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Photographers find an affinity for the slower pace of film cameras

  • Kenzie Dellabough, 15, of Lebanon, photographs stones tossed by Ledyard Charter School English and language arts teacher Marianne St-Laurent during her photography elective on the bank of the Mascoma River in Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, April 3, 2019. St-Laurent teaches basic camera operation, developing and printing in the class. "It's more life skills," she said about what she teaches in her class, like stepping out of their comfort zones, looking at the world in a different way, and the delayed gratification before seeing the result of their work. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kenzie Dellabough, 15, of Lebanon, watches the clock while agitating her film in a tank with developing chemicals at the Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Seth Mossey, 17, of Lebanon, squeegees excess water from a contact sheet printed in the Ledyard Charter School darkroom in Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kenzie Dellabough, 15, of Lebanon, photographed a basketball hoop in Lebanon, N.H., for a Rule of Thirds assignment in the Ledyard Charter School's photo class.

  • Seth Mossey, 17, of Lebanon, photographed a moving vehicle for a motion blur assignment with slow shutter speed and panning in his Ledyard Charter School photography class. "You've got to have patience to do it because it's not a fast process,Ó said Mossey of analog photography.

  • Travis Paige, of Lebanon, helps Lachlan Fillingame, 9, right, with a camera as Dahlia Gaffney, 9, prepares to take a picture of a still life at the Hanover Street School in Lebanon, N.H., Monday, May 20, 2019. Paige visited his son BrentÕs third grade class to speak about photography and brought several film cameras dating back to the Kodak Brownie for students to try. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Addy Jones, 8, examines a roll of film during Travis PaigeÕs visit to her third grade class at Hanover Street School to speak about photography in Lebanon, N.H., Monday, May 20, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Scout Wooten, 9, takes a picture with Travis PaigeÕs Leica IIIa built in the late 1930s as he looks on during his visit to the Hanover Street School third grade to speak about photography in Lebanon, N.H., Monday, May 20, 2019. The camera was originally owned by PaigeÕs grandfather and after having it cleaned and repaired he started a project in which several local photographers are taking one roll of pictures with it. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • ÒWorking the Concession StandÓ is a photo of Malynn, 13, Travis PaigeÕs daughter. Travis Paige Photograph

  • Curran Broderick, of Wilder, waits for the sun to re-emerge from behind a cloud after composing, focusing, taking a meter reading and setting his exposure Sunday, May 5, 2019. ÒNinety-nine percent of photography is sort of stomaching disappointment,Ó he said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Curran Broderick, of Wilder, Vt., disappears under his focusing cloth while photographing with his 4x5 view camera in South Royalton, Vt., Sunday, May 5, 2019. Broderick studied photography at the Rhode Island School of Design and is teaching workshops at the White River Craft Center in Randolph, Vt. ÒI was raised all analog, one of the last generation to be raised on film,Ó he said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • "Grass," Colchester, Vt was shot with a 250mm Fujinon W lens on 4x5 Tmax 400 developed in D76 1:1, normal development. Curran Broderick Photograph

  • "Rock Ledge," Quechee, VT was shot with a Fujinon W 250mm lens on 4x5 Tmax 100 film and push developed, N+1, in D76 1:1. Curran Broderick Photograph

  • Artist Li Shen, of Thetford Center, photographs Suzanne Lupien at her Vershire, Vt., farm Wednesday, June 5, 2019. Shen, a sculptor who has turned to photography in recent years, has had a decade-long friendship with Lupien and has been photographing her for much of that time. As a participant in Travis Paige's Leica Project, Shen used his Leica rangefinder and monochrome film during this visit to the farm. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Suzanne Lupien harvests baby spinach on her horse-powered farm in Vershire. Li Shen Photo

  • Horse-drawn haying equipment, still in use, on Suzanne LupienÕs farm in Vershire. Li Shen Photo

  • Tian Yang, 36, the photography fellow at Dartmouth College, speaks about his exhibition "Encountering Czechia" at the Black Family Visual Arts Center in Hanover, N.H., April 22, 2019. The images were made during his two years as an MFA student at FAMU Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Czech Republic with an 8x10 view camera on transparency film. To display them, he made a customized LED light box for each image. "Living our life is really analog," said Yang. "You only have one chance. You do as much as you can to take advantage of it." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • On 2018 International WorkersÕ Day, Josef attending the annual Communist gathering. Tian Yang Photograph

  • A cemetery with outdoor columbarium amidst a neighborhood of concrete block apartment buildings. Tian Yang Photograph

  • ÒLebanon LibraryÓ Travis Paige Photograph



Friday, July 19, 2019

Talk to enough people who are taking photographs on film — there’s a surprising number of them in the Upper Valley — and a few themes emerge.

If the digital revolution has made photography more approachable, easier to work with, then film requires deliberation, forethought, time, commitment.

A few examples:

■“Just the technology of the day is interesting. … It’s the whole process. You have to think through the whole shot,” Travis Paige said in an interview in his Lebanon home. Paige has put a 1937 Leica camera that once belonged to his grandfather into the hands of eight local photographers.

■“That camera is really beautiful,” said Lilian Shen, one of the photographers who has used Paige’s Leica. “It was fun to rediscover totally manual photography.”

