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Part of the Process: Christopher Sturm

Part of the Process is a series of posts that puts the spotlight on film photographers and DIY film developers.  These features provide unique experiences and perspectives on shooting and developing film while also showcasing diverse talent and film photographers around the globe.  If you are interested in being featured, feel free to contact me!

Name:

Christopher Sturm

Location:

Oakland, California, USA

Links:

Website

Youtube

What other websites or blogs do you keep up with to feed your photographic interests?

PetaPixel, The Phoblographer, and Fuji Rumors.

What attracted you to film photography? How did you get started/introduced to shooting film? How soon after did you start developing?

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had to choose an elective class to round out my schedule. I had no interest in anything that was available, but Black and White Film Photography stuck out to me. My mom took me to a thrift store and I found a Canon AE-1 in pristine condition, with a 50mm f/1.8 stuck to it. I think it was $15 or something.

The second week of class we had to develop our first roll. I remember opening the tank for the first time, pulling out my film, and holding it up to the light. I couldn’t believe I had actually made images appear on film. It was like magic.

The following week we used enlargers to print our favorite image. After that print dried and I saw it in all its glory in the light, I decided I would never go anywhere without my camera. I still own that AE-1. It’s actually sitting on my desk as I type this.

Canon F-1 w/ 50mm 1.4 // Fuji Pro 400h

What do you like to shoot on a regular basis?

I love shooting portraits on location outdoors, as well as product, editorial, and anything coffee related.  Lately, I’ve been shooting for Barista Magazine and they have allowed me a huge amount of artistic freedom. I got to spend time with amazing cafes and roasters really seeing their processes and documenting them the way I want. It’s truly amazing.

I have recently started a project focusing on architecture around my town with focus on minimalism. Basically different types of buildings framed against a stark cloudless sky.

What formats, cameras, and films do you shoot? What do you like about the formats, cameras, films you prefer? 

I shoot 35mm and medium format. My main film cameras are my Canon F-1, Pentax 67, Olympus XA, and Polaroid Land Camera 100.

Olympus XA // Kodak Portra 400

The Canon F-1 is the most solid and professional feeling 35mm SLR I’ve ever used. I started off when I was 15 with an AE-1, and this camera is so very comfortable and familiar coming from that, but in a class of its own. The shutter sound and feel, the ruggedness, the brassing on the corners, the weight, everything. It just feels like a serious machine. I shoot that camera almost exclusively with the FD 50mm f/1.4, which is a gorgeous lens. Images are almost three dimensional. Ive been using it a lot for environmental portraits and some product stuff.

Canon F-1 w/ 50mm f1.4 // Fuji Acros

I was mainly shooting a Pentax 645N and a Mamiya RB67 for medium format, but I let both of those go and picked up a Pentax 67 with the magical 105mm f/2.4 lens. The huge form factor and cannon of a shutter just feels so right to me, almost like positive feedback from the camera that assures me I’m doing the right thing, I’m exactly where I need to be. I’ve shot with my friend’s Pentax 67 and finally ordered my own.  It should be in my hands before this is published. I feel like Christmas is coming, and I can’t wait.

Pentax 645N w/ 45mm f2.8 //Fuji Pro 400h

I used to be a total sucker for the “full frame vs crop sensor” argument and I totally believed that in order to be a professional you needed to own a full frame camera. Then I started shooting medium format and everything I knew went out the window. I started to realize that while it did matter what tool you chose for the job was the right tool, these are all just tools. I have shot professionally on 35mm film and full frame cameras, as well as crop sensor and medium format. It’s all about what you’re doing with it and how you see things.

Personally, I love medium format for intensely shallow portraits or environmental product or editorial work. But I will also shoot the Canon when I need to be a bit lighter with my kit and be able to wedge myself into smaller spaces. There is, however, an undeniable feeling when you hold up a 6×7 negative into the light for the first time.

What types of film do you develop?

I develop black and white as well as C41 at home. I have been developing black and white for years ever since high school, in my bathroom sink. A couple years back, I decided I really wanted to try C41 at home to bring costs down since I was shooting so much. After doing a ton of research online and a lot of trial and error, I developed a stand development technique that works really well, with very consistent and predictable results and not too much extra grain. Ive been processing my C41 like that for over a year now, about once a week, sometimes more.

Canon F-1 w/ 50mm f1.4 // Fuji Pro 400h

Tell us about your first experiences in developing your own film.  How did you muster the courage to give it a shot? What resources did you use?

After my sophomore year in high school, I was just shooting black and white film like crazy and processing the film at a lab in Hayward that sadly doesn’t exist anymore. The woman who owned the lab told me that I could develop the film at home if I wanted, and that they carried all the stuff necessary to get the job done. I begged my mom to buy the stuff I needed. A tank, spools, the chemistry, a squeegee, a film changing bag, and clips to hang the film to dry. It didn’t take much convincing, I think she was just thrilled I was being creative and not asking her to buy me an Xbox.

I had already learned how to process film from my class, so I got right to it. I made a lot of mistakes that first year, but eventually it became like second nature. It took me 15 years to even consider trying C41 at home, because I always heard there was no way you could do it.

