Digital photography is amazing. The effortlessness. The immediate feedback. The tools for manipulating and enhancing images. I got my first digital camera at 14 and have had one ever since.
But I started with film and film will always hold a special place in my heart.
The secret alchemy of mixing chemicals under a foggy orange light. Bathing photographic paper in a tub that smells like something rotting. And watching the image slowly, oh-so-slowly appear.
I don’t have the same fear with digital photography. Sure, you can always lose or damage a camera. Maybe destroy a memory card with extreme heat or water.
But there are so many moments with film where everything can go wrong and destroy your work forever. There is peril even in the simple act of winding the film back into the canister at the end of the roll. The drop in your stomach when you open the back of the camera and see exposed film.
Or the pain of spending an hour developing a roll and coming up with blank negatives because you didn’t put a cap on something tight enough or you didn’t mix a chemical properly.
Sometimes I miss that fear.
I went to a week long photography camp at Texas A&M at Galveston when I was 12. We stayed in the dorms, studied photography and photo processing technique and took photo shooting field trips. It was an amazing time and I still have all of my final prints.
Everyone had to submit several pictures as a final project and we spent hours in the darkroom trying to get everything just right.
There was a tape deck in the room and the rule was whoever got in first got to pick the music. There was a kid named Dusty who was obsessed with Country Music, Garth Brooks in particular. I loved Dusty but I hated when it was his turn to pick. One day we listened to Friends in Low Places on repeat for almost 2 hours. We went through phases of screaming at him and then singing along through hysterical laughter.
So many firsts on that trip.
The first time I heard Nine Inch Nails. Dusty warned me not to listen because they were Satanists.
The first time I read Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman.
The first time I had a crush on a red-haired girl. She let me dance with her one time, at arm’s length, during the end-of-session dance.
The first time I got pinched by a crab. We got to swim in the Gulf of Mexico and they were crawling all over the place. I had to throw away the clothes I swam in because I couldn’t get rid of the smell.
There is something magical about being in place with other people where the only goal is creation. The only constraints are there to guide you. There is only work that doesn’t even seem like work.
There is thought and beauty and art.