Ambivalent Auras (Classical Contrasts)

Apollo Sauroktonos, Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge, June 2021

I’ve been able to make progress with my Classical Contrasts project (see posts 28th &29th July and 4th June 2020, renamed Ambivalent Auras) now the Museum of Classical Archaeology has opened for booked visits.  I spent a couple of hours there recently making photographs of some of the 30 subjects I need to complete the book.  I felt it went well at the time, but as I was using film I couldn’t tell until I had negatives and prints in my hand.  In the event, I have 19 images I’m happy with and six subjects need redoing.  I count that as a reasonable success.  If I’d been using digital capture the six duds could have been reshot at the time, of course. 

So, why use film, why not make life easy for myself? American photographer Sarah Christianson explains why she uses film in an interview in Analog Forever (Edition 2, Summer 2020).

Apollo Belverere, Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge, June 2021

‘It’s a passion, a labour of love.  The magic of the darkroom enthrals me, and I love coaxing images out of the materials, light and chemistry.  I find I have deeper relationship with my images because of this.  Shooting film slows me down – in the best way possible.  I’m more careful and considered in my approach.  There’s a seductive quality to 5×4 negatives, too.  The historian and archivist in me also loves the physicality of film and amassing this giant collection of negatives that can be passed on to future generations.’

Choiseul-Gouffier Apollo, Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge, June 2021

I share much of this thinking, though I’m now divorced from the darkroom magic, somewhat regretfully.  Even 35 mm negatives are seductive – they have an iconic beauty and embody both presence and potential.  The slowing down when making the photographs is complemented by the delay in seeing the final prints – and there is the pleasurable bonus of deferred gratification.  The full joy of the analog world of photography is realised when the final image becomes a ‘real’ silver print with its distinctive range of tones and aura as a unique tactile object.

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