Olympus XA // Kodak Portra 400

What is your development process like now?

When I’m shooting, I tend to overexpose colour at least a stop or two. I push black and white often, usually up to 1600 ISO, but not much higher than that. It depends on what I’m shooting.

I don’t want to give all my secrets away, but I use a modified stand development process for both black and white and C41.  Since I use a stand development process, it doesn’t matter what the film is pushed to, the process remains the same. This has allowed me to really streamline my workflow and keep things simple.

Pentax 645N w/ 45mm f2.8 // Fuji Pro 400h

After I shoot, film doesn’t hang out for too long before I process it. Sometimes I’ll process that day if I have time. The process for black and white takes about an hour and ten minutes, while colour takes about two hours. The whole idea behind stand development is that you load the film, add the chemicals, agitate for a short interval, then leave the tank alone. Since there isn’t constant agitation, the chemicals exhaust and develop the film slowly, allowing you to do other things in the meantime. It also means I can use room temperature or colder water for processing C41. I tried the traditional way with hot water and all that stuff, but it was a pain, and getting the water to stay a constant temperature to be sure everything works right is a juggling act I’m not interested in.

After the film has processed, I hang it up to dry, usually overnight. The next day, I’ll cut and scan the negatives with my Epson V550 flatbed scanner. I don’t use the automatic modes, I do it manually one frame at a time. That way I can control the curves and sharpness as it scans and leave nothing up to chance. I scan everything as flat as possible to make sure all the information is there, and then I make minor adjustments in Lightroom to contrast, exposure, and highlights. I don’t do any colour correction digitally. Everything is saved as high quality JPEGs for delivery or whatever.

Mamiya RB67 w/ 127mm f3.5 // Fuji Pro 400h

 

What’s your processes regarding scanning, enlarging, and/or printing your work?

When I was younger, I would print my work as much as I could. Photo paper is expensive, so I didn’t print a ton. One year, I was gifted five packs of Ilford Multigrade photo paper and I think I went through it in a month. I haven’t printed in a good three years, but I am looking into some professional enlargers so I can build a setup to start printing again.

The internet is amazing and Instagram is great for showing off your work around the world in a second, but I feel there’s something missing when you don’t print your work. I feel like its a necessary part of the photographic process that informs the photographer and the viewer something on a screen just can’t.

What equipment are you using to develop your film and why?

I use a Paterson four spool tank, mostly so I can process either two rolls of 120 or four of 35mm at a time. I use the same processes for both so it saves time and the results are very consistent.  I use Kodak Photoflo for both processes. It’s cheap, lasts forever, and just works. Most of the stuff I use is easy to get and is affordable.

For black and white, I have had amazing success with Rodinal. It’s so cheap and economical.  I was weary at first, but I’m so glad it performs so well, both with traditional and stand developments.  I don’t believe there is a magic chemical or process that makes the best images. However, I do believe Rodinal is the best for me, simply because of the cost to performance ratio, plus it works great with the particular film I shoot.

For C41, I have been using the Jobo Press Kit. Its readily available, not super expensive, and lasts a decent amount of time. I go through a box every two or three months, which isn’t bad considering how much I process.

The weak point in my development kit is my changing bag. I got it from Amazon and the zipper broke. It was cheap, so what was I expecting? I need to find a bigger higher quality version soon.

Nikon F2 w/ 55mm f2.8 // Kodak Portra 400

Are you content with where you are now with your shooting and developing? Do you have any future plans or ambitions?

I would like to move to a house or a live/work space that I can have a permanent lab set up to process my work and print. I have really considered investing in a Jobo system to get the most high quality and consistent development possible. All of the things I want to do would take a considerable amount of money to get it off the ground, so I’m scheming at the moment.

Have you completed any notable projects or in the process of creating something from the film you have shot and developed? Feel free to give a solid summary of each project.

I am in the process of a project thats very collaborative with some film photographers that I am friends with, and I am really proud of it. I can’t talk about it just yet, but it will be coming out soon and I cant wait to share it.

Canon F-1 w/ 50mm f1.4 // Fuji Pro 400h

What advice can you give to others who are interested in shooting and developing film but are apprehensive about getting started?

Film can be expensive, and it is a very manual, hands-on undertaking. However, there is nothing more satisfying then pulling out a roll of film after processing and seeing those images come to life.

Film is an organic, living, breathing thing that captures light in a way that digital still hasn’t conquered. Shooting and processing film is a learned skill, and anyone who has the desire to do it can absolutely be successful.

Find people who shoot film and talk to them. Look up classes in your town. Most colleges and night schools should have a course for film photography. Talk to your family and see if anyone has an old film camera collecting dust in a box or attic somewhere. Go forth and keep film alive.

Anything else you care to share?

There is an incredible film photographer community, and being plugged in to that community has helped me be more successful in my efforts, inspired me when I’ve been in a dry spell, and introduced me to some of the coolest people. I honestly think that I am a better photographer for having met other film shooters and become a part of that community.

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