BACK IN BLACK
JULY 2, 2022
By now, I think I've found my holy trinity of film. When it's sunny, I shoot Portra 160 (Exhibit A). When it's not so sunny, I shoot Portra 800 (Exhibit B). And when I feel a little bit extra, I shoot FP4 (Exhibit C). FP4 is a fine grain, daylight, black and white film. That makes it tricky to shoot - you need to have a lot of light, and you need subjects that do well with black and white. I got lucky that my snowy landscapes turned out great on black and white, and I have yet to shoot some portraits with it. Architecture is a safe bet, but anything else you need practice for. The roll I'm showing you here was exactly that - practice, once a good opportunity came around.
The other day, I happened to go to Bordeaux. It's not far from here, only two hours by train, and opinions were mixed. I've met Bordeaux superfans, and I've heard it's a meh city full of conservatives trying to be like Paris. I definitely tend towards the latter after having been there, but I gotta say, there are some nice things about that city. The streets are just objectively gorgeous, and there are a lot of plants and flowers growing on the sandstone houses. I went to this kick-ass light show in an old submarine port. And, last but very much not least, I had one of the best dishes I've ever had at this place called Au Bon JaJa. It was a piece of grilled red cabbage in a beetroot-fermented milk reduction with peas and spicy pumpkin and... I'm losing myself, sorry. I'm here to talk about black and white film.
The real challenge when you shoot black and white film is, bluntly said, to have the vision what kind of grey a certain object will turn out to be. Is it going to be an illuminated almost-white? Do you get a suave anthracite, or structured blacks? That's a big gamble for a novice like me, and the only way forward is to try. It becomes particularly tricky when you want to publish sets of photos instead of single ones. Differences in tonality in the sky or on the ground will make images taken minutes apart seem so strange from another that pairing them becomes displeasing to the eye. In setting up this post, I've thrown out a lot more images for that reason that I would have thought, and I'm still not convinced the ones that made it fit together all too well.
This is great training, in a sense. Since starting this blog, my goal has been to find sets of images that just work; images that are so coherent in their expression that you, the viewer, are inclined to believe there is a story behind them before I have even written a word. This is quite easy to do when you shoot a roll of film with a specific vibe within a short time-frame - throw some dominant colors in there, and you're set for life. But when you photograph different places and subjects at different times, with a black and white film as demanding as FP4, you really have to pick your poison. Bordeaux was a great playground, but I definitely have a long ways to go.