Slow Photography

I finally completed the first roll of film that I pushed through my Zenit E 35mm camera last weekend, so I hoped that by now I would have been able to process the film, get the images on a disc, and show the results off on here. Not so. When I took the film into the only photo development place available in town (Jessops – yes, yes I know), they told me that actually, they don’t actually do black & white film development in store any longer, they have to send it away for that. Fine I reply, of course, will I be able to collect it by Friday then (on Monday)? Apparently not.

Believe it or not, and perhaps you’ve experienced it, the film might take three to four WEEKS to develop, process, print, scan to a CD, and return to the store. Incredible isn’t it – I’m so used to taking a photo, pulling out a memory card and sliding it into the side of my MacBook, I was actually stunned. But as I got to thinking about it, I realised that actually, having to wait is what my 35mm photo experiment is all about, so why should I mind waiting for the results too?

If you read the supplements from weekend broadsheets, you’ll probably have heard of the slow food movement pioneered by Carlo Petrini in Italy in the Nineties – the idea being that slow cooking should be the anti-thesis of fast food culture: sourcing local ingredients, growing products natural to the geology of the area, preserving classic dishes and methods, teaching people about the classic ways of cooking.

I think there are actually more and more people, consciously and unconsciously, practicing and promoting a similar style of slow photography – using classic cameras like the Mamiya 6 series, or Fuji 617; taking all the time that implies to make photographs, then developing the negative themselves and printing it too – or using local, bespoke labs to do it in bigger cities.  While I am a huge advocate and lover of digital photography, as one of the last generation of photography students to actually learn to use a darkroom when you still had to, I can’t help but be attracted to the idea of getting back to my roots.

But not everyone wants to be up to their arms in chemicals under a red light all weekend – so how could we take the best of slow photography and apply it to using digital cameras? Well, I don’t think any photographer would find their images hurt by taking a little more time as they make them. When I first got a Canon EOS500d, I shot thousands, if not tens of thousands, of images within months of getting it. Am I proud of any of them? No, not really. I’d forgotten what to look for in a photo, and I was just grabbing anything and trying to force it to be a subject, time and time again.

A tourist junk in Halong Bay - only allowing yourself one shot at an image forces you to take more care of composition, not to mention heightening awareness of technical settings in camera..

Then I went away on holiday for four weeks – taking only 16gb of memory cards and with no way of backing up. So I was forced to limit myself, and think about my photos more than I had been doing. And all of a sudden, I was seeing things more clearly, considering why I was taking a photo instead of just doing it, and getting results I’m still proud of.

When the early American photographers were exploring the national parks in first part of the last century – they often mounted camera platforms atop their cars (like this). Want to reframe that shot slightly? Well, you’ll need to take the camera down from the roof, move the car, and then set the gear up on top again. I can’t believe that the amount of consideration that process forced upon them didn’t make them better photographers. Ansel Adams famously said that 12 significant images in a year is a good crop. Perhaps we don’t need to take 12,000 a find the 0.01%, maybe 120, or even 1,200 is enough?

Posted in Blog by Nic Stevenson on July 3rd, 2011 at 5:34 pm.

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