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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Who Needs Film?

Mike Robinson, Still Life with Pitcher, Fruit and Candlestick

Considering that film may be dying, it's a relief that we can still get this.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Chris


Blogger DonovanCO said...

Those of us who care will keep film alive. "The king is dead, long live the king."

5:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Photographic processes involving mercury? Ngggggh.

Last spring, I was just about to finish my thesis at a certain well-known art school. Until someone spilled mercury in a stairwell of a studio building. Several hundred grad students (mature adults?) blithely walked over, around, and through the puddle for a whole weekend before someone had the sense to call Security.

Result? Big trucks arrived from the fire dept., the health dept., and eventually the EPA. Police lines, ominous-looking warnings, people getting their shoes confiscated. Huge tubes pumping air into the building and lots of contractors walking around in Tyvek suits.

The building stayed closed for a month. I blame someone experimenting with Daguerreotypes.

And then the fire happened. Art students. Meh.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

That's a good story and a useful cautionary tale...

It brings to mind a much bigger subject that I'm not sure I'm up to writing about myself, namely the environmental issues raised by the market shift to digital. There's no question that digital pollutes the water supply much less in the production of pictures and prints, although there are still manufacturing issues to consider that I know very little about. I know (from running a few school darkrooms) that during the film era there were all sorts of regulations concerning chemical disposal that most home hobbyists were either unaware of, or ignored. Those chemicals went straight down the drain. Personally, I remember making several of my "standard procedure" choices based partly on the basis of which chemicals had low environmental impact. Some chemicals were region-speciific--people in arid regions shouldn't have been using selenium, because selenium pollution is an issue in such areas, but people whose gray-water runoff ended up in the ocean had nothing to worry about, since selenium occurs naturally in seawater anyway. While I have no problem with isolated experts using mercury for Daguerreotypes--presuming they're aware of the potential dangers and handle the materials sensibly--I certainly wouldn't want to see large numbers of people doing it!

I'm also pretty sure that the progressive demise of the one-hour C-41 processing industry is having a net positive environmental impact, although how much good it does in the long run is no doubt debatable.


6:54 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I have to admit that I'm intrigued by some of the "alternative" photographic processes. As an ex-chemist, though, there's no way in hell I am going to use mercury in anything. Fortunately you don't need it for any of the processes they mentioned in the books I checked out of the library.

My wife does make fun of me for erring on the cautious side, though. It was only this year that I (grudgingly) let her use herbicide on our lawn. Only very sparingly, but then again we believe the weeds had begun eating some of the neighbors' pets.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Dave M said...

To the best of my knowledge, the majority of minilab prints are still processed chemically, even though the paper may be exposed digitally. (That huge machine in the middle of WalMart isn't an inkjet printer.) Every lab (mini- or otherwise) that I'm familiar with contracts out the disposal of their spent chemistry, but I'm sure there are those who choose to dump the stuff down the drain. Hopefully inspectors find these folks quickly and give them the financial incentive to do the right thing.

Like many things in life, running an enviromentally fiendly home darkroom is very easy. Unfortunately, some people choose not to be "bothered". In the neighborhood from which I recently moved, home darkrooms were explicitly exempt from the laws covering disposal of spent chemistry. That's just plain stupid. There are those who take such exemptions as proof that their actions have no impact on the environment.

(Once you remove the heavy metals, a lot of darkroom chemicals are perfectly safe and make great fertilizer.)

Personally, I'd no more dump my spent fixer down the drain than I'd throw used batteries in the trash. It's too easy to do the right thing. The only reason to do the wrong thing is laziness.

4:10 AM  
Blogger JMcL said...

I shudder when I remember our school science teacher, more years ago than I care to remember now, inviting us to stick out fingers into a container of mercury to observe this weird liquid metal. This was in the days before I realised why the hatter in Alice was "mad"

5:02 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

We used to bust open old mercury switches and play with the liquid metal! Of course, cars didn't have seat belts and cigarettes were good for you. Go figure.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Leidl said...

With the tidal wave that is digital, one wonders what sort of adverse effect all the used batteries, laptops, CRT's, plastic ink cartridges et al that wind up in the land fill are having on the environment.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Touching metallic mercury itself isn't *that* bad for you--relatively speaking, of course. Breathing mercury vapor is much more toxic, since it can get into the brain more easily. So if the room where you touched it was well-ventilated, I wouldn't worry about it so much.

12:11 PM  

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