Over the past few months I rekindled my love affair with traditional black & white photography. I’ve no idea exactly what triggered it but late last year I decided to dust off my old Olympus OM10 and buy some film. I guess shooting digitally every day for clients sometimes has that feeling of the predictable that lacks emotional connection. Only sometimes.
I visited Barcelona for a weekend-break in October, taking my Olympus with me. I’d been looking for an excuse to use it properly and this seemed like a good one. Time is limited for me these days to get out and shoot for fun, freelance life is often frantic, schedules unforgiving, so I’d not really had the opportunity to do so as often as I’d liked. But this was intended as an R&R exercise so I could snap away as when I was a teenager, before the daily demands of deadlines and client schedules became the ‘norm’.
Barcelona is an inspiration at every turn, with beautiful architecture wherever you look. I’d been before, back in my art college days with a group of student friends, and I’d had a go at photographing the famous Gaudi-designed sites like La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia. Back then though I was merely a 19 year old learning the ropes with a camera, this time I was back to do a proper job.
Professionally I started out in photography just as the digital revolution was starting to flourish. I had formally trained in film (and transparency) at art college so was more than willing and prepared to make my living from it that way. But when I got my first job as a staff photographer at Solent News Agency they had already switched over to digital. I never once used film again, but deep down I think I missed the process of shooting on film ever since.
When I was at college, doing my degree in Photomedia, we students were well looked after, having both B&W and colour darkrooms to work our magic. Back then traditional shooting, processing & printing was an essential part of the course. For me it was a hugely important part of the learning process because shooting on film and transparency can be very unforgiving. You tend to learn fast as it is an expensive past time. There was also that sense of satisfaction at producing a print from a negative which you both shot and processed. Projecting the image onto light sensitive paper and going through the developing phases with developer, stop and fix was also a very calculated and enjoyable part of traditional photography that I have missed.
Now, after nine years as a professional photographer, shooting each and every frame digitally, I finally stepped back into using film and it has been enormous fun. Part of that fun comes from taking one’s time to compose each shot and also the necessity of being much more choosey – expense alone dictates this. Unlike digital photography where we are able to review a shot instantaneously, film demands patience. In some ways shooting on film again is perhaps goes against popular convention that modern culture has become – that instant result we all expect to see nowadays, whether it be on-demand television, using a mobile phone or eating fast food. Everyone wants everything yesterday. Shooting “the old fashioned” way is a nice way to shun that ‘now, now, now’ principle.
A few days in Barcelona last year were followed by a week across the Channel in Paris this year. The thrill of taking pictures with traditional means had returned and I soon realised how much I’d missed the satisfaction of hearing that mechanical click of the old Olympus, the simplicity of it – no memory cards, no auto focus, just me, my camera and a roll of Ilford. It was much more enjoyable than dragging RAW files into Lightroom or Photoshop.
For someone like me who has calved an entire career purely with a digital camera I have huge respect for those guys from previous generations. I’m quite envious of them really, both in their technical methodology and of the era in which they made their living, particularly the great photographers of the sixties and seventies who helped create the trends of today, shooting on rolls of film, using light meters for exposure settings and embracing pure photography, unlike today where the camera does a lot of the work for you.
Enough of my ramblings though, below is a selection of black & white photography that I took in the aforementioned few months, during my trips to Barcelona and Paris. I tried to mix it up a little, capturing images that pleased me at any particular moment, whether it be a couple kissing in a street or a dog looking at me through a car window. I had the luxury of time in both cities so happened across many random moments, being in a certain places at certain times.