My first project of the summer was to shoot 120 medium format film in Paris, France. Some days I have to ask why I do these things to myself. I mean life would have been so much easier if I had just taken my Canon EOS 1DIII and shot digitally. Only a complete lunatic would try to carry around a heavy Mamiya 645afd camera through the streets of Paris with his mother in tow, but the chance to take my time, to slow down, just seemed too delicious to forego. For anyone who does not know what medium format film is, it is a roll of film that produces a negative that is roughly double the size of a normal 35mm negative. The premise behind 645 photography is that it is more portable than large format cameras [those huge monsters with a little curtain you stick your head behind] and what most people use. The dynamic range of each image is distinctly greater than what you can get out of a 35mm or digital photo. I really wanted to see what I could capture in Paris if I exclusively took all of my photos with the second-hand Mamiya I purchased in Atlanta, Georgia a month ago.
At only twelve photos per roll of film, it would be strange to return to a world where not only can you not see the results of your work instantly, but where you could not just machine gun 200 digital files to get the money shot. Now while I was used to shooting film in India, Egypt, Jordan, Cambodia, Saigon and Bangkok, I was not used to have to change film after only 12 presses of the shutter. I was also not used to carrying around a box that weighed the same as a bowling ball and only had one lens.
Why do it? I just have to believe that film possesses a magical, intangible quality that makes it feel different to digital files. This particular trip was also to serve as a chance to take my mother on her first real travel adventure before it became too difficult for her to undertake a trans-atlantic flight and walking 12 hours a day. The idea was to be to write about the experience and shop it around to some magazines with the photos taken. I had also hoped to take some Polaroids, but it became too difficult to procure enough stock and get it safely through x-rays at airports.
At the end of the day I took about 150 black and white images or about two rolls per day. Ideally, I will get about 12 magical photos from which I hope to create a limited edition of postcard-sized prints for sale , and to possibly present in an exhibition in the Fall.
What are my thoughts on this whole process? Well, I don’t exactly recommend doing this if you actually need to come away with guaranteed results, because at the end of the day I have no idea whether I captured my vision. I do know that I really enjoyed taking these photos, though, and maybe that was worth the sore shoulders, and explaining to security what film was. I will post the best images next week after I have them developed and scanned. I am very excited to see the final results.
After I see the results I will better know if I want to drag the Mamiya to Japan in or if I will reconcile myself to the idea that film is dead when it comes to producing art that can make money in a digital world. I would like to think that old tools can still be used to make beautiful art, and that maybe it is not always necessary to create products from one’s work. After all, artists starve unless they can weave and spin something that sustains other peoples’ imaginations more than the needs of their own bellies.