Back garden, March 2017.
Well, almost three years. But close enough to make a few points.
Firstly, I’m shooting much the same scenes then as I am now. And I could go back a lot further too if I admitted my digital photographs into this comparison.
Secondly, my technique – as far as photographing, developing and scanning black and white film – hasn’t advanced much in terms of absolute image quality. This was a surprise at first. I fully expected my early photographs to be full of imperfections from the developing process, and, to be fair, many of my early attempts are less clean and more scratched (through impatience with the washing and drying process). A few, maybe three or four, rolls were ruined by misloading the camera or by developing mistakes. This has not happened recently. But overall, those early negatives look just as good as my latest ones.
In the early days of my digital photography, I produced many under or overexposed images, lost images through careless handling of storage media, and noticed a marked improvement over time as I upgraded my cameras – as well as improving my personal technical skills. As this period spanned from about 2000 to today, the technological advances were considerable. Film, on the other hand, is pretty much an end-developed medium. And when I took it up three years ago, my camera skills were about as advanced then as they are today.
So perhaps it is not that surprising that three years worth of negatives show nothing of the changes and advances of the digital years. I have learned many more techniques, from the use of color filters for black and white, many developing methods for both black and white and color film, to wet printing gelatin silver prints. I’ve also absurdly expanded my camera and lens collections, largely because older film equipment is largely unwanted and consequently inexpensive and a lot of fun to use. But as to making photographs – not so much.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. When you are no longer chasing technical advances – on whatever level – it becomes easier to step back and simply think about what you are photographing. Certainly I’ve seen a change in emphasis. I’m no longer that interested in producing ‘Wow’ pictures. Instead I’m looking for subtleties. As I indicated above, I’ve found myself photographing the same places and objects over and over again. At different times and in different light. This trend is likely to accelerate as I retire and can devote more hours to any particular scene.
The results may end up interesting only me. But that’s OK. What I do have now – and what I did not have three years ago – is a massively expanded battery of potential photographic treatments that extend far beyond any popular Photoshop effect. It’s a path I would recommend to any photographer looking to further his or her abilities and imagination.