Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Going old school

I've been playing around recently, experimenting with some different processing, cameras and ideas, getting back to my roots in photography. Working with digital imaging for my job with the newspaper was almost getting mundane and, I'll admit, somewhat uninspired.

I had to find my inspiration again. I can remember, the first time I picked up a camera, how I felt. The first time I went into the darkroom with my father, developed my first roll of film, made my first black-and-white print, the wonder, watching that image slowly emerge on the photographic paper.

How was I to find that again? Where could I look to seek that sense of wonder? I had to get back to my roots in photography: Black and white film, an old-school wet darkroom and the basics of the photographic process.

For years, I've owned several Holga cameras. The Holga is about as basic as it gets. For those of you who don't know, it's a plastic camera with a plastic lens. No bells, whistles, high-tech gadgets. It's a simple camera which makes amazing images, full of imperfections, soft areas and flaws.

"Game Time" Pioneer Park, Nacogdoches © Andrew D. Brosig 

 Each camera is different. And they leak light like a sieve, each in its own way. But what I think I like the most about them is learning patience again.

Digital cameras offer the instant gratification of a display on the back of the camera where you can view the image you just made immediately. That, I think, is an almost perfect analogy for our fast past, can't wait, I-want-it-now society.

Analog, film-based photography is 180-degrees away from that. You have to wait to see what you have, sometimes hours, sometimes days. And it teaches patience because I have to consider each image I make.

In the digital cameras, an 8-gigabite memory card can hold 500 or more photos. Each Holga holds enough film for 12 images. A digital memory card is reusable. It can be erased and reused repeatedly. Film, once it's exposed, is used forever.

"Game Time" is shot with a modified Holga camera, exposed on 400-speed black-and-white film. It's a bit of a guessing game with the cameras. The camera has one shutter speed and, as modified, two apertures. It's called a scale-focus camera, meaning you have to estimate the distance and set the lens before clicking the shutter. And the "scale" on the Holga has one head, two heads, a group and mountains, relating to about 3, 6, and 9 feet and infinity (anything further than about 18-20 feet away).

So, I've been working with the Holga cameras, plus a series of older (some would say antique) 35mm cameras I've pulled from my collection. And, as I said above, I've been experimenting with a variation on even older technology that goes back to the earliest development of photographic processes.

The first camera, known as a Camera Obscura, from the Latin literally meaning "dark room" was just what it sounds like. A chamber would be constructed or modified to exclude all light except for a small hole through one wall. Light would enter the room through that hole, it was learned, and project an image of whatever was outside, upside down on the opposite wall.

Macedonia Baptist Church, Nacogdoches County, Texas ©Andrew D. Brosig
That, essentially, is what every camera ever built is - a dark chamber with a way to admit light in a controlled fashion. Really, past that, everything else is bells and whistles.

So, I took one of my older Holga cameras, one that really wasn't doing what I wanted it to do, and converted it to make a pinhole camera. The "lens" of the camera is literally a thin piece of metal cut from a soda can with an aperture made using a sewing needle. It took a few tries, but I finally got the aperture size correct to fit the size of of the camera and, voilĂ , a pinhole camera is born.

It's about as basic as photography gets. Exposure times, measure on a "traditional" camera system in the hundredths or thousandths of a second, can stretch 2, 5, 10-seconds or longer on a pinhole camera. And you can make a pinhole camera out of almost anything, from an oatmeal box to a coffee can. 

Well, the experiment goes on and I'm getting my inspiration, my sense of wonder, back. I'm definitely enjoying my photography again. I'm getting a new vision of the world around me, seeing new things, looking at old things in a new way.

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