Monday, October 12, 2015

Last Gasp Of A Dying Race

The selling of Harman is a worrying thing don't you think? 
I mean, I hate to get all panicky about it, but to be honest in the world we live in niche companies are shifted around like chattels, like a hareem as it were, and if that chattel under-performs, well, it's off with it, shoved further down the pecking order till no one wants to risk any money at all on it. 
For all the talk of the 'analog (sic) resurgence' is there really enough money in traditional photography any more to keep any venture capitalist interested? 
Yeah, Boots might have started selling monochrome film (did they ever stop?) but like Tesco's recent trumpet-blast from the ramparts that they were going to 
"get back into the Vinyl Revolution Man . . yeah, we're sticking it to the kids . . we're selling the new Iron Maiden album . . ON VINYL! Er . . cough .  .well only in selected stores and only that album . . cough cough, and er . .cough . . . we'll see how it goes!"
Yeah right. 
See what I mean? 
Another niche market.
At the end of the day, venture capitalism is about business and profit. It isn't about lovely bonhomie and chap's agreements written on a beer mat over a pint of Samuel Smiths and a ploughmans down the local. Perhaps the final paragraph from the article in the BJP lends some creedence to what I have said:

“We remain totally committed to analogue photography, and indeed to all forms of imaging.  Our product range is uniquely stable and of the highest quality, and we can assure all of our customers that we will continue to support them in our customary way for the foreseeable future.”
Whiles Pemberstone’s plans for the storied photographic company remain to be seen, their comments suggest that the famous brand will continue to endure for the time being.

You see, I've got a big problem with that last bit . . "time being."

