Weekly Feature

2005-12-28 / Editorial

Spindle items

DAVID F. SHERMAN Managing Editor

OUT OF FILM — My apologies to the late George Eastman.

I may have shot my last roll of 35mm film. Yes, I am closing to finally “going digital.”

To understand the significance of this “development,” one must realize that I am a product of a family that relied on the Eastman Kodak Co. to put bread on the table. My father built a small darkroom for me in the basement, and I started developing and printing my own black and white photos while I was a high school student.

Thanks to my dad’s discount at Kodak, I was able to try out different types of film and paper at a substantial savings. It was a great way to learn because he paid for most of it.

I advanced to my own 35mm camera with interchangeable lenses in the spring of 1971. The camera cost $129 and I was in heaven.

But there was still a lot to learn. Developing film is not simple. Not only must you load the developing tank in total darkness, but the quality of the negatives is affected by the strength and temperature of the solution, how long it remains in the solution, and how frequently and vigorously you agitate the tank. Then you drain off the developer and halt the process by adding a solution called stop bath — something my frugal father insisted could be done just as well with tap water. Drain that off and add fixer to preserve the images on film. The temperature of each of these solutions must be within just a few degrees of each other or the slimy emulsion might crack or become spotted from the shock.

Once the fixing is done, you can look at the negatives in the light. But you still have to wash the film (tap water again) and then use a wetting agent to prevent streaks from forming on it when it dries. Then a similar series of steps follows in making prints. You get the idea.

Different films of different “speeds” have different ways of recording contrast, another skill to master. For a long time I did not own a flash, so I “pushed” 400 speed to 1,600 for indoor photos. The negatives were harsh and difficult to print, but I learned a lot along the way.

Now, in the new digital world, there are no variances in contrast when working off a memory card. Being able to see what you shot immediately afterward is an equally frugal move as you may delete unwanted images faster than you can say Kodachrome.

I no longer shoot photos every day. My primary subjects are my kids and breaking news events such as fires and car wrecks. I have had a Sabres press pass for 30 years and was fortunate enough to be accredited for this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Detroit. I didn’t see anyone shooting film in Motown.

So for me, the film era is nearly over. I still have a darkroom at my house and can straighten it up enough to make prints from old negatives I shot in the previous century. This will remain an art form for years to come, as it is a thrilling achievement to discard half a dozen black and white prints en route to creating a single one that’s just right.

I would love to have one of the top of the line Nikon digital camera but will probably settle for a simpler version from the same manufacturer so that I can still switch lenses and have some control over a very intricate electronic process. Next year will probably be the beginning of the new era for this photojournalist. Thanks, Kodak, for the memories.

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