Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hello and Good-Bye

A wall in Paul Elledge's studio

As my time in Chicago comes to an end, My feelings are mixed. I came and found answers to many of the photographic questions that I had, but as usual, I leave with more questions.

The main part of Paul's work that I loved so much, is the soft, human look that his work has. Aside from lighting, there are many tools that Paul uses to create his 'look'. He uses a large format camera for some of his black and whites with older, softer lenses. This is an area that I am not even sure I want to venture into because the lenses have to serviced regularly and I would have no idea where to send mine to if I had any. He shoots on Polaroid type 55 film that has a characteristic glow. That much I can and will use, but there are labs in Chicago that will wash and fix the type 55 neg. I will have to do this myself in Singapore and be much more careful to avoid scratches and dust. He prints his black and whites in his darkroom, I will have to scan mine and print digitally. As much as I would love to become a darkroom printer, I think that the chemicals and paper will be a huge problem. Paul also used a Polaroid land camera with type 665 film. Polaroid is discontinuing type 665 film. And we all wonder in this digital age, how long Polaroid is going to be around?

It is quite amazing for me, but in his colour photographs, Paul shoots on Kodak film and his clients order prints of the final images they want. The clients do the scanning of the prints. Even when I started working in Singapore 6 years ago, I was told to specifically shoot transparencies and now everyone is asking for digital files. But the look of the colour prints that Paul gets are just beautiful. The clients, appreciating his work, will scan in prints. Paul has a close relationship with his lab, and this is crucial for Paul to get the exact look he wants. Even if clients were willing to scan my prints in Singapore, I doubt if there is a lab that would bend over to print my negs just the way I want them. Even now, getting the labs to continue with one type of paper for long periods is hard, there is a major upheaval in the print business. Even here in Chicago, print film and prints is passing into history faster than slower.

I love the spirit of Paul's portraits, lovingly crafted with special cameras on film. As Paul is also slowly moving over to digital, I am witnessing the passing of an age. So some of the answers to my questions are useless. There is no magic bullet here. In a way this is good, I will not be able to return to Singapore to be a pale knock off of Paul. I will have my own journey and I will have to find my own answers to the visual challenges that I will face.

But at least I now know how it was done and what the situation is today. I have also learnt a lot of invaluable lighting techniques that will be useful regardless of the camera I use. I also gained a lot of insight to how large commercial shoots are executed.

Paul is a die-hard film user and today, out of necessity, he is embracing digital photography. Looking at the way he works and his fighting-spirit, I have also learnt that one has to fight for what is important. Things will not fall on your lap, you have to go out and slog for your vision. I have butterflies in my tummy. I am coming home to start my journey.

On a side note, I was thinking of having an exhibition of my colour photographs in October to help launch my commercial photography career. I have postponed this to some time next year. I do not know when. I now want to reshoot my entire portfolio and see how I can bring it to the next level.


Anonymous said...

Film... digital...
Which is why I'm thinking of purchasing some quality silver prints for personal collection, since fewer people are going to do it - They are going to be much harder to find and much more expensive. It's almost similar to the era where painting will shift to become "period art" when photography was invented. Since it's pointless to reproduce a scene realistically anymore, painting takes on a new meaning through impressionism and other conceptual forms. I reckon a similar thing will happen with film photography.

I did some darkroom printing while I was in college. I was lucky enough to meet some people who were willing to teach me (actually, it's more like they were more than willing to "show off" their knowledge. I just capitalised on it.) stuff like shooting on 4x5 and film/paper characteristics and manipulation (push/pull, cross-process, etc.) Fairly basic stuff, but I'm glad I know what a darkroom is like and what it's like to produce images in one in a time where everything is going digital.

Years later. I remember how I was slightly frustrated at how I am completely unable to reproduce the "vibe" on digital format. (Is it my lack of knowledge?)

In short, I do prefer film and the type of images they produce. But I do know that such prints come with a price and I expect that they will become more and more rare. Which is just too bad.

I really appreciate the amount of craft that is needed to produce a good image the traditional way. Nowadays pretty much anyone can produce a fairly decent image on any digital camera (pro or consumer)- No dust to worry about, no color/contrast correction, no film type to worry about... plus there's the amazing miracle of image preview - Just trash and try again if it looks bad on the LCD.
In film, if it turns out bad, it's your fault and you are screwed.


Heng said...

The thing is most people can produce a decent image. But it has got harder to create a stunning image with a specific mood. This mood was created by specific cameras with specific materials. The cameras and materials are gone. Replicating the look at this point in time is questionable.