Old School Photography

Much of what we do at Ann Street Studio is with digital technology and I do love digital. I think it’s important to know the newest technology because that will forever shape how we shoot and see tomorrow. However, I was not raised on digital, but on the slow pace of film… the time it takes to load it and think about your exposure, never knowing if you got the shot until hours or days later. For our studio holiday card this year I wanted to step back, slow down, and enjoy the process of photography. It was amazing how much longer everything took, such a contrast to the enormous amount of content we can quickly produce these days.

We wanted to print an edition of 200 and started with the concept of shooting a simple still life of peonies to represent romance: the romance of mine and Kevin’s marriage this year. I went down to the Chelsea flower market and bought a variety of options.

It took 6 me hours to photograph 20 plates of 4×5 film.

Each sheet of film is carefully processed in pitch-black rooms with large dipping tanks. We then reviewed the contacts sheets of the film to choose our select for printing. I used red and green filters on the flowers when photographing to lighten and darken the greens and reds of the image and add more tonality to the end black and white product.

My favorite photo lab to use is actually LaPete in Boston. It’s large, clean, quiet and Bill (the owner) is an encyclopedia of photography and old school techniques. I go there partly to pick his brain.

30 sec exposure to light on warm toned fiber base paper, 2 mins in developer, 30 secs in stop bath (stops development), 5 mins in fixer (makes it not light sensitive), 30 mins in wash baths. It took two full days of printing to produce the 200 prints.

Using fiber based paper is a longer drying process than RC; each print was dried and pressed in 3 different machines, then cooled under weighted glass to flatten the print.

We headed down to Savannah and spent three days in Gallery Espresso spot toning each image by hand, since dust spots sometimes occur in the printing process. Signed, dated, and numbered – then sent for shipping.

It was, for me, like taking a deep breath. Although we always strive to create the best work we can possible create, I had an overwhelming since of pride looking at the photograph after all the time and detail and days it took to create it.

“Flower #7”, 2012

44 thoughts on “Old School Photography

  1. wow, this is truly beautiful. thank you for taking the time to slow down, and showing us the miraculous results!
    ps – i was just in joshua tree with my family, it was crazy to see your instagrams on the same days! although it was a lot colder than i expected it to be. did you manage to see the cholla garden? made me so happy!

  2. It’s amazing to see how much work actually goes into what you do. This specific instance has to do with film, but the hours and the determination that you put into each of your projects is displayed clearly in the overall outcome. The hard work and talent balance and you create masterpieces, Jamie! Love this.

  3. So gorgeous. My husband has been doing large format photography lately and it is so great to see the entire process from start to finish. He just got some 4×5 holders so we’re excited to see how his ext set of photos turn out. Thanks for sharing!

        1. Hi Jennifer!
          The white how in the snow with the holga- BEAUTIFUL!! The woman in profile with the baby (is that you?) what a special photograph. I hope to home some of myself like that one day. Thanks for sharing, you are inspiring me to pick up my film camera!

          1. So glad you enjoyed them! My husband is so very talented. That is me with my son. Yeah, I really hold these photos dear to me. I think they will be special to our son someday too. Its fun to be making little keepsakes for our future family:)
            Happy to share!

  4. This is your best post in a long time. I still have a darkroom at home and my true passion is Wet Plate Collodion (the polaroid of the old days) and reading and seeing fellow photographers fully in love with their crafts is part of what keeps me going with the old school flag. There is nothing more rewarding than being in a darkroom and seeing your photos magically show up. Please do more posts like this! Lately I get the felling every post around here is one big ad.

    PS: Would you be able to make your outtakes images available in a higher resolution non collage form? They are beautiful and I would love to print and stick them around my darkroom.


  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! I was so curious what your christmas cards were as you posted a photo of you on your way to mail them. They are gorgeous – what a special card! I know the recipients must have loved what they found in the mail box the day they were delivered. Happy New Year!

  6. What an inspiration you and Kevin are, Jamie. Thanks for the peek into this process, and what a time-consuming yet satisfying process! I’d love to read even more about your processes (digital and film)..

  7. You and Kevin are true artists. I love what you said about moving forward with the industry in the digital space but also the importance of going back to your roots.

    It’s interesting bc the vision is the same but the process is just so different. Don’t you think? And definitely the work that you do with film in the old school way informs what you’re doing with newer technology bc you’re always thinking, in the back of your mind, about light metering and exposure and such…even if you can rely on the camera to do it all for you and deal with it later in post-processing.

    I haven’t been in a darkroom in ages…years and years…I’m hoping that when I finally get back to one (one of these days) it will be just like riding a bike (I really hope). Still, I have two photos in my work space that I shot in the late 90s in Paris when I was a college student studying abroad that were shot on film and that my dad and I developed at home in our old darkroom. I glance up at them every day when I’m working on my computer and it makes me miss those purely film days and the excitement and anticipation of never quite knowing what you were going to get. This is one of my favorite posts from you…thanks for sharing.

  8. Gorgeous – there is just something about doing old school photography. I wish I knew how. My Great Grandfather used to produce his own photos. So cool. I have recently been taking photos with a box brownie and that’s really made me think hard about what I’m taking a photo of, rather than just snap snap snap. Wish I had got one of your cards hehe

  9. digital photography is great, but to do it this way, is another incredible procedure when it comes to a certain kind of shooting. the time it takes, changes the outcome of the picture so much. those are beautifully fragile. thank you for sharing them!

  10. People are often surprised when I tell them I shoot almost exclusively 4×5. I was lucky enough to go to a university whose faculty prefers that for their own work, and definitely instilled a deep love for the slower process. By the end of our four years a good 75% of my classmates had made the switch to shooting at least 60% of their work in 4×5 (and some even do mostly 8×10!). While it’s an old style of camera and format, it’s still part of the new school!

    That aside, these are some truly lovely black and whites. The tonal subtleties are just wonderful. And it’s always exciting to see someone hand spotting prints, that is definitely a mostly lost art at this point. I think the last time I saw anyone doing it was at the Color Services commercial lab in Needham.

    Thank you for sharing!

  11. I love seeing you work with film! The flower photos turned out beautiful – wish I could buy one for the art wall I’m designing in my apartment. Hope to see you soon in SF or NYC – it’s been far too long since we last saw each other!

  12. Thanks for taking us behind the scenes of old school photography. I’ve never had much experience with it and can see how meticulous the whole process is! The photos certainly came out amazing. Despite the monochrome scheme, they’re vibrant in a way. The “Flower #7” photo is beautiful. All that hard work really paid off. I can’t imagine spot toning 200 prints by hand… & my, you look so stylish even when developing photos, haha.

  13. These photographs are absoloutely beautiful! They remind me of Karl Blossfeldt’s series of botanical plants.

    The joy of shooting on a large format camera and processing them yourselves is such lovely feeling after seeing the final outcomes!

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