In The Dark (Room)

Since really getting into photography, and particularly the film side of things, there’s always been that sense that something’s missing. I’ve now collected a lovely group of old film cameras, I’ve shot 35mm and medium format film and developed them at home. But, I’ve then scanned the negatives into a computer and shared my images online. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s that final step that I have always wanted to take, to close the circle, as it were, and complete an analogue process from start to finish.

Recently I was able to do that. At home, in my garage (and much to my wife’s chagrin), I developed my first images last week, working in utter darkness until switching on the light as the paper sat in a water tray and an image stared back at me.

Now, I’m not going to pretend it was any good. Indeed, the lens isn’t the right lens for what I need to do (most of my work is 6x6 medium format, the lens is suited to 35mm). But simply seeing that glossy face, shimmering beneath the water’s surface, was enough to really make me feel quite emotional.

The beauty of this game is there is so much to learn, and there will always be so much to learn. But it’s these little victories, the small successes that make you determined to carry on and improve and make the next print better than the last.

To the point that I am finally close to where I have always wanted to be - close to being able to supply my own prints for sale. Clearly, I’m not there yet. But, stay tuned. Hopefully that is the next stage, whether offering existing, numbered prints, or photographing, developing and printing something special, something handmade and, dare I say, crafted.

To that end, please stay tuned…

Hashtag: Winning

I have a confession to make; I think I’m addicted to competitions. And not for noble reasons. I like the kudos of doing well, I love the momentary gratification of a win when they come by (especially if it’s unexpected), and, sometimes, the prizes are pretty darn cool.

Take, for example, the latest GuruShots Man’s Best Friend challenge, where the above image was the Top Photo winner. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that it came out on top. Yes, it’s one of my all-time favourite images of my sister in law’s great dane puppies, but, I’ve got to say, it’s a bit of a nerve-wracking slog to make sure your image stays at the top of the pile. And with 18 days of competition, it’s a long time to be nervous! The prize, though, is a Diana F+ film camera, a retro, lomo, piece of plastic cool - and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

But this isn’t (just) a brag about winning a GuruShots challenge - because I genuinely think there is more to entering competitions that the superficiality of winning or losing. Competitions, I think, can be a gateway to getting your name out there, wherever ‘there’ is. Okay, so I don’t actually think I’ve got work from winning a competition. And I’m not sure if I’ve made any sales on the back of them. But I am a believer in you having to make a noise if you want to be heard.

To that end I’ve been compiling a spreadsheet of competitions that run throughout the year, so if you have any that I should include feel free to drop me a line! But it’s also worth keeping an eye open: I’ve always been an advocate of 500px, who recently launched Quests offering some amazing prizes (the latest is US$1000, which would be handy!), while Camera House has a weekly, themed Photo Friday competition on its Facebook page with some great prizes. 

Of course, part and parcel of winning competitions is failure, because you’re going to lose far more than you’re ever going to win. I don’t care who you are, it’s just the subjective nature of the beast of being judged. And sometimes it can be crushing. If nothing else, if you don’t even have a few more photographs or don’t learn a new technique or understand your craft a little better, at least you should learn to deal with failure. I have to admit, I’m still a long way off - every failure still hurts.

But, essentially, and here’s your heartwarming conclusion, photography is all a matter of competition, even if only against yourself. Judge each image, critique yourself, and try and learn always how to improve. But above all, remember that the biggest prize is simply enjoying the art of photography. And, that way, you will always be a winner to me.

Why I Don’t Like Cleaning Film (But Did)

One of the best things about film is the fact that it is physically real. In a world of so much digital artifice, of images captured in pixels and enhanced by algorithms, film’s appeal is a layer of realism that - as yet - cannot be replicated; a certain honesty. Of course, photo manipulation isn’t something new to digital imagery, nor is the phrase ‘the camera never lies’ uttered without at least a hint of irony. But it’s the way that film carries the process within it, sometimes physically etched into its surface. Take Great Grandma. I’d resisted Photoshopping out the imperfections, as they added a layer of interest and told their own story (not just of the manual process of developing in my kitchen, but of an epic battle to get the damn film on the developing reel). To me, there was honesty there, an element of truth; the whole point and beauty of film. It said, this is not a sanitised collection of pixels, a soulless reflection of the truth, but instead a physical representation as flawed and complex and beautiful as the humanity it represents. Alas, indicative of our times, it seems most people assumed what was real was faked to make it look real. And after being asked too many times why I would add the effect, I got rid of it. I’m not mad about it, don’t get me wrong! We’re all tuned to view images in such a way that it was inevitable. Indeed, it was an interesting exercise to see what could be done to ‘clean up’ the image. I guess the whole thing has taught me that I need to be a little more patient and careful when it comes to handling film. Realism is one thing, but maybe there’s such a thing as a little too much. 

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