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|| News Item: Posted 2013-01-11

Remembering 2012 - Sam Morris
Falling in love with photography … again

By Sam Morris

Photo by Sam Morris

Photo by Sam Morris
Sometimes to go forward, it helps to go backwards.

I got started in photography during the heady zenith of film technology. TMax 3200 came out when I was in college, I fell in love with Fujichrome RDP and my mind was blown by the advance in quality going from Kodak 1600 to Fujipress 800 pushed a stop. Digital came along and I readily embraced it, while never being completely happy with it until we turned in our 1D MK II’s for 1D MK IV’s.

For fun, I would occasionally run some film through my Voightlander Bessa R2 (I couldn’t resist the olive drab paint job and the fact that it was an affordable alternative to a Leica). I hate to admit it, but I never get around to scanning more than a few frames from a roll, and it largely seems like more of a chore to shoot.

Then, about five years ago, I got a pre-war Speed Graphic for my birthday. I had never shot large format before and I found that I really enjoyed it, at the same time regretting not exploring it earlier because my “discovery” coincided with Polaroid ceasing production of the amazing Type 55. Eventually, I discovered that the movements on the Speed Graphic were too limited for some things I wanted to try so I picked up a Calumet monorail on eBay for $60.

Without a darkroom, the loading of film holders and developing tank is kind of a pain involving stuffing towels under a closet door and taping up the frame. That coupled with the cost, led me to only pulling it out occasionally for things like a portrait of the Governor or local Olympic athletes.

A few months ago, I got an assignment from our weekly newspaper to shoot a vacant lot on Fremont Street where an old hotel used to stand. I am not often satisfied with what I shoot and I am always looking for a different way to shoot something, especially something as boring as an empty piece of land or a sign. Inspired by the phenomenal Los Angeles Times photographer Jay L. Clendenin, I decided to try shooting it using paper negatives.

Suddenly, I found myself in love with photography again. I mean, I love my job and like many of us, find myself amazed at times that I get to do this for a living. But after 14 years at one paper, shooting the same things year after year or every few years becomes numbing.

How many ways can you shoot a piece of land? Personally, I can’t just do a drive-by and say good enough, even though the paper would be happy with it. Shooting it on 4x5 gives me a whole new way of looking at it, and the ease and speed of processing paper negs helps satisfy a need for speed that we’ve become accustomed to with digital.

Armed with a new tool, I have found myself going out and shooting just for fun. The unpredictable quality of paper negs has been a welcome change from the “perfection” of digital images, and having to slow down and think about an image has helped me spend a little more time thinking about my regular photos. Shooting it more has made me more likely to shoot 4x5 film as well and it has given me ideas that I have pitched to the paper, such as running a series of 4x5 portraits of the main UNLV basketball players leading up to their season opener.

And that photo of the vacant lot? The Weekly never used it. Given what it led to, it hasn’t bothered me a bit.

Sam Morris is a staff photographer with the Las Vegas Sun. You can see examples of his work on his member page:

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