One Last Dance with Film

I last peered through the ocular of my Schneider 4x Lupe in August 2001. Little did I know I was editing my last rolls of slide film as I hunched over my light box, eyeballing a dozen or so boxes of FujiChrome slides of  – fittingly – a pair of classic wooden runabouts for a Wooden Boat calendar. Two weeks later I purchased my first DSLR and a couple of 512MB CompactFlash cards. The rest is history, and for the most part, I never looked back.

Fast forward six months shy of a decade, and I find myself once again peering at slides on a light box though that very same Schneider Lupe, only this time in retrospect as I rummage through drawers filled with countless slide sheets, each containing 20 transparencies, as I cherry-pick the best of them for digital conversion, a project I have managed to put off until recently, when I obtained use of a film scanner with which I’ve been getting to know very well during these long winter nights. Funny thing is, the experience, which I anticipated as being dreadfully tedious, has been illuminating on a number of levels.

For starters, the experience of leafing through images I’ve taken over the course of oh-so-many years has taken me back to many distant times and places, many of which only exist on celluloid within the cardboard frames I hold in my hands. Each group of slides is a time capsule of a time and place I have visited and recorded. Many of the best of these images originally appeared in print, and some circulated as stock images, but most, including some of what I always felt were my strongest images, never made it further than the boxes I got back from the lab. And these are the images I’m now getting to discover once again as I take them for one final twirl across the dance floor.

Perhaps the most amazing part of this experience has been having the ability to apply many of the image enhancing attributes afforded by digital technology  to images that at the time of capture, were mostly limited to setting the exposure, composing the image, adding filters (if any), and firing the shutter. Apart from selecting a film with the right ‘look and feel’ for the job in the first place, there was little more than one could do to enhance or improve the image. It was off to the lab along with a few prayer to the film processing Gods.

The cool part of scanning  old chromes is opening up freshly-minted RAW files,  and digging into the shadows while maintaining detail in the highlight, and tweaking the  contrast, hue, saturation, and tonal dynamics in ways unimaginable  all those years ago.

During the scanning process I’ve been able to revisit what I’d originally considered to be ‘compromised’ exposures, and finally set the record straight so to speak. As such, many of the scanned images I’ve produced are, at least in my mind, better than the originals.

So while I miss many aspects of film – a medium I grew up with and still cherish, the advantages and possibilities made possible by the ever-improving abilities of digital capture make me far less misty-eyed these days when glancing into the rear-view mirror.

All Photographs & Text Copyright Allan Weitz 2011

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