Fred Rosenberg. Photo: Thomas Nowaczynski

Why film photography is less work (and more fun) than digital

A conversation with Nelson photographers Fred Rosenberg and Thomas Nowaczynski

Photographer Thomas Nowaczynski is 50 years younger than photographer Fred Rosenberg.

But their common philosophy about non-digital film photography, and their love of it, effortlessly spans those years as the Star discovered in an interview with the two men at Rosenberg’s kitchen table last week.

Rosenberg has never switched to digital. And he does not put his work on the internet, which holds only a couple of dozen of his thousands of photos of the people of Nelson taken over decades.

Nowaczynski, 22, recently started shooting film, and along with a group of other young people in Nelson has started a group that will offer a darkroom and a studio, along with education and support, for people using film cameras.

“I started photography with a digital camera,” Nowaczynski says. “But I was not really taken by it. I knew there was potential, but was not enamored with the process of taking a photo and putting it on my computer and then sorting through the thousands of shots and choosing five and editing them in Photoshop. It did not grab me. I was overwhelmed by the possibilities, and it seemed like almost a ridiculous amount of work to get something tangible.”

Rosenberg laughs at this. “In digital? Digital is too much work?”

This veteran who’s spent half his life in a darkroom can’t believe what he’s hearing: the upending of the conventional wisdom that digital photography is quicker and easier than film.

‘It was real to begin with’

Nowaczynski explains that he likes the physicality of film photography.

“To get my hands dirty with some chemicals, and to see negatives that are physical and that exist, was mind-blowing. I took this photo, and I have it in my hand now. I did not have to go through the whole computer process to get it into the real world,” he says. “It was real to begin with.”

“The first time I made a print it was the same: a combination of magic and chemicals brought it to life.”

He says that while digital offers limitless possibilities, film does the opposite: it limits you, and he likes that. He says creativity occurs within limitations.

“So this medium that has strict limitations requires intention and vision and requires you be present,” he says. “With digital you can just snap.”

Rosenberg laughs again and shakes his head.

“Remarkable,” he says.

‘When my nervous system cycles through the viewfinder’

Why did Rosenberg never go digital?

“I like the craft. It suits me. It is all physical and mental, contained inside, there is no outside program that I have to obey. It depends on my first-hand experience. The tools are not electric. I like that it is a manual process,” he says.

“I feel a direct connection from this to my nervous system and the cycle is complete when my nervous system cycles through this viewfinder.”

Both photographers say one of the valuable limitations of film is that the number of shots you can take is finite.

“Part of me has to be aware of what is left, before I have to stop,” says Rosenberg.

“The film costs money,” says Nowaczynski. “You can’t just snap frames, because you are literally throwing away money. And when you load a roll of black and white 400-speed film you are shooting black and white 400-speed film until the roll is up.”

‘I am flabbergasted’

Nowaczynski’s film photography group is known as LighterCyde Film Lab.

Rosenberg says he was a bit skeptical when he first heard about the project. He wondered if it’s some sort of short-lived fashion or fad.

But when he hears Nowaczynski talk about it, he’s hopeful and tells him he wants to help.

“When I hear about what film means to you and how much you really enjoy it, I am flabbergasted that you can start with that kind of awareness.”

He says he could help them with “exposure, or what film is, or the relationship between the speed and the aperture, basics, how your prints ought to look, what camera you should be using. I can help you customize your understanding.”

Another crucial thing he could contribute: “My enthusiasm, that has persevered through my whole life.”

‘We gabbed for an hour and a half’

Nowaczynski first heard about Rosenberg from one of his L.V. Rogers teachers, but he first met him last year at an exhibit his fledgling group organized.

“I didn’t know who he was. But I noted his intensity and attentiveness. He looked like somebody I should know. There was some kind of understanding there in my body that I could not really quantify.”

The next week they met for coffee.

“We gabbed for an hour and a half,” says Rosenberg. “We talked about the impetus to photograph – what that core necessity is.

Rosenberg says when he talks to photographers he’s listening for what their core motivation is.

“I am looking for a particular one which is: what does it reveal about being alive? Not about what stuff looks like. What does it mean to be alive and how does photography enable me to investigate that?”

“I have not seen your work, but I hear that in you,” he tells Nowaczynski, who at that moment is taking a photo of Rosenberg.

They’ve photographed each other throughout the conversation, but sparingly, with that sense of economy and discipline that many digital photographers have lost.

 

Fred Rosenberg and Thomas Nowaczynski in Rosenberg’s darkroom. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Thomas Nowaczynski. Photo: Fred Rosenberg

Just Posted

Snowfall warning for Kootenay and Paulson passes

Up to 30 cm expected in mountain passes Saturday and Sunday.

Monkey Do’s Childcare talks expansion, government funding

The B.C. Government has been working to improve childcare in the province… Continue reading

Moose tests positive for Chronic Wasting Disease in northwest Montana

This is the first time the disease has been detected in the species in Montana

Max’s Place celebrates 25 years in business

On Friday, Nov. 15 Max’s Place, a beloved Cranbrook bakery and coffee… Continue reading

Family of man missing for three years issues plea for information

Daniel Curtis Ladd was last seen leaving his home in Cranbrook in August 2016

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

Maddison Yetman had been looking forward to voting in her first federal election since junior high school

Rowing Canada, UVic investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

Lily Copeland says she felt intimidated and trapped by Williams

Cleanup in the works after tanker truck fire leads to oil spill in B.C.’s Peace region

The province said the majority of the spilled oil likely burned away in the fire.

BC VIEWS: Action needed on healthcare workplace violence

While we’ve been talking about it, the number of B.C. victims has only grown

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

Dr. Day said he illegally opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996 in order to create more operating-room time

MacLean says “Coach’s Corner is no more” following Cherry’s dismissal from Hockey Night

Cherry had singled out new immigrants in for not honouring Canada’s veterans and fallen soldiers

MacKinnon powers Avs to 5-4 OT win over Canucks

Vancouver battled back late to pick up single point

Dallas Smith, Terri Clark to perform on CP Holiday Train’s B.C. stops

Annual festive food bank fundraiser rolling across province from Dec. 11 to 17

Poole’s Land finale: Tofino’s legendary ‘hippie commune’ being dismantled

Series of land-use fines inspire owner Michael Poole to sell the roughly 20-acre property.

Most Read