Now, you know that Constellation Cafe always has supported the idea of experimenting with film. I being primarily a film photographer myself am always looking for ways to get hands on experience with films, processes and techniques. I recently came upon a workshop which is going to deal with film developing and thought it might be a great idea to let you all know about it. So here I am talking to Chaitanya Guttika, the host of the workshop about the event.
Q. So Chairanya, tell us a little about yourself.
I find this question always quite tricky to answer. It seems like a “Who am I?” kind of deep philosophical question – almost as big as the life, universe and the meaning of it all 🙂 So I’ll tell you my history. I’ve been photographing for more than 20 years now. I became devoted to creating hand-crafted photographs while pursuing my doctorate in the United States. The first platinum-palladium prints happened to me in 2007 during a gallery visit in New York and I fell in love – It was an exhibition by a Japanese Artist named Koichiro Kurita. I have been exploring and researching cyanotypes, platinum-palladium and other alternative processes ever since. In May 2010, I left my professorial job at University of Miami to return to India. I am now a director of the Goa Center for Alternative photography (Goa-CAP)
Q. How did you get introduced to film photography? How has the journey of visual communication via this specific medium been for you?
I am from the film photography era. I started photographing 20 years ago – my father bought me my first SLR when I was in 5th grade – a pentax k1000 that I still own and use. I’ve been playing with film since then. It’s been a roller coaster. For me, photography is a means of exploring my curiosity. It is a way of discovering, isolating and simplifying what I find visually fascinating and emotionally moving about our marvelously complex and constantly changing world. Only then I can bring it to your notice and hope that you will be able to share my emotional experience.
Over time my interests have evolved. From being fascinated with nature and wildlife, to the graphic qualities of a scene, to the quality of light and its play with texture and tonality, to the human face and body and now to the inner world of human emotion and its manifestation in bodily form, gestures and facial mien.
My equipment, techniques and workflow have evolved with my interests. I see two steps to the photographic process. First is my private affair of discovery, understanding and refinement of that understanding to distill the essence. The second step is capturing and presenting this discovery to you, the viewer, in a way that emphasizes that essence, discarding the nonessential and removing all distractions. In simple terms, it’s “seeing” and “showing”. Ansel Adams said that there is nothing worse than a “sharp image of a fuzzy concept” – The final outcome is weak if the “seeing” is not strong enough, in spite of technical eminence. But I also strongly believe that enough thought and effort needs to go into the showing part if the full impact of the “seeing” is to reach you. Photographs of great visual content and potential for expressive depth lose half their power if captured and presented with bad technical choices. I strive to meet the highest standards of conceptual clarity and technical excellence in my work. The choice of film as a medium is an important part of this effort. With film, I have complete control over the whole process of image making from thinking of the image, to pressing the shutter to processing the film to making the final print.
Q. Today when everyone is shifting to Digital, why do you think its important for someone to learn about film?
Digital media, and digital cameras in particular, at a cursory glance, appear to have democratized the medium. Previously, photography was the playing ground of predominantly the few rich elite who could afford a camera and spend money on film and processing. Now, it has instantly become a medium of the masses. Digital revolution has removed the camera from the hands of the elite few and put it in the hands of every cellphone user. But instead of moving towards a freer, more liberated and more progressive visual expression using digital photography as a tool, we seem to have actually regressed, with the same content, and same style and the same “look” being produced over and over again. The ease of image creation brought by digital revolution should have helped in freeing our thinking, bringing in new ideas, new ways of seeing and expressing and new subject matter brought in by people who wouldn’t have had access to image making devices in the older days, paving the way for a new visual vocabulary, and new dialog and poetry written with it. Instead, we have actually become embroiled in the megapixel-mongering. What’s gone wrong?
In every photo workshop I give anywhere in India, whether it be a film processing workshop in Pune or Alternative Photography workshop for NID students or a pinhole photography workshop for kids in a small village, I am always asked about resolution and “How many megapixels does a 35mm film have?” kind of questions. Every digital versus film debate seems to discuss and compare only the resolution capabilities of digital sensors and film, the dynamic range, the color space and on and on. But hardly anybody seems to be interested in discussing what kind of a visual culture the digital camera is bringing in and what kind of image making practices and traditions are we losing in the process of moving from film to digital. I think all the advantages of practicing film photography lie somewhere between the technical advantages and the kind of thinking processes it encourages and instills.
Q. So tell us a little bit more about this workshop.
This workshop is focused on learning to properly process your own black and white film. A common phenomenon among the newbie black and white film enthusiasts is that they play around with film but never seem to get the results that they are hoping for and they can never be sure if the problems were that of exposure or if the lab messed up their negatives.Many of them end up giving up film because of that. Even among some of the veteran photographers from the older generation have stopped working with black and white film because of inconsistent processing creatign too high or too low density negatives and careless handling by the labs with fingerprints, scratches, dust on the film ruining important shots. This workshop aims to give the control back into the hands of the photographer. Black and white film developing is actually quite an easy thing. All one needs is a little bit of discipline and systematic following of a recipe – it’s like cooking or baking. And seeing the developed negative appear from the spindle is one of the most exhilarating and inspiring feelings. We will learn everything from correctly loading the film onto reels without getting fingerprints, scratches etc, to developer concentrations, temperature choices and agitation patterns and how they affect contrast, tonality, grain and the film curve, pushing and pulling, for drying and storage, scanning etc. You will be able to process your own film to a very high standard of quality and consistency after this workshop.
This workshop is part of a larger effort to build a community of black and white film practitioners that will have shared darkrooms and access to film, chemicals and other processing equipment. More detailed info about the workshop can be found at http://www.guttikar.com/workshops/film-developing/.
Constellation Cafe apologizes for the terrible quality of the pictures. Sorry! But do check out the workshop. You can also reach Mr. G directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.