Roadside Gas Station (retired), National City California
Film has built-in limitations – but it’s honest. It has reciprocity problems and grain, but it’s film grain – not noise. You can’t shoot a 16 bit digital frame and desaturate it to B&W. Exposure has to be right on – it can’t be salvaged with white-value recovery in a RAW processor. If you load the camera with B&W film, that’s what you’re shooting and that’s what you get. There’s no going back to the original file and adding a 50% desaturation layer for some kind of antique look. If you shoot film, you’re connecting with state of the art twentieth-century technology: exposure and development times better be right on or you’ll have nothing. Think of it as practice. If you practice photography with film, it’s the equivalent of playing a Bach etude – a solo piece written for piano, meant to be played on a piano. Analog, old school and pure.
If you shoot film, you have to load the camera. That conscious choice will rest on other decisions: weather, time of day, filter factors and what’s on your mind – how you feel. Antonin Kratochvil uses Kodak P-3200 and the film’s grain works with his gritty subjects. Ansel Adams used a fine-grain continuous tone approach so the photographic process didn’t get in the way of the images. It’s personal.
I spent my life as a photographer understanding what light would look like printed on a piece of Agfa Brovira double-weight paper. I learned that it will be sharp, warm and feel like memory – only more real because every time you feel the heavy uneven weight of the paper you’ll be revisiting a moment in time that photograph was an attempt to understand. The photograph is an abstraction: a fairly convincing representation of a slice of your time and consequently your existence. It’s real – not a collection of ones and zeros on a hard-drive. It takes up space, it can be handled and it insists on being taken seriously – with a touch of respect. You won’t print every single frame: only the ones that can speak for you.
I shot this single frame using Kodak TMX100 through a Toyo Omega 4×5 camera – a combination in wide use since about 1901 – to explore my feelings about California before freeways, before daily school shootings and instant telecommunication via social media. I was looking for a California before there was a television in every room – a time when you had to know what you wanted in order to get it.