matrix, which is a reference that will go over the heads of younger readers. It's tempting to pretend that the sequels didn't happen, but they were watchable and intermittently clever.
And The Second Renaissance was... cheap, but if there was one franchise that would have benefited from prequels, The Matrix was it. There was no satisfactory way to continue the storyline of The Matrix beyond the first film. The computers had won, the Earth was ruined. The future was a needle penetrating the human skull forever. The Star Wars universe is open-ended, The Matrix was a dead end.
Colorplus is Kodak's dirt-cheap poor person film. I find that it has a dull, uninteresting colour palette that tends to go purple in the shadows, and I only use it because I bought a bunch of the stuff at a knock-down price.
On the other hand, it's probably the most archetypal colour print film of all the choices presented in this article. When families went on holiday in the 20th century, or bought a few rolls to photograph their grandmother's birthday, they bought the cheapest film they could find. Kodak Colorplus was that film, if not Colorplus itself then whatever cheap film Kodak made in bulk in those days, Kodacolor something or other. Sometimes they bought Kodakchrome, but only if they were a bit flush. They didn't buy Fuji Velvia or Kodak Portra, they bought Kodak Colorplus that had been sitting in the stockroom for six months and on the shelf in the warm for a further month.
The Novelty Black and White Films
These appear on eBay and the nether regions of the internet, and vanish and then re-appear. They are fetishised by god-awful process people for whom the act of taking pictures with film is the entire point of shooting with film; the images are superfluous. Not like you; you are alright. I mean them. Judging by Flickr and Photo.net, photography is a visual art form that magnetically attracts people who do not have a visual sense and are uninterested in art. They are the public face of photography, but they are not photography at all. They are sad old men hanging around the local pub. People who have reached the end, who were never on the right track, who have nothing left.
Wind back to Virtual Worlds. It was supposed to be better than this. Take the whole world and give it a voice and the means to show off and this is the result? What happened to the good people? Where did they go? Did we offend them?
But perhaps the world is better. Looking through old issues of Popular Photography from the 1980s with Google Books, the standard is obviously much higher than the typical Flickr group, even with thirty years of technical progress. And the classic photographs of the distant past that have survived to the present still have power, albeit that some of that power comes from the novelty of age. The internet has thrown up a lot of fads but not much of lasting worth, but was the same true of analogue photography, fifteen years after its birth? It's unfair to compare Pop Photo and the entire Twentieth Century with a faddish image hosting website, but the widespread availability of images and general collapse of copyright enforcement has produced an environment where photography is essentially devalued. It's just filler now. Flickr has shown that hundreds of thousands of people uploading millions of images, some of which were supposed to be good, can still have a zero per cent strike rate. It is possible for millions upon millions of people to be wrong. For a day's worth of the whole world's uploads to have absolutely nothing of worth.
Are photographs a means to an end, or an end in themselves? I suppose they are, like all art, a means to an end. Art illustrates and illuminates. But there is no reason why the journey should be unpleasant.
Polypan F 50
Some photographers have a knack for producing arresting images with black and white film. Most don't, but why did they persist? The world of awful internet photography is full of people who shoot with black and white film because Henri Cartier-Bresson shot black and white, and they want to be like him, so they copy his gear.
But Henri Cartier-Bresson shot black and white for solid practical reasons. Film was, for him, the paper on which his art was drawn. If you want to become Cartier-Bresson you have to copy the things that inspired him, otherwise you're only imitating a surface. You are Gary Numan to Cartier-Bresson's David Bowie. And you have to accept that the things he was inspired by might not be relevant any more. Cartier-Bresson is as much Paris and the lives and times he passed amongst as he is black and white film, and Paris isn't coming back.
Much as I am suspicious of the Lomo people, there is something to be said for photography as an extension of a life lived. Put the best camera in the hands of a boring person and you get nothing; give a thinker or feeler or life-liver a cheap point-and-shoot and he or she will bring back something, from a world of dreams and life.
For Cartier-Bresson photography was not the process of photographing things with black and white film, it was the act of capturing the emotional truth of a scene, or the act of generating a new sensation with an image, or perhaps he was simply paying the rent with some grab-shots of cute Parisians. Arty girly touchy-feely stuff, practical business stuff. Internet photographers never talk about that. They're not photographers at all, they're gear enthusiasts. They aren't fighters in the arena. Their faces are untouched by dust and sweat and blood.
Neither is mine. There's a point when every DJ realises he is just a DJ, and that no matter who hard he can rock a party he is still playing records made by other people. Photographers are, for the most part, DJs whose records are the stuff of human life. Eddie Adams watched as another man's brains were blown out, he did not pull the trigger. He watched as real life happened in front of him.
"You're beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God's name, you people are the real thing! We are the illusion!"
