Saturday, December 19, 2020

Twenty Years of Photography

Twenty years ago, I went from being a typical family snapshooter to learning all I could about photography, and to become a better photographer.  That quest has never ended -,and I am always learning new things, and how to be a better photographer.  Over the past week or so, I began looking through my binders of early negatives, where shooting with b&w film really began having an effect on the way I saw scenes, and of course, recorded them on film.  Prior to that, I was shooting mostly color print film and color slides - and while I continued to do color work, it was the b&w world where I was learning the most.  Learning how to compose and think in b&w, as well as all the developing of negatives and subsequent printing onto sliver-gelatin paper.  My subject matter changed, compared to what I was shooting in color.  For me, color was where I was shooting macro and close-ups, and I suppose that I was trying to emulate the work of nature photographer John Shaw. While I learned a lot from his books and videos (which are very good), it also coincided with my vocation as an entomologist, and aided my research and work on insects.  

Bill Brudon, Nov. 2001. Praktica
Super TL, Tri-X film.

However, it was my mentor, William L. Brudon, that changed my world with his immense knowledge of black and white films and how to achieve the desired results with so many different kinds of b&w film. Bill was always testing different films with various developers, and he kept notebooks filled with his results. He was also a medical illustrator, natural science artist, and a good photographer. Bill and his wife Margaret (also a medical illustrator) lived a mile from my house, and every time I met with him, his critical eye and old-school demeanor whetted my appetite for more. He introduced me to the works of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Imogen Cunningham, Stieglitz, and Sudek, among others. His generous gifts of books and cameras and film are something that I shall never forget, and I swore to myself that I would repay him by sharing my knowledge and pass on film, books, and equipment to others when the opportunities arose. As my photography evolved, I did less macrophotography except in relation to work, and I explored b&w and different cameras in much of my free time. 

In late 2000, I developed my first roll of b&w film since I was in high school.  That whiff of stop bath and fixer immediately transported me to 1974. It was magic then, and it is still magic.  To see a roll of film yield images is forever a wonderful thing. I have developed thousands of rolls of film myself, and it never gets old.  My view, my images, my work, to make them something tangible. It's imagination, science, art, technology, and some craft makes those images possible.

Fleming Creek, 12-25-2000. Nikon FE, Ilford Delta 100

Bill Brudon was the person that changed me from being happy to get a picture from my camera, to someone wanting to show the world what I saw, and to always want to do better than the last roll I shot. To experience different film formats and see how they affected my composition and subject matter, to find that elusive moment when I know that BAM! I got the image that I envisioned, and to know that serendipity favors the prepared.  I have also learned that the quality of the gear means nothing without vision.  Some of my best images have been taken with my “worst” cameras.  

Cobblestone Farm, June 2001.  Ricoh KR-5, 28mm lens
and Kodak's High Speed Infrared film with a Red 25A filter. 
Bill introduced me to the world of IR film.

Over the past 20 years, I have certainly handled more cameras (thousands) than I ever thought possible, due to an interest in collecting certain cameras (with an intense excursion into Argus, because I lived in Ann Arbor), and also because I became the person that could sell off a photographer’s estate.  That allowed me to learn an awful lot of photographic history and operate a lot of vintage cameras, some of which are rarely encountered. It put me in contact with many fine people in the Michigan Photographic Historical Society, of which I was a board member for a few years. 

Senescence. Nov. 2001, Nikkormat FT2, Kodak Tri-X.

So, it's hard to believe that in 2000, I was 44 years old, and absorbing so much new information and embarking on this journey into photography.  I certainly did not anticipate that my wife and I would sell our house and buy Bill and Margaret's home when they decided to move to a retirement village in 2002, and that Bill would leave behind a complete darkroom setup for me in that house.  A lot of what I learned proved useful in my real job at the University of Michigan, especially macro-photography.  But macrophotography isn't what I kept doing with my photography, it was learning about this huge universe of photographic technology, the history of photography, the arcane things that you can only pick up by delving into the minutiae of photography.  On top of all of that, it was shoot, shoot, shoot.  As I look over my negatives from 2000-2002, I can see that I often bracketed a lot of shots, as I was unsure of how things were best exposed. Bill also made sure that I did bracket so that I could judge a series of negatives for the best overall exposure. I really enjoyed delving into trying various films and developers, and as I look over those early negatives, I can see now where I should have done something differently had I known at the time. It's not hindsight - it's learning.  

