Scanning Around With Gene: Stuff I Miss About Photography
For my thirteenth birthday, my father gave me a “junior darkroom” kit and taught me how to use it. Developing film and making prints was, to my dad, something that boys simply should know. My subsequent obsession with photography lasted into early adulthood, and even my father was ill-prepared for its intensity.
But these days I rarely take out the camera and haven’t been in a darkroom for at least 20 years.
A recent browse through several old photography magazines (1949 to 1957) reminded me that my interest in photography was probably less about art and more about stuff.
I really miss the commerce of it all. I’d spend hours poring through the pages of photography magazines, learning as much from the ads as I did from the articles. Here are just a few of the images that caught my eye during my recent return to their pages. Click on any picture for a larger version.
I miss the little canisters that 35mm film came in, especially when they were metal and had screw-on lids. I miss getting slides back in a small cardboard box, and I miss round carousel trays stacking up in the closet. I miss leaving a slide in the projector so long that it melted.
I miss safelights and the red glow they gave off, and I miss watching as a print faded up in the tray like magic. I miss the smell of fixer and the yellow stains you’d get on your fingers from the stop bath. I miss tongs and squeegees, and clothespins on strings to hang things from.
I miss those square black GraLab timers that clicked off the minutes and seconds and sounded with a jarring buzz. I miss paper safes and special lightproof packaging for film and paper. I miss beakers and thermometers and glass mixing rods. And I miss listening to the radio while I worked.
I miss focusing. I miss clicking through f-stops and knowing where each one was on the dial. I miss dodging and burning with light instead of icons. I miss anti-static brushes and Dust-Off in a can and special dryers to make your prints super glossy.
I miss Tri-X and Plus-X film, and I miss processing Panatomic X in Microdol developer for super-fine grain. I miss pushing film a stop or two. I miss trying to thread 35mm film onto reels in complete darkness. I miss putting my hands through the black cloth and elastic arms of a changing bag.
I miss choosing between glossy and matte, and I miss getting double prints, even of the bad ones. I miss contact sheets and glassine envelopes and the grease pencils that wrote on them. And I dearly miss loupes.
Go to page 2 for more photo history.
I miss buying film in bulk and rolling my own to save money, and I miss trying to figure out which was the emulsion side and whether it went up or down. I miss scratch-removing fluid. I miss the thrill of turning on the lights and seeing your pictures for the first time. And I miss that sometimes, they didn’t come out.
I miss rewinding film in the camera with that little pop-up crank, and I miss having only 24 or 36 exposures. I miss trying to remember what kind of film you had in the camera, and I miss making double exposures either on purpose or by accident.
I miss home movies and getting those little plastic reels back from the processing lab. I miss not having any sound or music and the flashes of light that happened when you weren’t careful handling the film. I miss movie projectors and the way you had to thread them to work properly. I miss having to edit in the camera.
I miss bellows. I miss flopping negatives and I miss cranking the enlarger up or down to crop an image. I miss knocking things on the counter to eliminate any bubbles, and I miss rocking trays back and forth so the prints developed evenly.
I miss setting up the enlarger on the toilet seat and stuffing towels under the door to keep the light out. I miss my sister being mad because she couldn’t get into the bathroom. And I miss my dad waiting patiently next to me, showing me how it was done.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the capabilities and convenience of digital photography, and there's still plenty of stuff to accumulate. I just hope that somewhere out there, parents are sitting next to their children teaching them how to use Photoshop for the very first time.