the 35mm aesthetic

More and more I find that I’m gaining an emerging appreciation for the aesthetic peculiar to 35mm photographs. As a few of my recent examples show, these small frames are able to contain an incredible amount of information, and selecting parts of them which may include various petites histoires is a rewarding adventure in its own right.

While colour photography is wonderful in 35mm, both with print and transparency films (more on them perhaps in a later post), I find the most beautiful object to be a well-intentioned, well-realized, black and white photograph.

Without any doubt, grain is a massive part of this attraction - perhaps, even, it IS the big kahuna, top dog, grand poobah, the head honcho, muckety-muck, the big enchilada… Those clumps of silver halide, representing evidence of the photo-mechanical process, are in themselves quite beautiful, as I’m sure anyone who has looked at them through a grain magnifier in the darkroom will attest. As too is the proliferation of those wonderful silvery grey tones distributed throughout the picture area between the extremes of dense black and pure white.

Of course another significant virtue, no matter what film is loaded, is that one is much more likely to carry a 35mm camera than anything larger. This is an area where Leicas shine, as they are relatively small (with a collapsible lens attached an M6 will quite easily fit into a jacket pocket, and with any lens the cameras fit comfortably in a courier bag). In use they are fast, quiet and relatively unobtrusive. Even later 35mm SLRs, when the trend to miniaturisation had caught on, are quite carryable this way, although not as quiet. And of course let’s not forget the pocketable high quality point and shoots, like the Contax T3, the Minox and the like.

But I digress. To stand in front of a well-made print from a 35mm negative, especially where the picture contains elements of the immediacy and spontaneity that 35mm is good at, is a wondrous thing. On my own black and white prints I like to surround the actual picture area with a thin black line, defined by the rebate area of the negative, which prints up as a perfect black border. This practise rewards diligent composing at the time of exposure and I find it to be a really good discipline. 

Keep an eye out for another time when I can’t think of anything to talk about, and I may well continue this fascinating discussion.