I was watching a news show this morning and as they faded to advertising they were playing Kodachrome in the background. We talk about the soundtrack of our lives and this is one of those songs. It was released in 1973 by Paul Simon. Three years later I went to photography school, not because of the song. At the time we played that song to death.
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s
A sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to a photograph
So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away”
This started me thinking (another rabbit hole) about my history with film. I think Ektachrome was the first color film I exposed in school, probably after months of working with b&w. The line went if you could shoot chrome you could shoot anything. You had to pay attention to exposure. Not long out of school I worked at a small lab processing Ektachrome and color negative films as well as black and white. I have to say that even though I was the only lab tech there and after running hundreds of rolls of film and printing thousands of b&w prints I never lost my love of the darkroom. It was quiet and meditative. For me there was always magic in a darkroom – even knowing how it all worked, it was still magic.
It’s been many, many years since I’ve been in a darkroom. I often lament the fact that my daughters will never experience processing their own film and making their own prints. They are the digital generation. I must admit if I am honest with myself that so much of the frustration of being a photographer was relieved by the digital age. How many times did I return prints to a lab to be reprinted because they were too magenta or cropped improperly? Now you have complete control over every image. If you have something printed and it doesn’t look the way you expected it to then you have no one to blame but yourself. How many proof albums did I put together and then take apart for brides to create their wedding albums? Does anyone even have a wedding album anymore? Now they have it playing with the dissolve and music as their screen saver on their computer. That’s not a bad thing. It used to take anywhere from 6 months to a year to get a couple their finished album, hours of work on the part of the photographer.
Maybe that’s what I’m really lamenting, the loss of the long process from beginning to end. The light meter, the framing, the deliberate shot. Not knowing what you have on that roll of color film until a week or more after it was exposed. Now that I think of it it’s a wonder that half of the photographers I know didn’t die an early death due to the stress in their lives. Shooting 300 shots at a wedding with equipment malfunctions requiring some pretty creative exposures. Using your flash manually (can you even do that anymore?) knowing the distance by eye and setting your exposure instantly. Then waiting to see if you get that phone call from the lab saying “Uhm, you have 3 rolls (90 shots for me) underexposed and not printable.” That’ll wreck your day, week, month. I had the good fortune to have what few horror stories I can tell happen on someone else’s dime. It was his crappy equipment and he had to clean up the mess. You had such an intimate knowledge of your equipment and your film, you knew what you could do with it and when you were pushing the envelope.
Today my go to camera is often my phone. I am still a deliberate photographer. I compose every shot. I don’t load hundreds of photographs onto my computer with edit in mind. I don’t think you should have to do that. I think you should see that shot in your mind and strive for it. Of course there is still the edit of that one shot but now I have complete control and that too happens in an instant. I will never be making little cardboard vignettes or tools with wire to print that special print again. Although I have to say when it took me hours to make that perfect b&w print it meant so much more to me.