By Chuck Baker
I purchase and use a lot of products for my photographic endeavours. These include cameras, film, paper, chemistry, along with digital products such as special papers, printing inks…etc.
Since the advent of digital I have found that established film companies who continue to produce film have a consistency to their product that I enjoy and even demand. I find Kodak, Ilford, Bergger and Rollei are films with excellent consistency. Even handmade film from Washi are trustworthy from batch to batch. Perhaps, I take this consistency as a matter of fact. For instance, Kodak’s TMax films vary little to none and inconsistency doesn’t even enter my mind while Impossible films vary wildly from batch to batch and inconsistency is always on my mind. The same applies to chemistry, paper or any time-sensitive product made in batches…I need to trust them in order to use them in any meaningful way.
I don’t want to imply that a surprise outcome can’t be extraordinary. Impossible films, now Polaroid Original, are a perfect and expensive example. But when I want to use an instant film that I can rely on for consistency, I use Fuji Instax film in any number of specific cameras with a Fuji Instax film back. The same goes for expired films, which I enjoy shooting with…sometimes the older the better! However, I never go out to a specific shoot armed only with a film knowing the results will be a surprise.
My internal conflict expressed here may have something to do with experimenting before one knows the way that the materials work together so that controlled experimenting can happen. I helped a young photographer this week who is very talented. We spent some time in my darkroom, he wanted to print silver for the first time, and I equipped him with the materials to print at home…his first bathroom darkroom. I found myself expressing the importance of consistency in developing, to change one variable at a time to get the final result. I said without this foundation, long term success was impossible. Then I thought back to a time when I was this young person’s age and would scream “Rules are for fools!”
With that said, I’m the type of artist that feels the need to know the materials so that they can be manipulated in such a way to achieve my desired final. I labor with new cameras coming into my arsenal, running film through them until I know their personality. The element of surprise can be fun but doesn’t cut it when trying to create art as a coherent thought or idea. In a discipline such as analog photography, there can be so many variables that each variable that can be controlled helps with the creative process. Only by knowing the variables and adjusting one at a time to achieve what’s wanted can a true creative end be accomplished.
I’m interested in your thoughts about this. Am I being to strict? Do you agree with me about material consistency and practices? Or maybe, a bit of both?