Some proof sheets and negatives from 2001

I started this blog in late 2004, and it's been an ongoing way for me to share my photography, thoughts, and reviews of cameras and film.  That I have been doing it for 16 years astonishes me.  

Huron River, Sept. 2000, Retinette 1a, Agfa APX 100

Bill died in hospice care in July, 2009, at the age of 87. He was a beloved friend and mentor, and he called me "Number 3 Son" (he had two actual sons). I still own many of the cameras, lenses, books, and equipment that he gave me. While we lived in Ann Arbor, I always felt that the darkroom was my little sanctuary, just like it had been for Bill. Moving to NC meant that I would have to finally give it up, and hopefully build a new one here.  I think that is the only thing that I miss from our Ann Arbor house - the darkroom that Bill had built.  I still have yet to build mine, but the downstairs bathroom is where I develop my film so I can scan it. I have plans to convert a large closet next to the bathroom into a small darkroom, and after our kitchen renovations are done in the spring of 2021, I will start working on the darkroom.  

Another important date in my timeline is when I found out about the Film Photography Project. I think it was at Photostock in 2011 when I met a young Mat Marrash, who interviewed me. Within a few years I was a regular on the podcasts, and Michael Raso has become a great friend and collaborator. It’s allowed me to pass on my knowledge to hundreds of people via the podcasts, which I think Bill Brudon would have greatly enjoyed. 


Mike Raso and I at Benny's, Ann Arbor. 2016

So, anyway, back to scanning.  As I go through these binders, I am building up a library of images that I can use for other projects, future issues of Monochrome Mania, and to gather together material that will tell a story when I need it. I had a series of projects in mind when I lived in Michigan, and never felt that I had the quality of images to complete the projects. Going back through those files, with so much time removed from the time I shot them has given me a new viewpoint as to their value.  I sure as hell am glad that I shot on film, because it's really a lot easier to view a sheet of negatives than to scroll endlessly through computer files.  

Argus C-4, December 2000. Nikon FE, T-Max 400 in Microdol-X

This year has been a tough one in regards to the COVID pandemic, but it's also made me take time and go through work that I haven't looked at in a long while.  I do hope 2021 will be much improved, and I can go on some long-overdue road trips to make new images of things that interest me. Oh, and I expect that I'll be using at least one of the Nikons that Bill gave me.


David O. said...

I enjoyed reading you post. I started in 1976 with a Minolta SRT-202 and didn't learn to process film until the next year. I've shot professionally but now I shoot simply for pleasure. I enjoy buying old cameras and using them as well.

Kevin Lane said...

Bill, I can accurately say that I have ready every single one of your blog posts, so I have come to think of you as my mentor. Thank you for taking the time to share what you have learned over the years. Someday I hope I can look back over my body of work and see growth and perhaps a little bit of mastery. Cheers!

Kevin Lane said...

Mark, I can accurately say that I have read every single one of your blog posts, and I consider you to be my virtual mentor. Thank you fir sharing your knowledge and experience. I believe it has made a difference in my photography. Someday I hope to look back over my body of work and see growth and perhaps even a little bit of mastery. Cheers!

TheCzarsOf45 said...

I have but one regret. I wish I knew darkroom. I overcome physical challenges, daily. I shoot film. I enjoy seeing your work. And wish to see more. Now have Minolta SRT 201 outfit of my own, on the cheap ($32 senior discount, two lenses and flash). Shot nearly 1/2 a roll of Fujicolor 200 today, in gimpy exuberance. Your story resonates properly from Eastern Tennessee. I'd be honored to shoot a roll or 3 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee with you. In solidarity. Cerebral Palsy, never is allowed to get in the way of some images or a few rolls.

mfophotos said...

Thanks for your comments. That's a good deal on the Minolta outfit, and I admire your perseverance. I love how the film-using community brings people together.