If you happen to find yourself travelling on Route 62 in the Little Karoo over the next week, take a sho’t left into the past and rediscover the alchemy of film photography.
Stop off in Barrydale for a few hours (or days). Besides their regular roadside attractions, the inaugural Analog Photographic Festival is taking place there from 11 to 19 December.
Festivals of any nature take many months of planning and organising. This one, not so long – more weeks than months. The idea came about during a conversation last December between two friends, both photographers. Graham Abbott (who now lives in Barrydale) and Johan Wilke. Johan died suddenly in July and partly as a tribute, Graham decided to go ahead with their dream of the festival and exhibiting some of Johan’s documentary and street photography with it.
With help from Jonathon Rees they started asking some of the country’s top photographers to take part, others have picked up on the event and volunteered work. Most photographers have moved to digital in the past 20 years, so they had to dig in storage containers and garages to find some of their hand-printed work from many years ago to exhibit. It takes a lot to get old photographers excited and the idea of an analogue festival has done just that, as the smell of the darkroom never really fades.
The generosity of the photographic community has been enormous. Graham and Jonathon have managed to secure prints from the David Goldblatt foundation from his Boksburg series, Roger Ballen will have early works from his Dorps and Platteland collections. A mere suggestion to Obie Oberholzer had him send some of his inimitable handmade colour prints. Historic photographs from Fanie Jason, Rashied Lombard, Paul Weinberg and Roger Bosch – the list of photographers goes on. Eric Miller donated his complete darkroom to Graham and his students at the Studio Barn, Rashied Lombard has donated some of his work to be auctioned at the festival’s final gala on the 18 December to raise money for their Photo Voice Project; the proceeds will cover the costs of teaching five local youngsters to use 35mm cameras and develop and print their own images, as well as help raise awareness of the life challenges they face.
The festival centres on the Karoo Art Hotel, with installations and a camera obscura at Rees House. For a more hands-on experience there will be Wet Plate, Nude Study and Cyanotype workshops, with talks and documentary films in the evenings. The aim is purely analogue, that is not only photographed on film but printed by hand in a darkroom. In today’s terminology, old school.
Photography before digital was more complex, a roll of film cost money, the processing cost money and printing cost more. So, the approach to exposing the film was more considered than digital. One could not shoot endlessly; a roll of 35mm film had a maximum of 36 exposures and the outcomes were not assured. The processing was as vital to a good image as was the in-camera exposure. The analogue photography process is an extended one, filled with uncertainty, but the emotion experienced when all the steps align – when the visualised photograph had been composed and exposed correctly, the processing on point and the printing successful – is personally unmatched by the digital photographic process. The blend of the tactile and the alchemy of film photography has seen a resurgence globally, like that of vinyl records, plus the old cameras are cool.
In the exhibitions you will see work printed by some of the finest in the world. Take time to appreciate the value of the work, not only as art but also as a timestamp of our recent history before digital took over the world – black-and-white fibre-base prints by internationally renowned Dennis da Silva and, as mentioned, colour by Obie Oberholzer. One will do well to remember that the photographs were all done in-camera and in the darkroom with undiluted skill. No Photoshop or plug-ins. So stop off in Barrydale and get exposed. DM/ML
To view the festival programme, click here.