■“It’s so much more tangible,” said Marianne St-Laurent, an English teacher at Lebanon’s Ledyard Charter School who set up a darkroom and started a film photography class at the school last year.

■“It’s not just a craft, it’s an experience,” said Curran Broderick, a fine art photographer who lives in Wilder.

In the past two decades, digital photography has become the predominant way people record their visual lives. But film is enjoying a modest resurgence, both internationally and locally. Photographers are worn out by the constant scroll of images on social media and photo-sharing websites. Some of them are turning to the deliberate pace and darkroom magic of film. And some are returning to film and the elegant mechanical cameras that employ it to reclaim a bit of the past.

“I turned back to film because of the nostalgia,” St-Laurent, a Montreal native now living in Thetford, said in a phone interview. She decided to set up the darkroom last year, her first at Ledyard Charter School, when she discovered there was a perfect space for one.

There’s something about the mechanical aspect of the film camera that lends itself to teaching about photography, she said. Aperture, film speed and shutter speed are easier to demonstrate with a camera that can be opened to show its inner workings.

“It’s so much more tangible,” she said.

Ledyard Charter School teaches a population of students who are disengaged from the traditional classroom, and the school prizes hands-on experiences. Film photography seems tailor made for the school. “The kids got so much out of it,” St-Laurent, 36, said. “It just seemed to be so fulfilling for them.” Nine students took the class in the spring and she plans to offer the class again next spring.

“The focus was more on the process than on the result,” St-Laurent said. “I also realized that they were really good at looking for things,” she added.

Dartmouth College photography students start out working with film and developing their own work, said Tian Yang, the photography fellow in the Studio Art Department. For the first week, the students take no photos and are instructed just to pay attention to their surroundings.

“I think it’s a really good way to introduce them to photography,” he said.

Yang’s photographs, taken when he was a graduate student in Prague, were on display in Dartmouth’s Nearburg Gallery in April. Most photography exhibitions show prints, but Yang’s were one-of-a-kind transparencies, shot with a huge 8-by-10 view camera. During graduate school, he took around 50 photographs, and often spent days looking around to decide on a time and place to shoot, followed by hours of setting up and waiting for the right light or the right action. He would then expose a single sheet of film.

The time he invested played two roles: “My goal wasn’t just to have a group of photos to come away with,” Yang, 36, said. He wanted to experience a different culture, and the camera was a vehicle for that. While he set up his gear and waited for the right circumstances, he talked to people around him. “I felt like I really was there,” he said.

Speed is not the only thing that separates film from digital, though it might be the main thing. A modern digital SLR comfortably captures 10 images a second, Paige said. A film camera calls for some deliberation and mechanical sympathy, and not every photographer is comfortable with it.

“Most of the photographers were scared about using it,” Paige, 52, said of his vintage Leica IIIa. It was one of the first lightweight 35 millimeter cameras, and it made Leica’s reputation as one of the world’s premier cameramakers. But compared to a modern camera it is primitive.

“Literally, it’s hard to take 36 pictures,” he said. (That’s the number of frames on a typical roll of film.)

The Leica Project is nearing completion. Paige recently acquired a box of film cameras, which he plans to put into use, including an old Graflex press camera.

Shen, 69, was delighted to use the Leica. She shot two rolls of film, one at her home in Thetford Center, one at Suzanne Lupien’s farm in Vershire. Shen’s artistic background is in sculpture, but she started taking photographs again after breaking her leg in 2013. Using Paige’s camera was a one-off for her; she doesn’t plan to use a film camera again.

“I have to say that digital makes that post-production so much more accessible to someone like me, who has no darkroom skills,” she said. The chemistry involved in developing film and making prints is daunting.

Children take to film cameras readily. Paige brought an assortment of old cameras, including the Leica and some Brownie box cameras, into his son’s third-grade classroom at Lebanon’s Hanover Street School. “They loved it,” he said. “I was also amazed that half of them knew what film was already.”

Curran Broderick first experienced film photography as a young student. Growing up in Burke, Vt., he took a shop class in which the teacher blacked out the windows and all the students made pinhole cameras. The darkroom switched a light on for Broderick.

“It was just one of those intense experiences that viscerally shakes you to the core,” he said.

He moved on to developing 35 millimeter film in high school and college, then studied 19th-century photographic processes at Rhode Island School of Design. Making tintypes, cyanotypes, Van Dyke prints and silver gelatin prints requires his complete attention. The resulting photographs are characterized by their beauty and “humble authenticity,” he said.

“I feel like digital photography is kind of the alternative,” Broderick, 33, said, though he added that he doesn’t like to pit film against digital.

Even so, film is experiencing “a meaningful renaissance,” he said. “I think they’re unconsciously interested in tangible photography,” he added of people who are taking up film cameras. Photographers are “just trying to grab onto something that feels real,” in an era when countless images flood the internet. “It’s hard to wade through it,” he said.

Film photography is often called “analog” photography, in contrast to digital. A simple definition of analog is to say that it describes a one-to-one relationship. The image seen through the viewfinder is the image that ends up on the film; an object comes into being when the shutter opens and closes.

Digital photography puts a computer between the photographer and the subject, and then again between the photographer and the viewer. It’s less immediate, a devotee of analog photography might say.

“Living our life,” Yang said, “it’s really analog, where each of us has one chance in this life.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.