There’s something wonderfully timeless about black-and-white film photography. It’s what I shot my first film images with as a child, and it was what I used when I rediscovered film a few years ago, shooting medium format in a Rollei. It’s like going back to my photographic roots, but also to the roots of photography itself.
At the end of last year I started to experiment more with black and white film, shooting 35mm in my Contax Aria. With this year’s anniversary of the creation of Kodak Tri-X, arguably the epitome of black-and-white film, I thought I would take that curiosity to a new level by starting a 365, shooting an image a day on Tri-X and experimenting with all its formats: 35mm, medium-format 120 and large-format sheet film.
It’s been an education in many ways. For a start, I’ve enjoyed learning to think in monochrome; it’s strangely liberating not to be distracted by colour and just concentrate on the composition and light while trying to capture the essence of each day in one image.
It’s also been interesting to discover the characteristics of Tri-X under different circumstances, in different formats and with different cameras. When I load Tri-X 35mm into my Contax Aria, the resulting images are grainy and textured in a way that only film (and Tri-X in particular) can be. Whereas Tri-X sheet film shot with a Sinar large-format camera has amazing clarity and precision. Tri-X roll film shot with a borrowed Pentax 67ii is somewhere in between. Yet it’s all the same film, and (with help from my husband) I am processing all of it at home in the kitchen, with the same chemicals. Dev, stop, fix and bourbon, as my husband likes to say!
Once the film is processed, and has finished drying in the bathroom, I’ve been scanning it and then, in effect, doing classic black-and-white darkroom “printing” in Photoshop. I’ve seen this done in a darkroom but I’ve never actually done it that way myself, so I’ve been learning all about adjusting tones and levels, getting the right greys to express the mood I want, and of course dodging and burning. And unlike a darkroom, my computer has an Undo button! So I’ve been combining the traditional and modern approaches.
I’ve also been to several exhibitions of black-and-white photography lately, including Sebastião Salgado’s “Genesis” and an exhibition of seascapes by Ansel Adams. I’d seen their photographs before, of course, but now I have an even greater admiration for their work, and a greater appreciation of the classic tradition of black-and-white photography.
It’s all great fun, and I’m only four months into my 365. Come and join me on my adventure with Tri-X!