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: Alex Bolen
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
What other websites or blogs do you keep up with to feed your photographic interests?
Negative Feedback, Instagram, Flickr, and other Facebook groups.
What attracted you to film photography? How did you get started/introduced to shooting film? How soon after did you start developing?
I went to school for filmmaking which introduced me to 35mm cinema cameras. I wanted to replicate the look of cinema so I picked up shooting 35mm photos. Since then, I’ve expanded to shooting medium and large format as well.
What do you like to shoot on a regular basis?
I mainly shoot portraits, street, and lifestyle, but when traveling I love taking landscape photos.
What formats, cameras, and films do you shoot? What do you like about the formats, cameras, films you prefer?
Large Format: Sinar 4×5
Medium Format: Mamiya RB67
35mm: Nikon 35ti, Canon AE1
Instant: Polaroid Landcamera 340
Film: HP5 @ 400 & 800, Lomography 400 & 800, Portra 400, Fuji FP100c
What types of film do you develop?
C41 and black and white.
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?
The first time I developed film was kind of a whirlwind. I didn’t know much about it, but since all my local shops closed down, I wanted to be able to do it myself. I gave a half-hearted Google search on how to do it, picked up some used supplies on eBay and set up shop in my dad’s dental lab. I followed the steps laid out in a Youtube video and to my surprise, I pulled out my film and found images on it. Half amazed and half confused that I did everything correctly, I quickly bought a bigger developing tank and have been doing all of my own film ever since.
What is your development process like now?
My current process starts with my loading all of my film onto reels in my darkroom after shooting and placing them in the developing tanks. I find it much easier to change film in a darkroom than a changing bag. My hands don’t get all sweaty and I have much more space to work.
From here I bring them over to my dad’s dental lab where I keep all of my developing chemicals and supplies. I follow a pretty standard developing process and do a final rinse with distilled water and Photo-Flo to make sure my negatives are squeaky clean.
After my film is dry, I load them into protective sleeves and scan them in on my Epson V600. After I have digital files I run them through Lightroom where I remove dust, tweak colors, and add a little contrast.
My process is pretty straight forward and “by the books.” Although I am quite lazy with developing times and my schedule is a bit sloppy, everything tends to turn out okay.
What’s your processes regarding scanning, enlarging, and/or printing your work?
I built a darkroom in my studio for around $400 about a year ago. I started shooting a lot of black and white and found a couple darkroom bundles on Craigslist for cheap that had everything I needed. I’ve been printing my own 35mm black and white since then and have been enjoying the process immensely. There’s something surreal about doing everything from taking the actual photo, to developing, to printing it and holding a final product in my hands.
What equipment are you using to develop your film and why?
I use a Paterson tank with Kodak D-76 developer for my black and white and Unicolor chemicals for C41. Honestly, I just bought what had the best reviews on Amazon and haven’t looked back since, haha. They’ve both worked swimmingly and I don’t feel as though I need to improve on a well oiled system as of right now.
Are you content with where you are now with your shooting and developing? Do you have any future plans or ambitions?
I don’t think I’m ever content with any art venture. There’s always something more – something new that I want to try or accomplish. This year I’d love to release a very limited run zine or book with some of my work, as well as try to put on an exhibition of my landscapes I plan on taking this summer. Other than that, I just plan on exploring some new locations and trying out some new films.
Have you completed any notable projects or in the process of creating something from the film you have shot and developed?
Photography is still just a hobby for me at the moment and I haven’t really looked to do anything beyond taking photos for my own enjoyment. I recently just finished up a collaborative zine with a small film pod I’m a part of on Instagram (Space Pod), and this summer I’m looking to take some 4×5 landscapes of Northern Michigan to sell out of my uncle’s art gallery.
Other than that, I enjoy sharing my photos with friends via Instagram.
What advice can you give to others who are interested in shooting and developing film but are apprehensive about getting started?
To everyone interested in shooting/developing film but are apprehensive – GO DO IT! It’s a very strange leap and is going to take a lot of trial and error, but the beauty of the art is that it’s all about the journey along the way. You’ll learn a ton and really get to see life through a different perspective. Sure, it costs a little money, but it’s worth it. Money’s just a tool – so use it on something that’s going to build your character and leave a legacy.