Monday, December 6, 2010

Does this Make My Photography Look Fat?

I am not a real photographer.

I mean, I take pictures, and sometimes they're purdy and all, but I don't actually know that much about the actual mechanics of photography.

I hate not knowing shit, but in this case, I have been too lazy to do much about it.  Seriously, someone talks about F-stops or aperture, and I am all, "Yeah, uh, sure.  I take pictures, too."

This is particularly pathetic because I worked for a photographer for like 2 years.  In my defense, I worked in his gallery, and didn't talk to him much about anything to do with photography, just sales (or lack of sales), his family, his favorite bar, and his favorite place to photograph.  He also used this crazy nice and expensive digital camera that cost more than he paid me in three months.  This left me thinking that in order to be good at photography, you have to be rich, and possibly own a Porsche.

Anyway, I decided that I should rectify my ignorance in a typical "me" fashion:  A ton of half-cocked experiments and partially started projects spread over the better part of a year (so far).

My first "project" was to start taking pictures using "film".  "Film" is a magical substance that you can buy at Walgreens or a photography shop for a few dollars.  Please note:  you can't use film in a digital camera.

After no research and some osmosis by hanging out with actual photographers, I have learned all about the photography process, and I am now imparting these secrets to you.  Or you can Google it, which would probably be smart as I am a notorious untrustworthy source.

The first thing you need to do, is obtain a "film camera".  You will not be able to find this incredible mechanical device outside specialty retailers and pawn shops.  Or online, I guess, if you want to take the fun out of looking.

I went the "cheap" route, and borrowed my dad's old 35mm.  This camera is a Ricoh that was produced sometime in the late 1970's, and brings back memories of Dad being "artistic", while we all posed, trying not to let our smiles slip or looks forced while he adjusted the stupid thing which always seemed to take forever.  This camera probably weighs about nine hundred million bajillion pounds, or at least if feels like it if you are carrying it all day on the little strap over your shoulder.  It is made of metal and glass and doesn't have plastic parts.  You can tell something is amazing when it isn't made out of plastic.

Anyway, he hadn't used the it in several years, so he let me borrow it.  This is an even better option than eBay or pawn shops because it's free, and I am cheap.

The next thing you must obtain the miraculous film.  To do this, you must be prepared for an epic adventure and plan to fight against the future and technology.  Fortitude is a must.

There are two ways of obtaining film.

You can go online and buy some, which means you have to know what the hell you are looking for.  There are a lot of options.   It's also kind of boring to use this method, and you have to wait like 5 days to get it.  Since I am an impatient person, I chose to use the second option:

Find a retailer that actually still stocks film.  Not only do they have to stock it, but you have to check that the film they have hasn't expired, and it isn't sitting in the front window where it'a exposed to the afternoon sun, or in the back of the store by the heater.  Film uses crazy alchemical processes that turn chemicals into photographs, so it is delicate and apparently old film will lead to madness.

I went to Walgreens, which also leads to madness.

With some trepidation, I entered a nearby store.

Walgreens makes me think of expensive cosmetics, old food, As Seen on TV stuff, DIY broken joint repair kits, holiday junk, and medicine.  Medicine because you are sick.  Medicine because you're freaking contagious.  Walgreens = germs.  I am constantly worried that I will contract some horrible liquifying death when I enter.

Overcoming fear is what makes us heros.  It is not for the faint of heart.  Or maybe it is, because they probably sell heart medicine, too, but that's not the kind of faint heartedness I am talking about.

Once you enter the Walgreens, you must not be distracted or overwhelmed by the abundance of crap stuffing the aisles.  And the aisles are stuffed with so many things.

Your best method of navigating this labyrinth is to stay on an outside wall.  The photo desk is usually on the outside, and keeping this single minded goal in mind will lead to success in your quest.

Once you reach the photo desk, check to make sure they have a lab in the back.  It will be a huge monstrous machine that smells kinda funny.  Likely, there will also be bins with strange letters on the outside and secret packages inside.  Don't go back and look at them, or the Walgreensians will attack.

Now, start looking left and right.  There may be islands of stuff in the way, but it will be there.

The film.

It will beckon with a soft golden glow indicating you have reached your destiny.  Your destiny's name is Kodak.

Unless you are a wizard or alchemist, you need to make sure that the film you get says it is "C-41" somewhere on the box.  This indicates that Walgreens can process it.  If it doesn't have the combination of C, 4, and 1, in that order, you will have to develop this yourself.  Which is fine if you have a deep relationship with the Dark Arts.

Last, you must "purchase" your film at the register.  If you skip this step, the local authorities will probably hunt you down and embarrass you, and probably cause you some inconvenience and loss of equity.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.

I would recommend not making eye contact, touching, or breathing in the general direction of anyone else in line.  Avoid physical contact.  After you leave, wash your entire body in bleach.

Now that you have obtained the film, it is time to use it.

If you don't know how to load your film, I can't help you.   Suffice to say, you need to put the film in the camera in such a way that you will be able to wind it, and then close it.  Do not open the back of the camera once the film has loaded or you will let the magic out.  Getting the film out can only be done after you have taken the pictures, and rewound the film back into the canister so that the evil cleansing sunlight doesn't get to it.

Finally, go take you some pictures.

The camera I borrowed has an internal light meter, so all I had to do was figure out how to get the little pointer thing to the middle of the meter by turning dials at random, focus, and click.

And yes, I took it back to Walgreens to have them complete the rituals and incantations to make the film into photographs.

Here is an example of the result:

I was pretty happy taking pictures in this method for  a while.  I even dabbled in some self-development with the assistance of an alchemic novate that I know.  But, like so many things, I lost interest.

I decided at some point, though, that while I can get a reasonable facsimile of a photograph, I still don't know what the crap I am doing.  I decided to simplify.

I created a pinhole and put it in place of a lens on one of my cameras.  To do this, I glued some black cardboard together that I think may have come from an old picture frame, put a hole in the center, cut our a piece of an old beer can and made a really small hole in the middle of that, made a little ring around the ensemble with some black construction paper, then taped the whole thing to a camera sans lens with masking tape.

I then loaded some 400 black and while film, attached it to a tripod, and went for a walk on the bike trail.

It even kind of looks like I know what I am doing.

The bridge is looking up from a canal towards the bike path looks all mysterious.  On some of the longer exposures, I got some light leaks, I think from the view finder.  Next time I will cover it.

And that is how you make modern small-city America look like the early 1900's.

See?  I told you film is magic.

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