OK - I was on holiday recently, in Berlin actually (and thank you for asking) - anyway whilst there, I indulged in my usual casual holiday pastime .. camera spotting. 
It's FUN, you should try it, for there are now a billion cameras in the world - everything from super-giant, 80000 mm f.95 primes through to the ubiquitous phone and everything inbetween too . . with the exception of one thing.  
Film cameras
I saw one in 7 days - it was a Nikon Fm and was being toted by a young Japanese woman . . indeed it ONLY EVER seems to be young Japanese women with film cameras . . apart from me . . and this time I let the side down by only carrying the Canon EOS 50D. 
Spot a Leica? Young Japanese woman.
Nikon? the same.
I did once see a Minolta in the hands of a young teenager in Liverpool and a Trip in the hands of a family man in Jedburgh, but all too often, film cameras are nowhere to be seen . . . which makes me think . . well how many people are actually using film these days? 
Where is the renaissance? 
If it's happening somewhere else (from Dundee) then it certainly isn't in any of the places I have visited in recent years . . in fact film cameras could be said to be as rare as rocking horse shite, and that is pretty rare!
So who is using film? 
The Nocturnal Hordes of Photographers? 
The Early Birds? 
I've not encountered a single early bird using film apart from me and that's from years of photographing in Dundee - and this is a creative city . . honest . . it is!
As I have said before, I am a member of Scottish Photographers and every so often we have a get-together in Perth. These are wonderful sessions where no judgements are made and you can get to speak freely about what you have been up to, and people are genuinely interested too. 
It's a salve to the lone photographers soul and I love it . . but out of a room of often ten to fourteen people, how many use film? 
Well, often just two, sometimes three. 
And these are people who LIVE PHOTOGRAPHY. 
The numbers are tiny, and are they buying 20 rolls of film a month? Are they shite - they're like me - they use it, but not a roll a day - it's occasional use.
I reckon I must use around at a maximum 30 rolls of roll film (mixed 120 and 35mm) a YEAR. Sheet film - even less - I have a fridge full of it and it is starting to feel like it will finish out my life. 
So if I (as a committed and dedicated amateur) am not buying in numbers decent enough to satisfy the hungry investor . . who is?
Camera clubs? 
Nah, they've been digital for years.
Creative Institutions??
Hmmm - that's an interesting one - Dundee once had a proud and solid heritage of photographers educated here and photographers raised here by a strong grass-roots foundation. This is where Albert Watson was educated, and we now have the figurehead of Calum Colvin toted as being the prime example of being a graduate of Duncan Of Jordanstone, flying the flag for strong, bright, thrusting modern photography . . . but erm that's two . . 
Oh yeah? . . what about you Sheephouse? 
Well, that's three . . 
And of course, Joe McKenzie . . well he's sadly deceased, so one less . . . 
See what I mean?
About a year or so back, I spoke to a lecturer of the Digital Animation Department at DOJCA in Dundee. It was one of those chats that just get going - he was curious about the Minolta Autocord and I filled him in and offered to make his portrait at the same time (he refused) - anyway he said that whilst students were keen to explore the whole beardy/70's/analog (sic) thing and there were some facilities (they have a darkroom)  for pursuing it, it wasn't really pushed and there was a lack of knowledge to help them along! 
And this is in a creative institution.
OK - so how many rolls are they shooting then?
I spoke to someone else who said that the darkrooms at Dundee City Arts Centre (the DCA as it is known) are largely under-used.
There are plenty of courses - the oncoming tide of 'analog' (sic) photographers who are going to use all these traditional materials are going to need somewhere to go!
But really, can you see it?
I don't know what it is like where you live - maybe you're lucky and film still lives and breathes and there are hordes of folk buying it up like there's no tomorrow, but here in old Blighty I feel we're a sad footnote. There's simply no voice out there shouting at the oncoming dark.
As a traditional photographer in Britain you are that weird beardy Uncle that lurks around at family gatherings - people see you as history, and a harmless, impotent side-bar of history at that.
Analog (sic) is too hard.
As I've said before printing and making  photographs requires dedication and graft, and I feel that in an age where you're almost forced (by peer pressure) to upgrade your iPhone every 18 - 24 months or so, the amount of effort required to become really good at something that takes a large amount of cash and a dark space, is really far too much.
In a small sentence, we've lost the patience.
I get customers screaming down my neck if they haven't had their CD three days after they ordered it, how the feck are they going to pay nearly £100 for a box of 8x10" grade 2 Ilford Galerie which requires love, dedication and patience (that word again) from them to produce something from it, when they can instantly access something similar in mere nano-seconds on their phone and get a so-so representation of it squirted out of their inkjets?
Are people really bothered about the fine print?
Of paper lustre and greyscale and tone and the physical presence of a piece of paper with an image on it when our world is beset with images, is swamped with a billion new ones every day?
One isolated point of time.
One person's take on the world.
One effort that took TIME and CRAFT to produce?
Who gives a shit?
And when that shit hits the fan and Ilford/Harman aren't shifting the megabucks these investors require to keep their interests going (after all the whole point of investing is to make, not lose money) what happens then?
When the pay-offs happen what remains of the big words and promises?
In a nut-shell, where is your next roll of film going to come from?


So here's some old shit from yer weird beardy Uncle of some shit he saw and liked and then made photographs and printed, taking hours to do.
He can't be arsed spotting them, because the dust is from the scans, not the prints which are pristine and actually took about as much time to make as the scans (well . . not quite . . but I did hit upon the magic exposure).
At the end of the day, they're his shit take on the world and he's just using up some old film (Neopan 400 in 120 . . long gone - thanks Fuji - it was a gem) and printing on some shit old paper (10 year old real Agfa Multicontrast Classic - thanks Agfa - it was a gem) and toned with some Kodak Selenium (thanks Kodak - I love you) which is going to kill him in the end , but who cares?
Oh yeah and the camera was his shit old Hasselblad with the slightly more modern 60mm Distagon, but come the impending loss of 120 film they'll make nice paperweights - or the perfect weapon for a smash-and-grab . . .

Sunday morning, Dundee.

Love your wrist

Real men glow

And that's it - sorry if this is an incoherent ramble, but it is quite early in the morning and I haven't had enough tea. But who cares anyway?

Anyway, chocks away . . I'm off to carry an unfeasibly heavy camera into the wilds . . 


  1. Not in a good mood today, eh?

    Something that might cheer you up:

    Any idea what camera Brassai used?


