silver halides

35mm black and white film is what nearly every photography student starts out with. Thats the way it was when I entered high school, and entering college was much of the same. It was funny telling my college professor I already know about film. You never think you’re the arrogant freshman until you think back on it. “No you didn’t. Forget everything you think you know, because it’s wrong.” Fair enough.

Untitled, Pennsylvania, 2015. Canon A-1 / 28mm f/2.8 / Kodak T-Max 400

I always enjoyed shooting film, and it feels even pretentious to write about, but I guess I didn’t quite “get it.” I remember it being more of a chore in high school. I couldn’t get the results I wanted, I tried to rush developing, my prints and negatives fell ultimately fell flat and gray. It was more often discouraging than enjoyable, so I made a more permanent switch to color/digital for the remainder of high school.

Parking Garage Roof, Manchester, NH, 2012. Minolta Maxxum / Kodak T-Max 400

It was true, everything I had learned before as a 14 year old (unsurprisingly) was lost, and college really helped me step up my film processing. My negatives had more contrast, and when it came to printing the quality carried over. It was exhilarating. It was then that I was feeling kind of what photography was all about. Writing with light. The fact that when shooting black and white film you capture raw, unfiltered light embedded in silver. You have something tangible. Subject-wise, color becomes a non-issue, and you’re left with an alternate view of the world.

Under the Bridge, Manchester, NH, 2014. 4x5 Field Camera / Ilford HP5+ 400

For some reason I eventually stopped shooting film as much. It was much easier to do all my assignments in digital, for obvious reasons. I soon discovered another love for film while shooting a 4x5 view camera for a class in college. Those similar feelings came rushing back, coupled with this seriously advanced camera, and getting successful results was enough to be excited about. I was urged by my professor to finish my senior thesis work with these black and white images, but I was dead-set on using color in my final and occasionally I’ll still regret that decision.

Lately I’ve been going through my old work and scanning them in. Aside from the obvious nostalgia, I’m amazed at what past me decided to photograph. It’s funny seeing past rejects, that now I think were more successful images than I realized at the time.

Enjoy Coke, Manchester, NH, 2015. Canon A-1 / 28mm f/2.8 / Ilford HP5+

You hear it all the time though, photography shouldn’t be about film vs. digital, it’s the final image that matters.

This is correct….but with film you still have, even these days, a selection of “looks” that even instagram filters cant compete with. Whereas you only have one digital sensor. I’m not saying digital doesn’t have its place, it does, especially today. I’m maybe saying that if you have an old minolta camera from your grandfather sitting on the shelf as decoration, to maybe put a roll of film through it every now and then.

phil cifone

is a photographer and Linux enthusiast focused on digital archival storage. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.