Fishing with film

August 9, 2011

By Carlos Barria

In the “old” days, back before digital photography, photographers used to lug around tons of extra luggage, portable dark rooms, and set up shop in their hotel bathrooms. Or they would send their film — by motorcycle, car or even plane — to somebody else in a hotel or office close by to develop it, scan it and file. Or they might have to scramble and look for a lab in the middle of a crisis, in a foreign country. I don’t think my colleague Joe Skipper speaks Spanish, but I know that when he covered a showdown at Colombia’s Justice Ministry in the 80s, he learned how to say, “Mas amarillo!,” “More yellow!

North America chief photographer Gary Hershorn arrives to the Vancouver international airport with all his photo lab luggage. REUTERS/Stringer

I began my career as a photographer at the beginning of the digital era, working at La Nacion in Argentina. There, in 2000, I had a front row seat to the transition. I shot film myself, but for a very short period.

La Nacion newspaper photographer Rafael Calvino edits film at the newspaper lab in Buenos Aires. Courtesy of Hernan Zenteno

I have to confess that I always admired photographers who worked with film. I admired their patience. I love people who are organized and meticulous working with film; I’m definitely not one of them.

La Nacion newspaper photographer Rodrigo Abd cut film the lab of paper as he edits his pictures. Byline Hernan Zenteno

I like to try anyway. I always craved the freedom to produce some assignments with film. At a news wire, it’s not that easy: developing film is a slow process, it takes a lot of time and it’s also more expensive. Digital is faster, cheaper and most importantly, portable. You just need a camera, a small laptop and a satellite phone and you can send pictures from anywhere on the planet.

During the tsunami in Japan I felt an opportunity presented itself. I arrived in Tokyo nine days after the tsunami. It was still a huge story, but I didn’t have the pressure of shooting the first few days of breaking news pictures. I found myself working in another mode — more calm, more meticulous, waiting for images.

I think I have two modes to working: hunting and fishing. When you hunt, you’re looking for a specific picture, a specific idea. When you fish you just sit and wait for the fish to take the bait. Both require different skills, focus and patience. Towards the end of my assignment in Japan, I was fishing everyday.

I wanted to shoot in a different format, parallel to my daily work for the Reuters wire. I had taken a Hasselblad 35mm panoramic film camera with me, and from time to time I paused and shot a couple frames of film.

I’ve always thought that it is difficult to shoot two formats at the same time and get it right. I made sure I had everything I needed in digital first, because those are the shots that pay my salary.

I filled eight rolls of film, and flew home. True to my experience with myself, I lacked the discipline of this medium and it took me three more months to find a lab in Shanghai to develop them, but here they are.

(View the full selection of panorama’s here)


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Very nice… many interesting “whys” hidden in this post… I found recently a little bag with eight (?!) rolls of b/w exposed who knows when on who knows what. Looking for answer, I developed them. Only to discover many more question. Hope to share it soon with you here (and there) 😉 Damir

Posted by Damir | Report as abusive

like the analogy you draw to hunting and fishing (very much inspired by Bariloche, I guess). totally agree on the two modes of working: I always compare the two modes of working to the way you buy presents for someone: you either “search” for a present (more common) or you just happen to “find” one.

Posted by lukulu | Report as abusive