The Reader

The facet of film photography that hooked me was the aspect of full commitment.  By full commitment I’m referring to all aspects of photography that a digital shooter will waste time checking or changing or adjusting rather than shooting and trusting their instincts.  When I load a roll, I’m committing to black and white fully.  Depending on where I set the roll I’m also committing to certain contrast ratios in anticipation of certain lighting conditions.  I’m releasing full control of my composition to my minds eye rather than just what I see in the viewfinder since I shoot rangefinders.  I have no screen on the back to double check any of this.  I just know it’s either right or that it’s wrong and I have to believe that I really know the difference.  I’m not using my meter as often as I used to if at all.  I can look down the street and usually be within half-a-stop.  Just as often I’m not checking my focus until after the shot or before the next.  I know my lens enough to know where it’s focused without looking down.

When I get my negatives back there are never really big surprises.  I look down at the light table and and the negs are right around where I thought they were when I shot them for better or for worse.  My scanning goes on a single light and my post-processing is the same preset (with sharpening, a little dehaze, contrast and black-point) to bring the raw scans back to where the contact sheet is sitting.  From there I’ll add a little curves to increase contrast or a little exposure to lighten up a bit but more often than not the choices I made when I loaded the roll combined with the choices I made when I exposed the image have given me what I hoped to see.   Full disclosure though, I would be straight up lying if I didn’t mention that I have to dust-bust my scans.  Black and white doesn’t work with IR so I’m left manually painting away all that crap and no matter how much compressed air, purosol and lintless gloves I use, my scans always have shit on them.  C’est la vie.

I’ve worked at all of this for many years now but I think my reasons have changed over the years.  Initially I just wanted to understand the process.  Now I do it because I want to be a master of my craft.  I do it because after I’m dead, I want there to be a physical record of what I made–not just a bunch of disposable data out in the ether, transient on hard drives and cards that won’t have readers or cables in 10 years.  I want the images to stand on their own with no help from masks or layers or post.  No versions.  No raw files or jpegs or retouched versions.  I want someone to find my negs after I die, throw them up on a light board and say “this fucking Noellert guy knew what he was doing–he actually got it in camera.”  

Full disclosure, sometimes that fantasy includes a couple of my images wandering into the MET’s permanent collection after the release of a 90 minute documentary chronicling my prolific and masterful later-years (before a regrettable but inevitable break with reality and disappearance from all public life).  At the end of the film you’ll think you know me. You realize you want, no, need to take up photography and be amazing at it.  You’ll be inspired by my determination, dedication and utter love of film and the photographic process and wonder how it can fill the gaping hole in your soul as completely as it did for me.   

Well, we all can dream, can’t we?

“The Reader” shot on my Mamiya 6MF at 50mm on Kodak Trip-X 400 film pushed to 800 at the Icon.

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