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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The good old days...weren't

Like a lot of folks, I tend to wax nostalgically about the good old days, when I was younger, girls were prettier and my photography was more fun. But was it really that way?

I have a small collection of old film cameras, many of which I've used extensively, in a glass case in my home. Of these, there are a select few that I really, really enjoyed using, and I still miss the feel of holding those cameras, winding the cranks, thumbing the focus, and how each was a unique experience to use. Using my old Nikon F3, for instance, was vastly different than either the Yashicamat or Speed Graphic, and here you get a sense of why that was...

Nikon F3 (Google Images)

Yashicamat (Google Images)

Speed Graphic (google Images)

Obviously, very, very different machines from one another, and none of them remotely like the auto-everything, slick as a baby's butt modern cameras we have today.
But as much as I loved these machines, I just can't see ever going back to using film. Its not the waiting for development, or the inability to "chimp" the photo on the LCD screen that makes me feel this way. In addition to the fact that digital is just plain sharper, and gives me more detail than film ever did (and yeah, I'm including Kodachrome 25, Fuji Velvia etc etc), my biggest reason for ditching film is the freedom from the dangers and mess of the chemical darkroom.

As much as I'm a "materials and processes" guy, and trained at R•I•T in the imaging sciences back when chemical photography was all there was, I don't miss trading the chemical fog of the darkroom for the "lightroom" that is my computer. I just wish I could place a digital sensor into any of my old machines and still use them, but negate their chemical dependancy. (I theoretically could do that with the Speed Graphic, ironically about the oldest camera I own, by placing a large format digital-back in its Graflex Holder. Albeit for about $20,000, that's not a practical option for me)

Tangentially related, as a very young person, I melted a mixture of lead, tin, and old typeface to make the pigs for the Linotype and Mergenthaler machines at a hot type printer in Buffalo, NY in the early 1980's. They were still running Meihle's, Hiedelberg Windmills, and a couple of Kelly "C" presses well into the 1990's, and may still be for all I know.
It was dangerous stuff. One guy had lost a finger in a Kluge hand-feed press right before I arrived, I myself was crushed by a truck in the loading dock, requiring 5 surgeries in all, and the Linotype guy lost a thumb to a type-trim saw while I was in the hospital from my own accident. Yeah...those were the days.

Here's a video I found on YouTube that shows some of the actual presses I worked with, and around, in those days. Watch out especially for the guy using the hand-feed press, you can see how easy it would be to leave your hand in there:

Now, this stuff was more mechanical, industrial and dangerous than my photography ever was. And it was my being injured in printing that led me to attend R•I•T for photography, even though I continued to work in printing for another 20 years. My point being, that while I miss certain physical and mechanical aspects of the old days of photography (and printing), I'm also really happy that we have safer ways of creating an image.

And creating images is what its all about.
Be Safe.


  1. I love this. I have manually set type and developed film in a darkroom. Have you ever used one of those cameras, I can't remember what they are called, that apply a halftone to a picture so it could be printed? They were huge took up 2 rooms.

  2. Wow - had no idea we had so much in common - Your talking about a Horizontal process camera - and yes, soon after I was hired to melt lead for type, my foreman knew I was a budding student photographer, so he put me in the darkroom. They only had a small vertical separation camera at the time, but after I moved to NC, I was hired at a large printing co. where I worked on the big horizontal camera doing separations, and later became the Hell CP345 Drum Scanner Operator.

  3. Shutterpilot:

    I've never been in the printing business, but I used to work at a Pro-Lab developing B&W film by hand, and also using the Dunk-Tank Machine. I used to dev B&W film and print at home. I still have my enlargers and many film cameras up to 4x5.

    But it's mainly digital now. Instant results and no chemicals.

    Riding the Wet Coast
    My Flickr // My YouTube