Sunday, July 10, 2005

Thanks, Dad

As I mentioned somewhat obliquely below, in about the summer of 1976, my father returned from TDY in Europe and handed me a Konica T3 SLR, fresh from the Weisbaden A-V Club. I was twenty, and, up to that point, had not shown a remarkable avocation for photography. I had taken some pictures, including some surprisingly technical work as a kid, a odd roll of trip snapshots here and there, but my father and my sister had been the primary family photographers.

Having had a pretty decent camera drop into my lap totally out of the blue, I felt I was under some moral obligation to learn how to use it. One of my college chums (Hi, Rod!) taught me how to develop film, and off I went. Within a year or two, I was doing my own 4x5 sheet film. And this was also the era when E-6 was replacing the older, more difficult E-4 Ektachrome - so I was quickly doing my own color slides. (I actually watched guys run their last E-4 - that’s how old I am.) I joined the college photo club, I was on the staff of the school newspaper. I photographed everything.

We tend to forget how expensive photography used to be. The mid-70s were the age of the introduction of the One-Hour lab on every corner, which, surprisingly, helped drive prices down - but before that, it was both expensive and time-consuming to get prints back. When Fuji 400 came out about 1976, it was probably about $4 a roll, and a DP-36 mailer was probably close to ten bucks. So a roll of color prints probably ran close to 40 cents a print.

Being obsessive, I could probably work up some real numbers on this topic. Umm, I was paying 18? bucks for a can of Tri-X, less for Ilford, that's under 3 cents/frame for film; chemistry was pretty cheap, especially when I used the student paper's darkroom. A can of Ektachrome was about 40 bucks for 19-20 rolls, that's 6 cents/frame, a gallon of E-6 chemistry was also about 40 bucks for 32 rolls, so add another 4 cents/frame for development, plus storage. So what I seem to recall is that I was getting pictures as far as B&W negatives for 4 cents or so, with a contact sheet adding another penny a frame? And I was doing (unmounted) color slides (bulk film, souped myself) for just about a dime a frame. Of course, this was a long time ago - multiply those figures by a factor of four or five for today’s values.

[Cf. today: I'm doing a significant amount of work at 2 cents/frame for film, + about 8 cents/frame for EK processing (4x6 + an index print) = just about 10 cents/printed frame. Adjusting for inflation, that's cheaper than I was making B&W negatives in the old days. Photography is so cheap that home processing can no longer be justified on economic grounds: that is, even ignoring your time investment, it's now substantially MORE expensive to do your own darkroom work. (Which rather explains why my own darkroom has been sitting idle for nearly a decade.)]

So most of my work made it only as far as contact sheets - I had decided very early in the game that my limited funds were better spent on making more negatives than on expensive prints. Thirty years ago, I already realized that in the future, I could better afford to make prints - but that the photo opportunities themselves were always slipping away. I figured that someday I'd be in better circumstances to catch up on my printing. I may even have been anticipating the home scanner; even though that was completely SFnal in 1976.

And I was right: here in the future, photography is cheaper.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home