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  • I've spent the last year photographing primarily with film and mostly in black and white.

    It's a bit puzzling, this return to a retrograde art. Anyone who has used a digital camera is well aware of its multitude of advantages. I have given up a lot of options with this current obsession of mine.

    I think it's correct to call it an obsession. I think it needs to be an obsession, for it's a lonely path to follow. My fellow photographers in my photography groups offer encouragement, yet none embrace film, and I suspect that by now a reputation for eccentricity has settled permanently upon myself.

    It's an increasingly do-it-yourself world too. Developing, once ubiquitous, is restricted to fewer and fewer places and the cost continues to climb. Black and white developing was always more expensive than color, so I began that with the intention of doing my own developing at home.

    And I did, although it took a few months to get the hang of it, and a number of rolls were spoiled or less-optimally developed than they might have been. A small number, fortunately, and each taught a lesson. These days I feel more comfortable with a roll of film than a memory card. There's something permanent and tangible about a strip of negatives. Looking at a memory card, all you can do it hope that your computer reads it right. Sometimes that can go wrong too.

    My local camera shop just raised prices for color developing by fifty percent. So, with a certain degree of apprehension, I will be embracing color developing at home as well. Trickier than black and white, largely because times and temperatures need to be tightly controlled. But it will be fun to learn.

    So I have taken photography away from the computer - for a digital camera is simply a computer with a lens attached - and back to cellulose, polyester, and a clutch of chemicals. It's a wet art now. Messy and hands-on. Dependent on thermometer and timer.

    The results may or may not be better than something I could capture with a digital camera. It would be a mistake to suggest that using film somehow enhances the artistry of a shot. It's true that photographing with black and white film forces you to consider light as much shade and reflection as individual color. I have learned a lot about color by not shooting in color. But film does give a different look, and even my throw-away images gain from being part of an active process that seems somehow so much more alive than the results of the computer manipulations of Lightroom or Photoshop. Both programs allow you to take a color image and reduce it to black and white and to play with the relative proportions of color that lie behind that black and white image, but it's all done by changing bit and byte values. You can't change it or play with it afterwards, but the results of manipulating light by using colored glass filters and a black and white film have a special appeal for me that comes from changing the quality of light itself and its interaction with photosensitive chemicals.

    Strange this turn away from computers. I embraced the digital world as avidly as anyone during its earlier days. Perhaps it's the proliferation of electronic technology all around me, most obvious in the smart phone, that causes me settle on an old camera like the Rolleiflex my dad gave to me and to revel in its lack of electronics, its mechanics and its simplicity of form and function. No batteries for a Rollei. No charger needed.

    Truly and blessedly unplugged. I'm going to stay that way.
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