There are types of photography that use composition and stylisation to create something new, that do not simply record reality. My own photography is along these lines. I do not just record my tiny part of the world, I am trying to create something with natural materials, like the artists who create sculptures by balancing rocks that they found on the beach. My photographs are individual pebbles balanced on top of each other, collectively a three-dimensional doodle intended to interfere with the order of the universe. By shifting stones on the beach I am mocking chaos, mocking gravity and physics, raising my fists to the shape of creation and challenging it to do better.
I shoot in colour because the world is in colour, and also because I can get hold of cheap colour film. I shoot black and white because some things look better in black and white, but not many; and often I shoot black and white because I can get hold of cheap black and white film, no other reason. A scene has height and width and depth and colour, why remove one of those things? But it has emotion as well, and feelings are subtle things. If the audience associates black and white with classic images of the past, with brutal bleak truth... but to what extent should an artist shape the world around him, or instead flatter it?
Internet photographers don't think about this. They don't think. Their photographs aren't compositions, they're just aide-memoires. Tourist snapshots. Bad photographers take crappy photos of the Grand Canyon or a naked woman or some anonymous nobodies in the street and present them as great art because, at the time, the photographer felt that he was making great art. When he looked at his photographs later on he didn't see the image, he saw his memories of the Grand Canyon, the naked woman, the boring stranger, and that's all he saw. He saw his own feelings, not the image. He didn't see the flat lighting and the discarded crisp packet on the floor behind the model, or the washing machine tag in her underwear, because he wasn't looking.
Still, I digress. Must calm down. I have always assumed that the novelty black and white films were repackaged motion picture film, or repacked surveillance film, or perhaps someone found a million feet of film in a warehouse in the Czech Republic and repackaged that. Of the types I have used, Polypan F has the same kind of grey look of TMax and Delta and so forth. I liked it although sadly I have run out. Much is made on the internet of Polypan's distinctive "glow". In reality the glow is very very mild and seems to exist mostly in the minds of the aforementioned process people.
That's enough Polypan. Of the other novelty black and white films I have used, Rollei ATO is a high-contrast orthochromatic film that renders skin darkly (as if shooting through a blue filter) and shadows pitch black. It is difficult to work with.
Notice the line running along the bottom of the image. I have no idea what caused it. The same line appears in this blog post by a chap who lives in Portugal, who I have never met or interacted with. Perhaps we bought our film from the same source. Being on the internet is a bit like being in a submarine, you're navigating alone in the dark and occasionally you detect traces of other submarines in the distance. In the words of the song, you can't have two killers living in the same pad.
I briefly used Adox CHS, which was very fragile and slow. It had extended red sensitivity. My recollection is of spending ages despotting it.
When I started using film in earnest there were two cheap options, Lucky and Shanghai, both from China or Hong Kong. These seem to have been used up and I rarely see them on eBay any more. I never had a chance to use Lucky. Some people have had perfectly cromulent results with Shanghai, but such was its reputation as a poor-quality, flaky film that I only used it a couple of times before putting it back into the lovely paper packet in which it came.
A click panorama taken with a Holga using Shanghai GP3
Ditto Fomapan, which I only ever used whilst learning to develop film. Don't have any more.
Messing with Film
When I was a kid I had an Atari 2600 games console, and I found out that if I flicked the machine on and off the games would go haywire, and it was funny. It was just like being on LSD, although I didn't know that yet because I was too young to take LSD. Kids don't need to take LSD, their imaginations are active enough without chemical stimulation.
It's fun to mess with things until they go haywire. Cars, space launch vehicles, people's hearts - metaphorical hearts and actual physical hearts - there is no shortage of things in this world that go haywire when you mess with them. Mr T, for example. He went haywire when people messed with him. You would be a fool to mess with Mr T, and yet there was no shortage of fools in the 1980s, and every week on television they messed with him, and he pitied them.
But still they messed with him. I wonder if he was annoyed by the gold price crash of last year. He used to wear gold chains, which seemed very shrewd throughout the 2000s, because the price of gold more than tripled throughout that decade. He stopped wearing chains in 2005 so as not to offend the victims of Hurricane Katrina, although presumably he didn't throw them away, he just kept them on his pet alligator. Mr T probably has a pet alligator.
And then in late 2013 the price of gold dropped by a quarter, which is still a gain over the last decade, but he could have gained more by investing in property, albeit that you can't wear a house around your neck, and you can't eat a house, unless it's a gingerbread house, and
I find Mr T fascinating in the context of meaning and reality. Somewhere underneath his mohawk and gold chains there was once a man called Laurence Tureaud, who grew up tough in tough surroundings. He spent some time in the army and then gravitated to work in security as a bouncer, and latterly as a bodyguard. He decided that it was not enough to be an ordinary man, he had to be extraordinary, and thus the character of Mr T was born. Mr T was essentially Tureaud with a scowl and a uniform, but he was nonetheless not Laurence Tureaud. He was to Laurence Tureaud as MC Ride is to Stefan Burnett. One a monster; the other just a man.
