With the new studio, my ongoing series “Girls on Film” continues. This time we shot a brief series of studio headshots both in digital capture, plus a set with the 4×5 large format camera on b&w negative, printed on 16×20 silver gelatin in the darkroom (the film prints are featured here).
The large format photographs were shot with existing natural light, and required a relatively slow shutter speed and wide open aperture, which creates the soft, very shallow depth of field images you see. Because of the longer shutter speeds (usually about 1/4 second or less), the subject has to sit very still in order to reduce motion blur and stay within the very short range of focus. This slow process has the effect of creating a very studied, somewhat stoic look common in much older photography from the 19th and early 20th century. The textures and imperfections you see are a result of using slightly fogged film which was more than a decade out of date, as well as other small nicks and scratches inherent from the hand processing, the slight vignetting and bright highlights are created by hand in the darkroom by old fashioned dodging and burning, and the coloration is the result of selenium toning. In short, the entire process from sitting and exposure, to processing and printing all contribute to the overall look and effect (which ironically resembles a modern day Instagram filter of some sort.)
There is an inherent physicality to the film process, quite the opposite of the virtual digital process, which is where the film and digital mediums divide and hold their own qualities. The handling of the camera and film, the phenomenon of light creating a chemical transformation resulting in a solid, physical image, and the further processing of the image to reverse and enlarge it onto a new surface, all create a solid, real object which is best appreciated as one holds it in one’s own hands. Film photography isn’t merely a look or style, it is a specific medium of it’s own.