  2. Hi Omar - nice to hear from you, and firstly can I say how utterly shocked I am by recent events in your country - the world is a terrible place these days and doesn't really seem to be getting any better.

    As for me - I am my usual ebullient self . . it's just the numbers don't really seem to add up and I felt like having a grump about it.

    And thanks for the link - will listen when I am at home with some speakers!

    Brassai - not sure actually - I am sure I've read it somewhere - why does Voigtlander ring a bell? or Plaubel? . . .

  3. We are also shocked and angry, Phil.

    Brassai is being mentioned in the Tod Papageorge video, hence my question.

    Apparently Brassai's camera is a Voigtlaender Bergheil. See the last photo in the link below.

  4. I can well understand - there's still a huge amount of speculation over here - it is a tragic thing.

    Voigtlander! Glad to see my brain hasn't gone entirely then.

  5. In my city there is one lab that develops colour negative film and does good printing (but see below). Other kinds of film have to be sent to labs in Seoul. Sending away film doesn't bother me but all labs these days seem to think that film is a time consuming annoyance that keeps them from much more profitable digital printing. And many of them can't be arsed to do a good job of scanning and printing unless you stand around, look over their shoulders, or pay extra money to make sure they do more than throw the film through AutoScan and make prints that are too bright. I brought my developed film to my local lab yesterday in an envelope with many instructions written on it. I also explained what I wanted to the lab owner. And then, instead of the customary, "I'll be back for them in two days," I asked him to take his time doing the prints and to contact me when he's finished. He joked, "So next year, then?" Maybe he wasn't joking . . . .

  6. Hi Marcus - we are quite lucky in the UK with a number of very decent D&P labs still operating, but the costs are phenomenal which is why I do all my own monochrome stuff, being lucky enough to have space for a darkroom too. This being said I used to load my film into a paterson tank in a tiny cupboard in a room with the curtains closed and then do all the wet stuff at the kitchen sink, so you can do that if you have a mind to . . from there you could scan and then upload to a decent online printer.

    It's all rather a faff though isn't it - who said digital was easy? It takes me longer to produce a decent looking digital file for the blog than it does to actually print a proper silver gelatin print! Mad stuff.

    Hope you had some good luck with the prints!

  7. Update: My patience paid off this time. I dropped the film off on Monday and he sent a text message saying they prints were ready on Friday evening. The 8x10s looked much, much better than the autoscan 4x6s I originally got. I'm a happy boy again.
    I learned black and white developing and printing a few years ago but I don't use enough B&W film now to make it worthwhile buying the chemicals. It was fun, though.

  8. Hi Marcus - glad it worked out alright.
    AS for B&W - seriously - a bottle of Rodinal (R09 or one of the derivatives) will last you years and not go off - I've written plenty about Rodinal on this blog - just check the side-panel. Store Fix and Stop carefully in their concentrated form, just using them one shot and they'll last as well. The key with bottled liquid chemicals is to gently pierce the foil bottle cover with a pin - yes, air WILL get in, but I've had much better longevity that way than ripping the foil lid off.

  9. I can't find Rodinal for sale anywhere at the usual photo supply stores. I suppose I could make a trip to Seoul and ask around but for now it's easier to just send B&W to a lab. And lately I've been using Ilford Super XP 400 so I can get it developed here in town. The film comes out a bit dark at ISO 400 so I'm trying 320 to see what results I get.
    Love the site, by the way. People who still write about film photography are also a dying race. Or rather, people who write about serious film photography are. There are quite a few people who buy cheap, outdated film and then write "film is crap quality so it's fun" articles. Still, if those people can create an interest in film then I thank them.

  10. Hi Marcus - thank you very much for the kind comment - sometimes (well most of the time actually) you never know what anyone thinks . . so it's always nice to get some.

    I find most 400's benefit from 320 or more, though I can't comment on XP2 as I haven't used any in the last couple of decades. With yer bog standards, Tri-X, TMX and HP5 you can really over-expose (and over-develop) them a fair bit without things crapping out too much - I found this a great surprise when I initially started guessing exposure.

    Rodinal (et al) should be easily available mail order pretty much anywhere.



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