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Analog Men

Digital photography all but wiped out its film counterpart a few years ago - but there's a clique of old school snappers that are still hoping to keep the process alive


Karen Ann Monsy

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Published: Fri 22 May 2015, 2:18 PM

Last updated: Sun 26 Jul 2015, 4:26 PM

SNAPPER FEVER: Abdallah Kroosh made the shift to analog photography recently, but is already an earnest fan
SNAPPER FEVER: Abdallah Kroosh made the shift to analog photography recently, but is already an earnest fan
Abdallah Mohammed Kroosh's darkroom is set up in the small bathroom of his home in Abu Dhabi. It's not a permanent set-up - only put together when he needs to develop the prints from his 35mm or medium format cameras. "The wife wouldn't allow it permanently," he jokes. "Apparently, children and chemicals don't match."
For the UAE's film photography lovers, the 'bathroom darkroom' is a scenario that's all too familiar. The explosion of digital cameras on the photography scene practically sounded the death knell for analog cameras over the last few years and the drop in demand led to a major dearth in resources - including darkrooms for developing prints. But though few in number, there are still those who consider themselves firmly part of the old school clique.
Abdallah, 33, is one of them. Albeit new to the field (he only started a couple of months back), he's already a fervent fan. "I shot with digital cameras for three years before &moving to analog. It was mostly sports photography, but I'd go home with 10,000 images, select two to five shots after the event and forget about the others," he explains. "Analog is about slowing down and only taking the shots you want to keep and print. You start to appreciate each photo you take."
Without formal training at his disposal, the Egyptian expat has been using Google and YouTube to learn the finer techniques of the art. "There are very good channels online to help you get started. Thanks to them, the learning curve is much easier; you don't have to try everything out yourself." There are also several UAE-based support groups cropping up online, he notes.
All of it is done in his own time, of course. Abdallah's day job involves working on offshore petroleum projects. "Analog photography is a hobby for me. It can be an expensive investment, because some of the old cameras are collectibles. But you can easily get a good camera for $100-200 these days to get started."
With digital resources turning every other person into a photographer these days, he feels a good photographer is one who can get his images noticed or recognised. "You need that recognition to come from other people because we, photographers, treat our pictures like our children," he quips. "We can't see their faults unless someone else points them out to us."

 Keeping the process alive
Leo James is a commercial photographer based in Dubai. Although his daily job involves shooting in digital, he was initiated into photography around the "end of the analog days" - and so, learnt the basics, old school-style.
"My interest in photography started after the 10th standard. My father was very particular that I should get a degree, even if it was photography-related. There was no specialised photography course I could attend back then, so I did my graduation in mass communication and video production - the closest related field and one for which I could show my parents a certificate."
Initially, Leo says, it was difficult to convince his parents he could make a living out of this. "When you say you want to become a photographer, people think of weddings or news reportage. I didn't want either. I came from a drawing and painting background, so I wanted to pursue photography as an artist. My parents knew I was very serious about what I wanted to be - I slept everyday with my photography books. It would've been very hard for them to 'stop' me. But my dad also made it clear I'd be responsible for the outcome if I chose this career path - and I was perfectly okay with that."

Today, people don't ask him to shoot in analog when they approach him with assignments, but he does push for the art form. "Analog photos have a physical quality that digital photos can never duplicate with post-production - no matter how much it is trying to, with all the apps out there today. Even the print quality is far &superior and can easily survive for 100 years - the evidence of which you can find in museums across the world."
The cameras themselves are an investment, he points out. "With digital cameras, you run the risk of losing sharpness, colour and contrast after a few years of heavy use. But you can use film cameras for 20-30 years - and they will still go strong. They're built so well, even the secondhand ones work well. Plus, you get the best rates now, because everyone's selling. Nobody is interested in a digicam of 2005 vintage - but you'll always find takers for cameras from the 80s."
The only problem with pursuing this hobby here in the Middle East or in Asia is the availability of materials - or rather, the lack of them, he says. "No one's willing to take responsibility for the supply of paper, chemicals and film, where there's little demand. My friends and I have to get them shipped from overseas. If we have to develop rolls, we usually take them to India in bulk and get them done there - unless it's a couple of rolls; those we develop together at home. We're just trying to keep the process alive. But analog is coming back in a big way in the US and Europe right now," he says. "So, I'm really hoping more people take it seriously here too."
Leo's latest baby is a Leica M6, a long-time dream he finally got to purchase six months ago. "Every legendary photographer used a Leica at one point," he says, proudly. "I got mine after eight years of wishful thinking - and now, I carry it everywhere I go."

