William Deverell - Selenium Toner & My Eureka MomentThursday, January 04, 2007
When I run into people I haven't seen for a while they ask me the same question. It is always a variation of, "Are you still....." As if photography is the kind of career you get on and off as you do a cable car. Nobody would have asked William Deverell that question back in 1979 when I photographed him outside Binky's Oyster Bar on Robson. Deverell a career criminal lawyer had just won the Seal First Novel for Needles. I am sure that when people run into Deverell now they never ask him if he is still writing. Perhaps there must be something unstable about being a photographer.
I don't think that's the case but photography is most definitely in a state of flux now and nobody can predict how it will all play. Yesterday I went into my darkroom and retrieved empty photo chemical jugs, colour negative processing tanks, colour analyzers for colour printing, a Polaroid instant slide processor, etc. Since Polaroid is all but bankrupt and they have not made instant slide film for years, the handsome processor must become landfill.
Much has been said about cameras (be they film or digital) being tools that apply to a problem at hand. The two camps, the digital and the film guys circling the wagons are still involved in heated arguments that parallel those between atheists and believers. They argue that one camera is the better tool over the other.
If I don't switch completely to digital it has to do with my inability to raise the funds to purchase a digital back (and all the needed peripherals) for my medium format cameras. I calculate I would need around $50,000. No piddly $6,000 digital Canon can match the detail I get with my film in medium format. Buying one of those would be tantamount to slumming.
But I have been thinking about this "a camera is a tool" thing and I have found my Eureka moment. A hammer and a screwdriver are both tools. With one in hand you will bang nails, remove them or tighten screws. In a pinch the screwdriver is good for making holes in the ground for planting seeds. I believe that tools inherently "suggest" to us what we can do with them. One problem with the high end DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera is that the ads tell us all they can do untethered to a good light. I must say that for my kind of photography the lighting is all important.
Since I purchased my Epson 1640 SU flatbed scanner I have come to believe that my method of photography is a hybrid that incorporates the best of film and digital. But because I can think film (hammer) and/or digital (screwdriver) I find that I have many more choices and methods over the one or the other.
While cleaning out the empty bottles in my darkroom I spotted a dirty print that may have fallen many years ago (1979). It is that photograph of Deverell at Binky's. The negatives in my files (I processed them archivally) are in perfect condition and I could make a nice print in my wet darkroom. This version (accidental as it is) scanned with my Epson is a thing of beauty.
I still use the Ilford Multigrade developer of the picture and I tone them (for permanence) with Kodak selenium toner. I process most of my b+w film with Kodak HC-110, a syrup that resembles the maple kind and was a favourite (the HC-110) of Ansel Adams. The metal reel I use to process my negatives in the same way I did 45 years ago.
When horseless carriages started put-putting on the roads nobody was marketing units that would deposit ersatz horse droppings every few kms. Cars almost immediately made a clean break from the past in spite of running boards and coach lights. I think that the digital revolution in photography is in its infancy. It will have arrived when digital photographers stop trying to imitate what can be done with film.
I hope that I am still around for that. And if people ask me if I am still....I will reply, "Yes I am still a photographer even though I may shoot with a digital camera some day," and to paraphrase St Augustine, "but God, not yet."