In the days far gone by when we still wielded film cameras (some of us still do to this day – my Canon Elan II has a broken door latch, but I never quite gave up on it and I’m hoping I’ll have it repaired one day) we often found ourselves in sticky situations where light was an absolute disaster, photography-wise. There simply wasn’t enough of it. And all we had in our bags were a bunch of canisters with a 100 film. Back then, I’d just slouch my shoulders in disappointment, put the camera back in the bag and shuffle away, defeated. That was until I bought a bulk of a 400 film and never looked back. I couldn’t find anyone who could push process my 100 film and not charge an arm and a leg for it. Developing it myself at home was even more daunting for me.
Back then when high ISO films were expensive and not that good, people would instead shoot T-Max, Tri-X or Acros) and needed to boost exposure, we’d simply tell the camera that the film was ASA 1600, effectively changing the exposure to much shorter shutter times and underexposing our film by as many as 4 stops. To make up for that loss in development the lab would need to pull that light out of the film more aggressively than usual by extending the developing time and temperature. This “pushing” of the film created such a famous look, which has now become a cult classic – higher contrast, much more pronounced grain and general loss of sharpness – traits so typical for B&W street photography. Back then, it was about a necessity as much as it was about price and affordability.
Today, we have digital cameras with instant review and live view, capable of out-resolving any film and shooting in the most stunning colors, yet we still tend to go back to the old “look” of the grainy dirty film pushed to its limits and we do everything we can to reverse back to that old crude film grit. Why? I always wondered why this was. We spend decades trying to improve things and make them better by the day, yet at the same moment we follow our nostalgia and end up going back to the point where we originally started.
I saw a reminder of this when developing this photo of a lonely tree. It was shot in 590nm infrared, in RAW and then processed through Silver Efex Pro 2. I remember that I started with my favorite Push Process preset, but then spent a couple hours on this, tinkering away.
There is no denying this. The raw file was better looking on paper, better resolution, sharper, tonality was near perfect, yet when I tried to do the usual color swap for red and blue channels, it just wasn’t calling to me. But after running it through my push process workflow, the result spoke for itself. A technically perfect yet boring photo on one end and then a grainy, grungy, terribly overexposed photo with blown highlights on the other, a photo with a flair that can catch your eye and evoke an emotion in a single heartbeat.
When imperfections become part of the story that’s capable of pulling out emotions you didn’t even know were there, that’s where art begins…