Black and white all over: Photographer returns to darkroom



 

FRANKLIN — Barry Buchanan is an equal opportunity photographer.

The Montclair, N.J. native loves shooting with film. Yes, actual rolls of transparent plastic. But the photographer also will shoot with a digital camera or smartphone.

“I use all of the tools,” Buchanan said. “My preference is for film.”

Photography has always been a part of Buchanan’s life. He documents life in Downeast Maine, from bait buckets to blueberry barrens to name a few, largely using black-and-white film. He points to Ansel Adams as an inspiration as well as Maine scholar W.H. “Bill” Bunting who wrote “Maine On Glass: The Early Twentieth Century in Glass Plate Photography” and “A Day’s Work: A Sampler of Historic Maine Photographs 1860-1920, Parts I and II.”

Buchanan works as a finish carpenter at The Hinckley Company.

A fishing vessel, lying on its side at a Milbridge boatyard, makes a striking composition. BARRY BUCHANAN PHOTOS

“I’m 62 and my earliest memory is when I was maybe 8 years old,” Buchanan said. “I remember looking down the viewfinder of an old Kodak camera my mother had. I seemed to have had a camera near me most of my life.”

Early this century, he shifted to shooting digitally thinking “film was dead.”

“I even sold my 35-millimeter camera on eBay thinking I would never revisit it again,” he said. “In 2015, I did purchase a nice, digital DSLR camera and I love it. I use it for specific things but I kind of missed film.”

“About six months later, I purchased a newer and ‘better’ model DSLR [digital single lens-reflex],” he related. “I realized that I could keep doing that, every six months, for the next 30 years.”

Buchanan mentioned to a fellow photographer that he didn’t need all of the “bells and whistles” of a new camera. Just three features sufficed: Shutter speed, aperture settings and ISO settings, (Light sensitivity of the digital sensor). He also mentioned being bored by digital technology and missed working with his 35-mm camera starting in 1976.

 

The friend suggested Buchanan consider shooting with film again.

“Like everyone else, I asked the usual questions: Where do buy film? Where do you get it developed? Where do you find film cameras to buy?”

He then embarked on a new adventure reacquiring and working with film and old mechanical cameras to capture moments that he sought to preserve.

“By using film, developing film, acquiring these old cameras from the 1940s through the 1980s,” he is able to reconnect with the photographic process that he once knew.

“Most of my cameras are all mechanical,” he noted. “There are no computer components — no electronic stuff in them.” Incidentally, his cameras now total about 40.

As for 35-mm film, you can buy it on amazon, of course, as well as eBay but it’s also available at one of Buchanan’s favorite online sources —B&H Photo Video Pro Audio.

Apparently, film is enjoying a renaissance.

Franklin photographer Barry Buchanan remembers “looking down the viewfinder of an old Kodak camera my mother had. I seemed to have had a camera near me most of my life.”

“Since 2009, film sales have increased every year,” Buchanan said. “You’ll never see Kodachrome again but Ektar they have.”

Buchanan compares the desire for film in shooting to “audiophiles” seeking vinyl albums instead of digital music. “The old stuff that really has a quality that can’t be matched.”

The photographer appreciates every bit of the tactile process. He enjoys loading film into a camera and making sure the exposure is right.

“I never know what I get until I pull the film out of a developing tank,” he said.  “I have to wait. Did I get the shot? Then I go from there. I can either scan it and share it on Facebook. I can process it in Lightroom or Photoshop just like you would a digital photograph.

“I specifically built my home so I could set up my darkroom, which is the complete analog process,” he said. “I tell people when I use digital, I’m taking a photograph. When I use film, I’m making a photograph.”

 

While Buchanan has a darkroom for processing his film, he says you don’t need one. You can just buy what’s called a “film-changing bag.”

“I have a daylight developing tank and roll of film I’ll put inside the dark bag,” Buchanan said. “My arms go through the dark bag through two portals.” He then transfers the film into the developing tank, seals the tank and develops the film. “It’s pretty easy to do,” he said.

Buchanan, who tends to photograph buildings and objects more than portraits, prefers shooting with medium format and large-format film.

Those negatives are three times larger than 35-mm transparencies resulting in images with much greater detail.

Buchanan also likes to document working people, including chainsaw sawyer Ray Murphy in Hancock.

Buchanan recalled purchasing his first 35-mm camera in 1976. “I might have spent $350 on that camera,” he said. In contrast, a digital medium-format camera fetches around $40,0000.

“You have much more data,” Buchanan said. “Bigger is better in film.”

If you are shooting digitally, he recommends shooting in a raw-file format instead of a jpeg format.

 

“If you shoot in jpeg, you can get more pictures on a memory card,” he explained. “But those pictures are compressed and there’s only so much you can do before you get blocky, blotchy images.”

“Some of what I’m doing on a personal level is keeping alive an art form that’s been around for quite some time,” he summed up. “I have yet to come across an individual that if you put an old black-and-white photograph in front of them, they don’t stare at it and look around it. It kind of tugs at them in a way.”

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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