Unless you’ve done it it’s hard to describe the rituals of processing and printing black and white film. It goes something like this.
- In the dark (or with your arms sealed in a dark bag) open the film canister and load the film into a "spiral". The spiral holds the film wound up but with a gap so the chemicals can get to it
- Put the spiral in a developing tank, which has a light-tight funnel for pour chemicals in and out
- Mix chemicals. For black and white you need developer, fixer and two lots of water. They should all be at the same temperature as big changes can "shock" the film
- Pour developer into the tank. Shake it. Bang the tank to get rid of bubbles. Wait, occasionally shaking the tank
- After the appointed time pour out the developer. Pour in water (this might be "stop bath" solution if you’re very fancy). Shake, pout out, pour in the fixer, shake again, bang to get rid of bubbles.
- Wait. Wait a bit longer. Pour out the fixer, pour in water. Open the tank and lift out the spiral to see if the film has any pictures on it.
- Rinse the film. Add "wetting agent" at the end so the water runs off as you run it through your fingers (or a squeegee if you’re fancy) . Hang up away from dust to dry.
It’s a tactile process, a bit like baking your own bread, and like baking it has it’s rituals (the way you you bang the tank, or shake it). Like baking it has its smells too, although I’ll take the smell of bread over photographic chemicals any day. I miss all of that, truly I do. But it was so time consuming. There are some photos which are only possible with particular kinds of film nothing in the digital world quite matches Kodak High-Speed Infra-Red, which has just gone out of production. I bought 10 rolls of it because… why exactly ? I guess I can’t bear the thought of not being able to create some of the IRs I’ve done in the past, although I haven’t shot a roll of the Kodak in 3 years. Those rolls cost me £10 each.
I’ve just ordered an extra 4GB SD card for £8.99 (non UK readers, that’s a little under $20 US). That’s less than cost of that Kodak stock, although you can just about buy a roll of colour print film and get it processed for £8.99. Worst case shooting RAW files that card will hold something like 250 pictures, shooting JPGs it will be more like 1400. So even if I only used the card once – it costs only about 1/30th of film. It does pose the question why do I bother erasing and reusing memory cards… why not just use them once and file them as a backups ? I suspect they don’t last forever – I wonder what the expected life of something stored on SD is.