And there is the symbolism of the T. The headless cross, which represented pure faith untainted by the poison of doubt. Mr T was a pure elemental force of nature. If life is a barbecue, Mr T was a superheated sizzle that shot from the griddle, searing a scar on society's soul. In Rocky III he was The Upsetter, the Elephant in the Room, the gunman let loose on Sesame Street. In the context of a cosy fictional boxing soap opera he was cold hard reality, a brutal punching machine who seemed to have come from an altogether more performant universe.
And there was the letter T. The first letter of THE, one of the most fundamental components of English language and of Western thought. By adopting the letter T, Mr T aligned himself with AND, and I, and IT, and IS, he aligned himself with the structure of language itself, he sought to own the framework of the argument. To occupy the grains that run through us.
Tureaud put some thought into Mr T's appearance. The gold chains were a practical means of looking after jewellery that had been lost by clubgoers, as well as a show of wealth and power. The mohawk was a statement of black identity, and perhaps a reference to his days in the army. Mister because nobody called him Larry any more and he wanted people to be polite when they talked to him. He did not simply put on the clothes because they looked good, or because he wanted to fit in. He didn't want to fit in, he wanted to stand out.
For my generation Mr T was also The A-Team's B. A. Baracus, who was a dab hand with a welding torch, and was unimpressed with jibber-jabber. Baracus was a character performed by a character performed by Laurence Tureaud, albeit that Mr T had long since smothered Laurence Tureaud. Nowadays Mr T exists as a reference to himself, a set of catchphrases and memories in the shape of a man. Tureaud evaporated; Mr T is no longer real, in an objective sense, instead he exists inside our own minds, he only has meaning insofar as we remember B. A. Baracus and "I pity the fool" from Rocky III and the Mr T craze of the mid-1980s. For a generation born after the 1980s he is a reference to a memory of a cultural force that existed before they were born. Mr T is as unreal to the current generation as John Wayne was to mine, and when my generation is dead and gone Mr T Will Not Exist.
Mr T is now the human equivalent of a distributed storage network. He exists as part of the great cloud of shared human consciousness, he exists in the minds of others more than he exists in real life. In a way, we are all like Mr T, like miniature versions of Mr T. We all exist in the minds of others. You dear reader have never met me, but you have seen my work and have a mental image of what I must be like, and thus I live inside your mind. Think of all the minds you live within, imagine them living on after you are dead. Life is Schrodinger's cat experiment in reverse, the waveform is collapsed when we are alive and becomes unknowable after we die.
Photographers have been messing with film since the beginning of film. It began as a mess. Top dead Vogue photographer Erwin Blumenfeld spent an absolute age messing with film - freezing it, heating it up, double-exposing it, briefly subjecting it to light during development, subjecting it to naked women - and I've had a go myself. There's a thing called pre-flashing, a legitimately useful photographic technique that involves exposing the negative to a small quantity of white light before taking the exposure. It has the effect of shifting the left side of the histogram to the right, boosting the shadows a bit. I decided to do with coloured light, with interesting effects.
I simply pulled the film out of the canister in a dark room and popped off a flash at a low setting through a gel. I found that preflashing with colour had the effect of selectively desaturating that colour - in the images above I used a red light, in the images below I used blue. Time passes at a different rate when you're on drugs. The question is, what is the correct perception of time? Is there an objective speed of time? Human beings evolved in a hazardous environment and thus had to perceive time at a quick pace, so as to spot and react to tigers and so forth. And we need to eat, but only a few times a day.
In the absence of external threats, would we instead perceive days as weeks, weeks as years, a year as forever? We cannot speak of being adrift from time if there is no objective speed of time, if there is no definite connection between the mind's clock and that of the universe.
Blumenfeld had the resources of Vogue and Harper's at his disposal, sadly I do not, so this is not something I'm likely to do very often. Even in professional hands pre-flashing can be difficult; it was famously used on Robert Altman's gorgeously 70s-looking McCabe and Mrs Miller and Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, in both cases out of desperate necessity with no guarantee in advance that it would work properly.
Try doing that with a memory card. But perhaps you could write an application that reads in the contents of a RAW file, jiggers around with it - or it reads in the entire contents of a memory card, and randomly messes with it - and you'd end up with glitchy images a la the nightmarish results of poor motion compensation in video streams, or broken gifs.
There is a long tradition of bored people glitching things up until they go haywire = funny and by extension terrifying, because there are few things more terrifying than comedy. The art of forcing people to blurt snot from their noses even though they don't want to. That is what photography boils down to. Bored people capturing things from another world and messing with them.