The Art of Black & White Film Photography

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Thanks for reading! Andrew.



Black & white film photo by Flavia Schaller

In my eBook ‘The Magic of Black & White: Part II – Craft‘ I wrote about the advantages of digital photography for black and white photographers. It’s true, black and white photographers have never had it so good. Yet in spite of all the advantages and speed of digital photography, there’s a significant movement of black and white photographers who choose to work with black and white film.

Why is this? I’m sure some film photographers are using film because they prefer to use medium format or large format cameras. Digital photography at this size is prohibitively expensive – film is much cheaper.

Another factor could be the search for something different. Some creatives don’t like to follow the herd. If nearly everyone else is shooting digital, then anything that can give your work a different look, such as film, becomes sought after.

It’s also interesting to see some young photographers who have been using digital cameras since they took up photography going to film because of the novelty value. Film attracts photographers for who the digital process leaves something unsatisfied. Perhaps by using film they feel that they are learning important and fulfilling craft skills.

Let’s not forget either that the high quality, digital SLRs of today are relatively new. I switched to digital back in 2006, only four years ago. Film may seem old if you use digital all the time, but it’s not that old really.

I found a couple of black and white film photographers whose work I like and I asked them  about their black and white photography. Like probably isn’t a strong enough word – both photographers have work that moved me. They are artists as well as photographers, and their photos contain power and beauty.

Flavia Schaller (Brazil)

Black & white film photo by Flavia Schaller

I use mostly a Mamiya C3 (a Twin Lens Reflex camera), a Holga and a Calumet 4×5. Occasionally, I use a Rolleiflex and homemade pinhole cameras. The films I use are Fuji Acros 100 and Ilford FP4.

I like using film because I enjoy the entire process that it involves. The direct contact with the material, the chemicals, the waiting. I like the negative as an object and the fact that my originals are printed in a physical thing. It may be silly, but I like it. One more reason is that I’m fascinated about the old times and it makes me feel closer to them. I can pretend I’m in 1930 processing my glass negatives.

If my photos are going to be seen in a computer screen, I scan them and process them in Photoshop exactly (or very close) as I want them to be printed. Otherwise, I print them in the darkroom. Rare exceptions.

How would I compare film and digital? I think it’s not much about the cameras. One thing is the freedom and possibilities that a digital camera gives. And it makes a big difference when you don’t have much money. With a digital camera you can practice and experiment without worrying about waste of film.

But I think the biggest difference is the people who use them. I can post-process my scans the same way people do with digital, but I insist on using film today because I also like the old feel. In some way I think I’m violating something if I change my images too much with software. If I had to shoot with digital, it would be the same. Some people grew up with digital cameras, others have a kind of cultural baggage they bring to it, be it from photojournalism or from fine art, that translates into different aesthetics. So, for me it’s mostly cultural.

Links

Flavia’s website: www.flaviaschaller.com

Flavia on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/schaller

Flavia at Facebook: www.facebook.com/people/Flavia-Schaller

Gallery

Black & white film photo by Flavia Schaller

Black & white film photo by Flavia Schaller

Black & white film photo by Flavia Schaller

Black & white film photo by Flavia Schaller

Black & white film photo by Flavia Schaller

Square

Square by Andrew S Gibson

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Flavia’s work featured in my ebook Square. Click on the link to learn more.

Ugo Dap (Serbia)

Black & White Film Photography by Ugo Dap

For me lenses are much more important than cameras. I’m using four lenses: a Tessar 80mm, a Heliar 300mm, an Ernostar 180mm f2.7 and and a Dallmeyer 3b.

My cameras are a medium format Rolleiflex T (gray), a Linhof Master Technika V, an Anthony style bellows camera 8×10 by Ray Morgenweck, a Graflex Speed Graphic and a Praktica VLC2. Every camera that I own has a story. Each camera is from a different time in my life, and I’m their faithful servant (at the time). One love.

The Rolleiflex was a gift from one of the last action photography heros and great artist Mr Emil Schildt, the Anthony came from my wet plate teacher Mr Quinn Jacobson and the Praktica is a gift from my late uncle Mr Vladimir Dapcevic who was my first photography teacher back when I was just five years old.

The Praktica VLC 2 came with a brick of Orwo 21° DIN black and white film. Nowdays I’m constantly searching for Orwo film. My favourite one is Orwo Ortho film in 9×12″ (Still life, cyanotype was taken with this film). I would love to see Orwo back, that would be a true ‘impossible project’.

For me film type is not so important. I will use anything that serves me well. I just need a few rolls to calibrate myself to, or to fight with. I love Orwo for sentimental reasons and for being out of date film nowadays. But I love Ilford as well, FP4+ is great and has that springlike clarity.

But film is dying so fast, and I moved to wet plate collodion just to be sure that I can make it without it. Wet plate has a lots of secrets and its destiny is still in the hands of people and not companies, although it doesn’t seem that way very often.

If you ask me it would be the real thing that somebody from one of the surviving film companies like Ilford, Kodak or Foma – or maybe even Apple or Lego (that would be cool) to make THE drum scanner up to 8×10 under $US1000. It would also be nice if somebody big in the advertising world made an campaign for the cause of film photography (Cosa nostra). Epson is already making great printers for hybrid photography. That could help bring film back to life. If I was a manager…

That is the missing link today for most of us, the scanner. It seems that the technology is cheap enough but that nobody wants to make something to last and to be affordable nowadays. Maybe I can do it? To make Ugo Dap 2010 – Odyssey drum scanner?! Yay!

Links

Ugo Dap on Flickr: www.flickr.com/people/ugodap

Gallery

Black & White Film Photography by Ugo Dap

Black & White Film Photography by Ugo Dap

Black & White Film Photography by Ugo Dap

Black & White Film Photography by Ugo Dap

Black & White Film Photography by Ugo Dap

Resources

Here are some more links where you can explore the world of black and white film photography (and film photography in general):

Epic Edits: 17 Inspirational Analog Photos

Feeling Negative

Filmwasters

The International Analogue Photographic Society

Unlimited Grain

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2 Responses to “The Art of Black & White Film Photography”

  1. Xinyi Zhang says:

    i really like this, it is very interesting to me and beautiful Black and White photos too!!!

  2. Mike says:

    Fascinating Andrew, thanks for posting this and sharing these images. Whilst I very much enjoyed reading this, I also wish I hadn’t seen it..! You see although I converted to digital back in 2005, I still hanker after shooting film. Lately this urge has become almost unbearable and only just last week I was searching eBay for the Mamiya SLR that started my love of photography. Reading this post has about done it for me – I need to go out and shoot some film – and in black and white!

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