Those that know me know that since I first learned photography about 25 years ago that I've always loved using film, even during the digital transition. Fact is I'm grateful for the digital transition because I was able to acquire so many cameras and lenses that were previously beyond my means! Anyway back to what I wanted to write about today, and that is uncovering treasure on mystery rolls of film, which I was able to do this week when I processed some color negative film.
Aside from my love to work in black and white, and it is my preferred way to work if given the choice, I've been trying to integrate color (C41 Film) into my workflow. How to get it processed was the bottleneck and roadblock into getting that done. There were fewer and fewer labs around to get color film processed, and the ones that are really good at doing it are logistically not feasible with shipping fees, scanning fees, etc. I'm sure there are folks that will argue that with me, but that is not the point. It might work for you, but it business wise it was not working for me. There was one place locally that could processes color film for me, but they were not a color lab, they were a camera shop and sadly no longer in business. I point out that camera shop because they did a great job os selling cameras, and probably did a great job of processing consumer and amateur photographers film. However, handing a working professional photographers film is a completely different animal, and scratching negatives, or leaving processing sponge marks on negatives, and just plain old quality control hampered my confidence that they could consistently get it right, nor should they have been held to that level of quality as they were a camera store not a professional lab. So this is what prevented me from working with color negative film on a consistent basis as I did not have a reliable or economical way to have the film processed for me, and why I kept my color work to the digital camera. That is until I practiced what I preach to so many when I teach. Sometimes you just got to get out of your own way!
Last year I decided to take a leap of faith and get out of my own way and learn to process C41 Color film. Afterall I have all the professional processing equipment already that I use to process all my black and white film. That equipment allows me to maintain consistent temperature throughout development process which is the has some criticality to it more so than black and white film. I also found after some research that it is actually a faster process than black and white, and that I could obtain a set of color chemicals that would process about a dozen rolls of film for what the price of shipping off processing and paying for scans on a single roll cost me, so economically it was feasible. So all there was left was getting out of my own way and convincing myself to first shoot some non important work (this is a challenge, because everything to me is important if I choose to make an exposure of it). Then to convince myself that I could not possibly screw it up any worse than the inconsistencies that I had gotten in the past. Finally, to flip the switch that I would be learning a new skill that would reinforce my commitment to quality through every stage of my film work. So with that I embarked on the journey of learning to process C41 Color Negative film!
What I learned was it was not difficult at all! My processing equipment held the temperature required without any problem and the modern chemicals have a little more wiggle room than in the past. Not a lot, but some! I also learned that there are software tools to help ensure good color along with the scanning software having the ability to remove dust and other processing remenants. In short the C41 home processing with the right equipment is not difficult at all!
So what's all this got to do with a mystery roll Pete? That's where this comes into play. The difference between black and white processing and C-41 color processing is you want to have a good backlog of color film to work with to maximize the effectiveness of the chemistry. So it's taken me a bit to get some back log built up, but I have and one of the backlog rolls was a roll of medium format film that I shot back in 2018, but had filed away in a drawer because of my previously stated confidence in getting it done properly and just flat out forgot about. Of course I was not so diligent on labeling it either! Anyway I ran across it while reorganizing a drawer during this home quarantine we are all experiencing together and put into a tank of color film I was processing this week and that's when I found a series of three frames that had me scratching my head wondering what was I thinking? They were some images of Lake Tahoe, but compositionally they didn't make sense to me. That's when I remembered I was doing a test with that roll on seeing if I could stitch frames of film together to make a panoramic images much the way can be done digitally. I know why not just use digital? Well I wanted to see if I could use mature technology (film) with modern technology (Adobe Lightroom) to produce a panorama that has all the fidelity of resolution that film brings to the table. And what do you know it worked! The below panorama is a 60" long side photograph by 23" on the short side that I can't wait to have printed once Bay Photo Lab is back fully running! It's going to look fantastic in Molly's office or maybe her Home Office too! Anyway the moral to this story is I'm so glad that this roll of film got mis placed and that I was concerned about processing quality to had I held onto it, then that I got out of my own way to learn new skills to process it, and finally that I remembered the test I was trying to achieve with it in creating a panorama using film, but modern software to stitch it together! I guess patience is a virtue is true and using film to teach patience is another reason I love to create my work with it!
I hope you are all stying healthy and safe as we naviagate this extraordinary time we're in!