Analogue Photography and Me

Much sooner than I had anticipated my analogue photography has come in conflict with who I am and thus my personality.

Let me start with a few random thoughts, tidbits that may help you better understand what I’m seeing as a possible hindrance in my experiences with analogue photography.

This introspection of mine found its origin a few days ago when I watched a podcast about Tom Baril on Ted Forbes excellent Youtube channel The Art Of Photography. For those whom don’t know this highbrow channel, go and check it out.

Tom Baril did a lot of work using Polaroid 55 film. When you peel them apart a very distinct border remains on the image. It adds to the look and feel of the end product and I like it very much.

* * * * *

In the seventies I attended photography art school and obviously it was all about analogue. We did black and white, Cibachrome, E6, C-41 and color printing. It was about getting a good print from a very good negative (positive for Cibachrome). Grain, spots and speckels, we did not care. It was a part of the trade.

* * * * *

One of my first jobs after I left school was in a print shop in Antwerp where I did manual color enlargements for a few professional photographers.

One of them made 40 x 50 albums and every page was a sheet of photographic paper with sometimes only 4 small images on them. Making the masks in cardboard and laying them out in absolute darkness was a real pain. The customer was a maniac on color correction too. He used to push his film 3 to even 4 stops for grain and color shift so I had no idea what he really wanted as an end result. I made test strips and we discussed them and then I made the prints.
When he was not satisfied he used to yell at me calling me names, shredding the ‘bad’ prints in front of my boss and me. Throwing them at our faces, menacing us.
I liked him.

His customers where wealthy Jewish diamond traders and in the early eighties his rate for weddings was between 50 and 120 grand. Sometimes even more.

Finally he started his own private lab and offered me a job. I had a professional Durst enlarger, a state of the art analyzer (I never really relied on it) and a timer. I was responsible for the development machine, the chemicals and what not.

It was very hard work to satisfy him.

He had bought a second hand Agfa processing unit that could take prints up to 1 meter wide.

We worked fine together but I am sure at moments people on the street could hear us yell as lunatics.

The Agfa machine broke down several times and after a few months every roll was replaced. When the developing machine finally started to work really fine he accused me of having sabotaged everything.

He wanted me to leave immediately but refused to do the necessary paperwork.

I guess that evening we almost killed each other.
Now I know we were, each on another level, very much alike.

* * * * *

My sister  is a real artist and she has really evolved.

She started using expired film and very old camera’s embracing the flaws these cameras’ have and the unexpected results of perished chemicals.

Her first photographs where rather normal ones but then she dove deeper and used the random faults the material she works with generate to experiment and bend them to her will.
That is what art is about I guess. Getting the most out of something. Like Georgia O’ Keeffe painted a zillion doors trying to get what is not possible to get. Perfection.

* * * * * *

After making some compelling images of an alien spacecraft lasering the White House into oblivion you drop your camera and the back springs open. Yeah, you’re fucked dude.

* * * * * *

After 50 or so shots thinking, hell, this 36-exposure film goes a long way. Yeah you are fucked.

* * * * * *

Developing with fix or stop bath. Fucked again.

* * * * * *

“Sorry honey I forgot you asked me to say out”, when your spouse enters the bathroom while you have your film halfway on the reel.

You need a good divorce lawyer? Page me.

* * * * * *

I love decay like an old building or so. There is beauty in death. Film has its imperfections too.

* * * * * *

I often dislike the technical perfection of a digital image and wish for a more organic feel.

* * * * * *

I generally appreciate the flaws and imperfections that are inherent to analogue photography. I find they add to the perception of that image. It makes them more real, more tangible.

* * * * * *

I wish I had the time to engage in alternative photographic processes like platinum/palladium prints and what not.

* * * * * *

Past Saturday I did some landscape photography. I took my Yashica Mat TLR and an Olympus OM-1n with me.

I loved taking it slowly, waiting for that stupid cloud to be in place. Metering handheld. Being busy with composition. Making just one image and not a zillion to choose from at home.

Yeah, slowing down.

Taking my time to develop the film.

Then I noticed the imperfections in my images.

And I go berserk, cursing the moment I decided to go back and shoot film.
I cannot stand the fact there are imperfections on my film.
I strive for perfection.

I cannot be somewhere and look and compose and shoot and develop and take care of every part of the process to its perfection and end up with errors.

I cannot control for 100% the result of my analogue photography and that is a problem and a very huge issue.

Yashica Mat Errors



  1. Interesante, muy interesante reflexión, que de una manera u otra nos hemos hecho todos los que venimos del mundo de la fotografía analógica.


  2. Stephan you have to chill about the imperfections that’s always going to be the case when you’re using such materials

    My way of minimising such issues is to dev the film myself I’ve used both pro and amateur labs both of whom were shite. They obviously didn’t clean their c41 tanks out or if they did they used sweeping brushes.

    The older I get the more philosophical I become in the big old picture it matters not. I appreciate if you’re using the wet darkroom it’s a lot of work to sort out such things. I scan everything I shoot now and it makes sorting out such issues child’s play.

    I miss my old darkroom as I found it very therapeutic but space was needed so it went. I reckon though I have the best of routes now I will never stop shooting film in spite of occasional forays with my digital kit.


    • I develop my b&w and then I scan them, a process I like very much. Most retouching is done in Lightroom. I would never return to a wet darkroom as I have enough creative tools in LR.
      It is not the dust per se that bothers me and I am very aware that film goes with imperfections. But they bother me on an other level, like for example everything on my desk should be on its right spot otherwise I get uncomfortable.
      But in the big picture going back to film has given me already so much pleasure.


      • I see where you’re coming from stephan it’s a shame such a distance separates us as I’d enjoy a days image taking with you. You have a vision which is not too dissimilar with mine.

        I share the thoughts on using film, the wet darkroom is by comparison akin to fixing a stereo with a hammer, such is the finesse one can apply with ps or lr. My only experience with labs was when I used xp2 which I loved I could have developed it but as I use traditional stuff more I considered it pointless having chemicals go off.

        The pro labs and amateurs were equally shite, it’s a shame as I did like that film it had a very unique quality.


      • Indeed, that would have been awesome. I guess you are an UK resident?

        One could argue about for example dodging and burning in the wet darkroom to be more “art” more “craftsmanship” but indeed, the fine-tuning that is possible with LR or PS cannot be beaten. It is also time and money saving. There is nothing embarrassing about embracing new technology. In the end it is the result that counts.

        PS you can always PM me 🙂


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