I was doing a little pro-bono project last wednesday when the agency doing the design work mentioned a paying job that might entail shooting at a print shop. We chatted about it and I told them about this job that I did in New York City back in the 1990's. An agency up there hired me to come up and do my signature available light style to document a specialty printer, step by step.
I kept it as simple as I could. A Hasselblad and three lenses. Three or four film backs, all filled with 400 speed Tri-X (as opposed to the professional 320 variety). A stout tripod and a light meter. We might have gotten fancy and used a little pop up reflector from time to time. The way the job work was that I'd walk around and look for interesting stuff to shoot. Then I would set up my camera and shoot.
I think the client was nervous when I showed up with only one assistant and no entourage. In New York in the middle of the 1990's most jobs were filled to the brim with assistants, make-up people, stylists, craft service people and other support crew. That doesn't even begin to include art directors, account managers, product managers and production managers. I think that's why the agency hired me and flew me up from Texas. I had developed somewhat of a reputation for cutting through the silly stuff that had nothing to do with the way I shot and just getting my style of shooting done.
In the end the client really loved the images and used them to do a display for a trade show at the Jacob Javitts Center. The images were used about ten by ten feet. I sent a collection of the images to the present day account and they were pretty amazed. Not that the photos were good or bad but that they looked so different from the homogenous digital images that they see so often on the web and in portfolios.
Having used Photoshop since the early 1990's I know that I might be able to take a digital capture and emulate the effects I got in the prints from the film negatives but there is a difference. I've come to the conclusion (and so have several of my friends...) that film captures and digital captures are two totally different media. I love the dimensionality of the prints and I'm not sure I can duplicate that. And I've already written enough about the loss of potential that instant feedback creates. So I'll just say that each media has its strengths and weaknesses and these strengths and weaknesses may be very counter intuitive. I guess the thing I love about film is the same reason why people like to wrap presents: It's fun to be surprised.
One of the main reasons I like shooting with both the regular 4:3rds cameras and the micro 4:3rds cameras from Olympus is the ability to set the format to a square. I'll even admit to using a few of the "art filters" like the pinhole filter and the monochrome settings. But they are all "looks" I could easily get in the darkroom.
Speaking of the darkroom, it's interesting to remember that there were so many steps in film jobs. First we'd shoot, then there was a certain creative craft to developing film for the right look and the right contrast. Then we'd try to make contact sheets that were as beautiful as the final prints. After the client made "favorites" selections we'd make quick, 8x10 "work prints" so I could get client feedback on cropping (where appropriate), burning, dodging, contrast and other considerations. Finally, for premium projects, I'd spend days in the darkroom, sometimes going thru a full box a paper, just to get exactly the right look and feel in each print. The back end of the job was a very important part of the art process. And remember, we'd work hard to get it right in the camera since there was little economic recourse for post process saving.
I love it when work from the distant past magnetically attracts future work. I probably won't shoot the present day job on film. The current economy and the level of fear in the advertising community probably mitigates against taking risks. But we'll soon be back to the a heathly creative environment and hopefully ad people will have the courage to differentiate and create.
It's a new year and I'm throwing out old files and re-dedicating myself to pure photography. I hope to stay media agnostic but you probably know that I'm fickle and mercurial. I'm currently working with the Olympus EP2 to do a whole series of black and white portraits that I'm going to share with you in a few weeks. Stay warm and keep shooting. The rewards seem to go to the people who work all the time. Might as well get into the habit.
Quick request: I know that many of you have purchased one or more of my three books in the last year. If the spirit moves you, it would be wonderful to see a few more reviews of each book over at Amazon.com. Just suggesting. Helps my self-esteem. Makes me write better blogs faster......