 Spreading the art
When Emirati Ammar Mohammed Al Attar started out in 2007, he had no clue how to use an analog camera. "I burned a couple of rolls and got nothing from them," he says. "That's when I went online and taught myself how to use it properly." He followed it up with a darkroom workshop at Tashkeel Studio in Dubai - and has now become so adept at the process that he often offers workshops of his own.
Like his peers, he too desires to see analog make a comeback. The process involved is what makes it true art, he says. "With analog, I go through the entire process, from shooting to printing it myself. I have to think before I capture a shot. know the image before I create it. So even though Instagram made lot of people photographers overnight, the subject you're photographing and how you make a story out of it is what will set the real photographers apart from the rest."
Ammar is hoping to become a full time artist someday and is currently preparing for an exhibition of his own next month - showcasing his works of analog prints. "I see more people getting interested in analog photography these days - especially when I take workshops. The most recent was a five-course workshop at Sharjah University for 16-17 year olds. In the beginning, they were pretty frustrated at being asked to learn this form of photography - but by the end of the course, they were asking me for tips on how to build a darkroom at home," he says happily.
"Maybe commercial analog photography won't work again," he notes. "People want images right away today. But you can still keep it alive as a hobby. A lot of studios still process colour films, so you could start with a plastic lomography camera, if you don't want to invest. They're cheap, fun and highly experimental. In fact, chances are your dad has one - so you could try there for a start!"

 Giving it a shot
The first time Dani Gorgon was 'exposed' to film photography was in college, when he accidentally exposed the roll in his girlfriend's camera to harsh sunlight and effectively ruined all the pictures in it. The next was a few years later, during a road trip with the same girlfriend (now wife) and some friends, when he tried experimenting with his mate's Canon G9 pocket camera. "I kept shooting in the wrong feature though - and all the photos turned out very blue," he says, sheepishly. "It was then that I decided to learn how to use a manual camera."
A colleague lent him a Nikon FM10 soon after, and there began his journey of learning by trial and error - including experimenting with expired colour film to "very unexpected, very interesting" results. He soon stopped using 35mm film and switched to medium format, which is almost two times larger than normal 35mm film. "Medium format cameras used to be the bread and butter of analog photographers of old," Dani says. "I gave myself completely to that idea. All my savings started going to eBay, and in the purchase of a Mamiya RZ67 that could shoot in three different formats."
A marketing head for a maritime technologies company &in Dubai, he soon got a unique opportunity to use his skills - at a three day-long Sikh wedding. The groom was his boss. "I shot almost 80-90 rolls and took about a month to process and scan all of them. Before taking up the challenging task, I initiated discussions on several online forums - and everyone was completely against my intention to use a medium format camera. It had too many limitations and would be very challenging, because of its bulk, its ability to shoot only 10 photos per roll, and because I would have no control over the scene." Dani decided to give it a shot anyway. "There were four digital photographers present, but my black-and-white pictures stood for an entirely different feel and were the largest in my boss's wedding album," he recalls with pride. "Digital can try to imitate that quality - but it will always be limited."


Kodak's Kodachrome slide film, known for its rich saturation, was discontinued last year, and the American company gave its very last roll to famed photographer Steve McCurry (pictured left). Despite his years of experience, he spent nine months trying to figure out how best to use this historical last roll and says the stress came from wondering whether or not he was pressing the shutter at the right moment. 

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