Like many photographers my age, I began my photographic journey shooting slide film. Remember those specific characteristics of various films and having to make your choices before loading the camera for 24-36 precious exposures? Fuji Velvia with its vivid greens, Provia, Kodak E100S-with its vibrant blues, E100SW- with its warm tones, Scala Black and White, and Agfachrome 1000- with its beautiful gritty grain…
I shot slides for close to 10 years before moving into the digital age. The slides I shot filled 17 3-inch binders which have been untouched on the shelf since 2003! Needing the space in my office, I decided to go through them, edit and purge! What I thought would be a chore turned out to be an amazing experience. I observed how my vision developed as I progressed from book to book while trying to keep my emotions apart from my decisions to keep or toss.
My first discovery was how much I missed the sensory part of editing, feeling the slide pages in my hands and holding the loupe to my eye over a light table. There is something mysterious about peeking through a loupe at dark slides and being surprised by what you see illuminated within that 2x2 inch cardboard frame!
As I progressed through my binders I discovered how much I bracketed my shots while learning the valuable lesson of "exposure." Slide film has a very narrow exposure latitude and one had to 'nail' the correct exposure so as not to blow out highlights or block up the shadows. I could see how unsure I was of exposure concepts at the beginning of my photo learning curve by the number of bracketed shots I made for each subject, and how I later mastered it with fewer and fewer bracketed shots. And remember in camera dupes? I had many of those for particular subjects I thought were worth it. (Guess what? They weren't!)
Continuing my editing process, I realized my love for abstracts, reflections, shadows and motion goes all the way back to the start of my photographic journey. To this day, I look for these subjects and while many of the ideas are the same, my conceptual vision has matured since then.
I could see my progress in learning to see and capture light.
I saw (and tossed) my first dreadful attempts in accomplishing successful landscapes and saw how I literally followed all of 'the rules of composition' daring not to break any of them! Slide page by slide page, I could see and feel my struggle with mastering wide angle lenses and the broad based landscape, which took me far from my comfort zone of long lenses and subject isolation. Images marked on the slide mount as "keepers" back then are far from what I would choose as "keepers" today. Many of my early landscape shots made me ask myself "What was I thinking when I took this shot?" They looked like snapshots, and had no impact at all! I also realized that to this day, I am still challenged by consistently composing the perfect scenic!
The "historical keepers" were saved without question for posterity and consisted of places long gone and of the legendary musicians I captured over years of attending the New Orleans Jazzfest. I kept all of those shots whether good, soft, or badly composed.
Wondering in what year an image was made, I realized that in film days we did not have the convenience of metadata informing us of time, date, etc which we take for granted today. All we had to rely on was the month/year stamp on cardboard frames and any notes we thought to write on the slide mounts. I realized the value of journaling and making notes in the field- which I do religiously today- since many of my slide shots were taken in obscure places which I do not remember. On the other hand, there were certain images of places and subjects which I could remember with all of my senses as I peered at them through the loupe. Funny how that goes…
Then there were the surprise slides made of family, friends and pets. None of those slides were purged- too many good memories and sentimental moments. Those will definitely get scanned someday soon.
I shot a lot back then. I was learning. (and I still am!) I realized the importance of shooting as often as I can to grow photographically, to get everything 'right' in the camera, to be selective when shooting, and to explore a subject completely before moving on.
If you have a library of your photographic roots, I highly recommend going through them soon and discover how far you have come. You might also gain some much needed room in your workspace!