When Wilson Novitzki decided to start taking photos in 2011 while on tour with his band, his first instinct was to reach for a 35-millimeter film camera.
“I’m a technology pessimist,” he says. “I get overwhelmed with too many choices. I’m a fan of having a few restrictions.”
So he started setting up a tripod and taking long exposure photos of the scenes he saw on late-night walks after he played shows. Now, he’s a member and volunteer at Bushwick Community Darkroom, where he also makes prints of a photo project he did in the Balkans during 2014.
“For some people, the product is the thing. For some people, the process is the thing,” he explains. “The world already has enough photographs…digital almost takes us to the point where we don’t need the end product. The moment is important.”
Novitzki is just one of 20 members of Bushwick Community Darkroom, a haven for analog photography nerds in Brooklyn that is now moving to a new space. Founder Lucia Rollow says the demand for the darkroom, which is also open to the public and gets about a total of about 50 visitors a month, is constantly on the rise.
“When I started, it was in a storage closet in the basement of my building,” Rollow says. “It was a single-occupancy thing. It was getting used, and it got to the point where it was really getting used, and I couldn’t use it because it was getting used by so many people.”
Eventually the darkroom moved into its current location at Thames Street. But now, the space is once again starting to feel cramped. “A year ago in December 2013, Print Space closed down their darkroom and gave us a whole lot of awesome equipment. But the space we’re in right now is maybe 400 square feet,” says Rollow.
“We can’t fit all our people and all our stuff inside anymore,” agrees Caleb Savage, a photography student at NYU who volunteers for the darkroom. Rollow has found a new location in the neighborhood, and now has launched a crowdfunding campaign for help with moving into the new space.
Savage, a photography student at NYU, says he’s seen a shift happen in the analog photography business over the last couple of years, as digital becomes the norm.
Major photo-film companies like Kodak and Fujifilm have struggled with a changing market. But they’ve done so while smaller boutique companies, like ORWO and Ferraria, have launched, announcing plans to make films for dedicated photo experts. “There’s still some life there,” says Savage. “The industry is approaching a point of equilibrium.”
Savage says that’s because as digital has become more ubiquitous, fewer people are abandoning film — everyone has already made the switch. “Nobody is moving to digital because they’re ‘modernizing’ anymore. That’s kind of bottomed out,” he says. “Anyone who’s using analog has made a conscious decision that this is how they work, and want to continue working.”
Savage is one of those people. He’s just finished a series of portraits and landscape photos documenting the coal mining region in Pennsylvania that his family once called home, using a hefty piece of equipment known as a large-format film camera.
“People are often very surprised that there’s still someone shooting film, especially with such a ridiculous looking contraption,” he adds. “If I take it out on Main Street in Ashland [one of the Pennsylvania towns where he works] a lot of people will start staring. I like the attention.”
Meanwhile, Novitzki is working busily on finishing the prints of his Balkan landscapes before he moves to Germany next month. “I was hoping to have a show before I left,” he says.
Because time is of the essence, though, the technology pessimist will have to try something new.
“I’ll probably get a digital photographer to take great photos of the prints,” he says. “They’re going to end up digitized.”