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Reflections on the Golden Age of Film

The other day I was helping a friend with a new camera.  My first advice was just to attach it to your right hand and shoot, shoot, shoot.  It was a digital SLR with some marvelous bells and whistles.  Every few minutes we would download the photos to my laptop so we could review what various settings produced for results.  Instant gratification.
It reminded me of the days of film.  How many times did I say, “Damn, out of film!” That was it; I was done, until I could get my hands on another little black canister.  After shooting an entire roll of 26 or 32 shots, several hours were required before the results were viewable, if you were close enough to a darkroom or photo processing facility.
For many years I had a darkroom and would spend long evenings processing and printing under the red light.  The only way to tweak a shot was to adjust your enlarger settings, chemical ratios and time factors, or choose a different type of paper.  You became intimate with what you had seen through the lens.
For color, I shot Kodachrome slides, known to produce better quality. Even when the film came back from being processed, you had to view it either on a light table or through a projector.  After culling the shots, if there was one that stood out enough to merit it, the slide would be sent off again for printing.
The time and distance between what you saw when you pushed the shutter and what you could actually hold in your hand was vast.  No instant gratification.  
Then along came Polaroid.  The cameras were awkward, the quality was horrible and the photos were short-lived.  Remember peeling apart the film to reveal the sticky photo?  Remember those smelly, gluey sticks you rubbed on to “preserve” the picture?  But still, no film, no photos.
No one would argue that digital cameras have revolutionized the industry and allowed society to become a nation of photographers.  Instagram and iPhones combined with ubiquitous Internet access have reduced the art of photography to self-expression for all.  As technology marches forward there are always pitfalls.  Sexting is a perfect example of the downside of digital photography.  I fear Ansel Adams is spinning in his grave at the very thought.

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