Friday, October 19, 2012

My Very Very First Rolleiflex Shots

 Taken With Rolleiflex on Ilord FP4

Taken With EOS 7D

Finally, after almost a month, I got my Black and White film negatives back from processing. I should explain the huge delay is because many camera storefront operations do not process B&W any more, and the ones who say they do actually send it out to a third party, as was the case for me. The colour film I shot after I had done with the Ilford FP4 was processed by the same store overnight, in their C41 machinery. Live and learn I guess. The results you can see above. The top one was created by scanning the negative in my Epson v500, and the bottom one was taken with my Canon EOS 7D, with a simple B&W conversion done in GIMP, with no other processing or digital enhancements. As I had mentioned before, these were shot on the same overcast day at about the same time. They are clearly very different, and my own preference is for the EOS 7D, although in defence of the film product, I have to say that the whole roll was disappointing, very grey looking pictures with a very limited tonal range. It could have been me underexposing, but I know that wasn't the case, as there was also at least one picture on the strip which I know was overexposed by me - this one for instance-

Rolleiflex and Ilford FP4

With this one, I had to give it a Contrast adjustment to make it look decent. Perhaps the person who developed my negative was trying to strike up a good balance between my normal and overexposed shots, because when you are processing a negative, you have to give the entire film strip the same treatment, and there is little control over the results.

Film is very difficult. You have to be very consistent with your exposure - there is no way to over and under compensate an entire roll of film for each individual picture. Keeping in mind these are my first efforts with "real B&W" film, using a "real camera" which in spite of it's name (The Automat-4), has no auto-exposure, not even an exposure meter, and no auto-focus. Given all this, here are my learnings from this experience:

  1. I'll never use real B&W film again (Never say never, they say). Waiting for somebody else darkroom time is simply not worth it. 
  2. I learned that real B&W printing (chemical, not digital) is not available locally. If I had wanted prints from my FP4, the camera store would have simply made prints from my scans on their big professional Epson pigment-ink printer.
  3. For future B&W work, I will simply scan my colour negatives at home and if I want particular pictures in B&W, I will convert them in GIMP, as I always do.
These decisions reflect my current level of maturity, especially point 3, which shows that I really haven't discovered how to "see" in black and white yet. All I'm doing is looking at my colour pictures and saying "that would look good in B&W", and so I convert it. But is this really such a big deal? There was a time when B&W was your only choice, or perhaps the only popular choice - it's just the opposite now. Have a look at these pictures from the early 50's taken by Vivian Maier. She too used a Rolleiflex, probably the same model I have. These are amazing photographs - a true artist at work, and one who really inspires me toward a goal - to be able to shoot like she did. But to my point - do you suppose that she was really "seeing" the world in B&W, like they say you're supposed to today, or was she using B&W film simply because it was the common way to go in the early 50's? I suspect it was the latter. Colour film was certainly available then, but for whatever reason, it had not attained the mass popularity that B&W enjoyed. This leaves a very good question - do we really need to "see the world in B&W" in order to shoot good B&W?

I'll leave that for you to answer.


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  3. When black and white film was prevalent, people certainly did "see in black and white." I know that I was taught at a young age to not use color film if my subject didn't require it. Black and white was preferable because in my case, my publisher only wanted to spend money on color spreads where the color was necessary to the image.

    After a while, I knew when I needed color film in my camera, and it wasn't often, but I made the choice when it was appropriate. Also, when I knew there was b&w in the camera, I adopted that mindset: to see in black and white. It affects the way you shoot. Same with color.

    Digital has blurred these lines and often times people will convert to black and white simply to "save" an image or for effect. It was different when you were consciously shooting with the knowledge that your final output would be black and white.

    I recommend you take a class in B&W film developing and possibly printing. It is very easy to do, and once you know that and have some instruction, you might really love to shoot black and white. Scans from prints are so much better than scans from negatives, because your final print is truly the work of art... not the negative itself.

  4. Thanks for that Cecily... I certainly believe every word you're saying about seeing in black and white. It is something I've been wondering about, and you've given a very well experienced answer to something which I have yet to learn.

    Very interesting reply about scanning also. I've been debating recently about the "value" of film negatives versus digital files, basically my point being that as files don't exist in space and time, but yet can easily be stolen once published to the Internet, they are greatly de-valued compared to a film negative, which the artist actually owns. As I currently know nothing about real chemical B&W printmaking, I'm not aware of the adjustments and enhancements that are possible. I will take your advice to heart - I know that I will benefit from some good learning about the real black and white process.


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