A Different Kind of Lens

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Insert film, take pictures without being able to check them, roll film in complete darkness, don’t ruin film in said darkness, develop film through a 30-minute process using chemicals, enlarge film, print out shots in darkroom, and dry. There’s certainly a lot more involved than simply touching a button on your phone to get a photo. It quickly becomes an investment of time that the average college student typically doesn’t have to spare, which begs the question: Who in their right mind would actually enjoy film photography?

I was a little overwhelmed when I learned all the precarious steps necessary to produce a single photo. It didn’t help that in order to even start taking photos I had to order a mercury battery that’s technically banned in the U.S. for the ancient camera to work. But once I finally knew what I was doing and was actually able to start taking pictures, I was enthralled by the process. All of a sudden it became necessary to really think about which moment I wanted to capture. I only have a finite number of shots that I’m able to take, so it’s important to make them count.

One of our class assignments was a kind of scavenger hunt where we had a list of items or phrases that we had to capture. The catch: We were limited to two rolls of film each. The great thing about this project was the fact that it forced me to go out into the world to experience new things. My brother visited from San Antonio the weekend of the assignment, and we travelled to Atlantic City, New York, and downtown Philly, my trusty FTb camera with me wherever we went.

Taking pictures is definitely the fun part, but it’s also the scariest in a way, because I can never be completely sure the photos are going to come out exactly as I want them as I can’t check a screen and make sure it’s a good shot. That’s when the magic of the darkroom comes into play. The first time I learned the basics of the darkroom, I was certain I was going to mess something up—it was definitely a process of trial and error. But again, once I got the hang of things, watching the transformative powers of the chemicals at work became relaxing.

Seeing a picture slowly appear beneath the developer chemicals is really an amazing experience. And the best part is that at the end of the day, when the finished product is in my hands, I know that I’ll treasure that photo more than any photo I’ve taken with my phone because of the time, effort, and experiences that went into producing it.