Next week, I start a third semester of black and white photography. We use film cameras and my current film of choice is Kodak Professional 400TMax. We develop the film in the classroom lab through what is chemical magic to me. I’ve learned to use an enlarger, negative carrier, contrast filters, and an easel. A year ago, I didn’t have a clue what these items were.
The first semester of this class produced high anxiety. The worst task for me was going into a pitch black closet, extracting the film, and then rolling it on a metal spool. As I blindly looked for the correct prongs to attach the film to, my hands began to sweat, and my head started to ache. I’d slump down on the floor, methodically turning the spool to attach to the little square openings on the film. After an eternity, I’d complete this task and then gently feel the film to see if it was smoothly wrapped. Instead of the required uniform consistency, I’d feel a large wart-like protrusion immediately signifying I’d screwed up again.
Another huge challenge for me was developing a perfect print. Most of what I learned in the first two semesters were the myriad ways you can actually improve a mediocre print: e.g., changing your f/stop and exposure; using contrast filters; adjusting the enlarger head; and selecting different developing times. While this may sound straightforward, it isn’t. The path to a perfect print is scattered with one quarter inch test strips, and later, full sheets of expensive Ilford Photographic Paper.
You might wonder why I am taking a third semester of this class. I’ve learned more about photography using a black and white film camera than any digital class I’ve taken. I’ve learned patience and persistence…beautiful photos just don’t happen. I’ve collaborated with talented photographers in my class and I’ve learned from them. My instructor’s demand for excellence has pushed me to improve. The number one reason I’m returning for round three…to see a print magically appear before my eyes again and again.
The above prints are some of the framed and matted images from my black and white portfolios over the last two semesters. I took a digital picture of each. Just for comparison, I then shot the following digital photos which have a black and white vibe. So much to learn, so little time.