Film photography commands growing focus

By Steve Palisin


A photo lab in Myrtle Beach has begun processing film rolls, Coastal Carolina University students still learn the roots of photography in the dark room, and local photography professionals find the value of keeping film rolling in their industry and art field.
A photo lab in Myrtle Beach has begun processing film rolls, Coastal Carolina University students still learn the roots of photography in the dark room, and local photography professionals find the value of keeping film rolling in their industry and art field. Courtesy photo

As vinyl records have returned to sing another day, 35 mm film is back, possibly in a growing, bigger focus for local photographers.

803 Labs of Myrtle Beach has begun processing C-41 color film again, devoting Wednesdays for the service on a new machine acquired in mid-spring. Whether with forgotten, undeveloped rolls that a casual, point-and-shoot hobbyist found in a drawer at home, or with “niche” photography enthusiasts geared to a more traditional artist’s perspective with the shutter, customers can receive their images digitally, online or as prints.

Tony Wiggins, president of 803 Labs, has spent more than 30 years in the photofinishing business, and he remembered his first camera, a Kodak 110, and fooling his mother by photographing a plastic model of a mid-1970s Chevrolet Corvette that she at first, thought was full size. He does not discount the value of digital cameras in this age, yet he sees the value of keeping the roots of his profession, and “fulfilling a need for the traditional photographer.”

Calling this an “art form,” Wiggins said film photography lets photo colleagues “bring back creativity” while being “less dependent” on digital perks. That also means “paying more attention to the subject” pictured and setting up the framework for the whole setting right, from the start, without alterations on a computer, ideally to get the job done with a small amount of shots, vs. maybe 100 on a digital camera, instead of stopping and going back and forth to look at the latter, to see if an image is right.

Wiggins brought up local photo-historian Jack Thompson’s black-aned-white shots on film through the decades and how such “clear, sharp” crispness in his body of work might not reflect their age, say from the 1950s.

Kendall Wiggins, 803 Labs’ production manager and Tony’s wife, said she enjoys seeing customers bring in rolls of film, and sets of negatives, from which old photos can be printed, enlarged and restored. She said she hears many “different stories” shared, especially when people chronicle their lives, also to remember ancestors, for preservation in photo albums.

“It has its own type of flavor,” she said of working photos from film, especially for their “softer, more tonal quality that you can’t recapture in digital form.”

‘Never lost the need or use’ for film

Carl Kerridge of Myrtle Beach, who has shot wedding photos around the world, said he has more film than digital cameras – about 12 and 5, respectively – and the former are used mainly for personal and art projects, in black and white. Among his galleries posted at bwfineart.photography, he said film fueled his latest venture, “Refraction.”

Since obtaining his first manual focus film camera, a Nikon F100, in 1996 – with which he began teaching himself the rigors of developing black and white film – and later embracing digital technology for “day to day work,” including events and corporate lifestyles, and clientele for advertising and magazines – Kerridge said he’s “never lost the need or use” for film cameras. An upcoming photo project, though, going under water, with special equipment and physical costs factored in, will be in digital.

From an artist’s perspective, Kerridge said photographers can count their fortunes in choices of film or digital for details to highlight in their work..

“It’s like we’re painting with different brushes,” he said of fine-tuning each approach taken per endeavor, however, with film, “you have to know what you’re doing” in preparations, with the subjects, lighting and the like, “before you just push the button.” For every photo in his “Refraction” series, taking into account “every little piece of light hitting somewhere in the glass,” the studio set-up and getting the model ready took about two hours each, he said.

Kerridge cited such reasons to keep 35 mm and medium format film cameras, “to do this kind of project,” and that to be able to build and craft such art, “you have to layer technical skills on the work.”

CCU students eager to explore the roots

Talbot Easton Selby, chairman of Coastal Carolina University’s visual arts department, also has a “Conjure” photography exhibit through Nov. 12 on both stories of the Artspace 506 gallery in North Myrtle Beach. The majority of images that originated from film fill the first floor, he said.

Selby likes seeing photography evolve, amid our living more “more in a visual society,” never mind many people “who thought film photography is dead.”

“We’re still using a lens,” he said, “but our understanding of it is morphing.”

At Coastal, students – some of whom remember their parents using such cameras – continue showing “a huge interest,” and they start on 35 mm film “because we want them to understand the rigors of the process,” Selby said. With 24 or 36 exposures on a film roll, classmates learn how to develop and print images in the dark room.

“The probability of failure happens much more with film than with digital,” Selby said, “but students who start with film develop a better eye with the camera and in the lab, and understand the development process faster.”]

Whether it’s nostalgia or the immersion into the core of developing film, Selby said, he understands professional colleagues who share – or have returned to – that “aura and feel of film” and color “with more depth.”

Students also realize “there’s more to this than snapping a photo,” Selby said, happy to see them slow down, “think more about the image, and how it’s made, with the science and physics behind it, and the mind behind it.”

Granted, working with film brings higher costs in supplies and equipment, said Selby – also the chemical technician for Sprint Systems of Photography, based in Rhode Island – but for photographers with the time to devote, this art lives on, not that he expects this merge heavily with digital, but film can score with special projects. He also noted that people also are requesting another visual art form – with its own skill set and heart – for their weddings: paintings made during the ceremony.

Cheryl Munn, director of Artspace 506, is impressed by yesteryear staples such as film photography, vinyl records and typewriters “coming back” and engaging young people.

“The pendulum is swinging back with nostalgia,” she said, getting musical to illustrate. “Young people are buying turntables, saying the music sounds better. We always knew that.”

Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.

If you go

WHAT: “Conjure” exhibit with photography by Talbot Easton Selby

WHEN: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays through Nov. 12

WHERE: Artspace 506, 506 37th Ave. S., North Myrtle Beach.

HOW MUCH: Free to see

INFORMATION: 843-273-0399 or www.artspace506.com