Old film, new stories

‘Traditional photochemical photography imposed a tempo, an agonizing interval between the click and the consummated experience of the image, and during this gap the projection of hope and desire would intervene. This disappears with velocity, and this dissolution engenders a sense of loss that goes beyond the poetic and symbolic, an aspect that also concerns the possibility of retaining the memory.’

Joan Fontcuberta, essay “The Invisible Image (and not non-existent on that account) Pandora’s Camera

I’ve been using film more frequently just recently, black and white film, medium format and 35mm and because of that I have been pondering on both what it means to me – now as opposed to before I started studying photography as an art practice.

I have found, amongst other objects of my past, some twenty or so rolls (still) of 120 Ilford Delta 100, and some other makes. The use-by date (mainly) is June 2006, making the film quite old and likely (or so I thought) to be unusable. August 2006 I went to France on holiday and so it happened that I went back there this year – to the same location, in fact the same house – owned by our friends. I decided that I had nothing to lose by taking the film and making some images there, if they developed successfully all the better, if they didn’t then no worries.

That earlier trip in 2006 was with my in-laws and there were due to come again, but due to health issues they cancelled at the last minute. I purposefully left the film for about a month before developing – I had a notion that the latent image may conflict with my memory, I read Joan Fontcuberta’s Pandora’s Camera whilst I was there and his essay on the latent image was one of many that I found very interesting and illuminating – and maybe his idea (above) led me to stay the development, I’m not sure.

The photography was very easy to slip into; the exposure method, the composition using a waist level finder, the ponderous nature of largish camera on a tripod, the reloading and careful stowage of exposed film. The purchase and eventual mixing of the developer and fixer from the supplier (who also manufactures both), the process of development and the scanning, the spotting of each negative – typically an hour each – resulting in, so far, thirteen files from which I might get some prints. I felt at ease making them, I have a very strong feeling that they will print beautifully (post writing edit – they do). Content at the time of capture and development, that they served no other purpose than the instant gratification they might or might achieve.

And now they are made, they exist in my hands these images of a place now in my memory, in monotonic – and maybe luxuriant – tones, they make me wonder though about what Fontcuberta also said about the difference(s) between the forms: “…The materiality of silver gelatin is bound up with advances in chemistry, the development of steel and the railways, machinism and the colonial expansion driven by capitalist economics. In contrast, digital photography is the product of an economy that privileges information as a commodity, opaque capital and invisible electronic transactions. It’s material is language, codes and algorithms; it has the same substance as text or sound and can exist in the same networks of transmissions….. It quite clearly links up with a second or fictional reality, equivalent to parallel cyber-life worlds…. We are witnessing an unstoppable process of dematerialization.” Ibid.

I feel these images, or the process by which they were made is important to me. I spent the best part of thirty years coming to a practice that, whilst satisfied with the aesthetic quality of the prints, was somewhat underwhelmed by the purpose of them. That people were happy to buy them wasn’t nearly enough, however I have a feeling that these rolls of defunct silver gelatin and maybe more reliable ‘in-date’ rolls of film might be playing a more up to date role in my burgeoning practice as an artist photographer.





4 thoughts on “Old film, new stories

  1. Not that you’ve come full-circle but are spiralling to a different place. I share your sense of satisfaction John as there’s a silvery solidity to these images (apart from the sense of recognition I get from having visited the same area). A three-dimensional reality.

  2. I want to comment, John, in a meaningful, constructive and understanding manner; and yet, truthfully, I think that am, in my own practice and direction, diametrically opposed to where you’re at/heading! It is, perhaps, a tribute to Fontcuberta’s book of essays that I can feel they free me up to push the digital towards (beyond?) the edges of what might be regarded as photographic and you can find your own direction through a ‘return’ to processes that had lost their meaning for you. Both, when they are supported by intent and context, are as ‘legitimate’ as each other, naturally. I must admit, though, that I crave some discourse on all of this … maybe we need to get the ‘hangouts’ going … though I fear that I might be out on a limb of my own …! 🙂

    • Ha! Ha! thanks Stan. I wouldn’t expect anything other than what you state anyway, but thanks for saying it. I feel that the chemical process will have a say in where I end up in this course – it will certainly stay with me as a language I suspect for a very long time yet.
      I’m glad that you seem to have set a course for your work, I’m not yet at that point, seemingly on the quayside pondering which charter boat to jump on 🙂
      I agree that getting together in some shape or form would be helpful – I have minimal commitments during the weekday time.

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