Eric’s Note: I am excited to share this interview with Todd Breslow, a street photographer and the developer of the free “Develop!” iPhone App — which helps you process your own black and white film. He loves street photography with his Leica M3 and working in analog, and lives in Philadelphia with his spouse, two sons, and two cats. When not developing film he can be found tending to his beehives or taking a bike ride. Todd works in the Automotive industry.
Check out my interview with him on how/why he made the application for the community!
1. What inspired you to make this application?
Necessity! My kitchen timer felt like a ball and chain: I was glued to it, and it had me well trained. I needed a reminder every 30 seconds and couldn’t take my eyes off the timer for longer than a few seconds. There must be an app for this! I wanted something that would make the whole process smoother and more enjoyable. There were one or two apps but nothing that was reasonably priced or looked like it would be fun to use. So I decided to build my own! I never thought it would be something I would release or that other people would find useful.
2. Can you tell us a little about the hard work and effort it took to put it together? How many hours did it take you, and what were the steps necessary to program it?
I had never built an iPhone application and didn’t know where to start – that was was part of the attraction! I wanted to build something absolutely simple and minimalist. For it to do one thing and do it well.
There were two challenges. How to technically build it, and how to make it a joy to use. On the technology front I was starting from scratch and there was a steep learning curve. I spent countless hours on Google and great development resource sites like stackoverflow.com. At one point I ran into a brick wall and took a break before I was finally able to figure it out (a small typo with a large impact).
The feel of the app was inspired by my old Leica. I regularly shoot with an M3, it has the great feel of a precision instrument, of an old friend, and it is a joy to use. I tried to get a little bit of that joy to be reflected in the app, a little bit of vulcanite covering on a piece of modern technology.
If I added up all the hours I am sure I would be extremely embarrassed. I worked on it in my spare time on and off for about 5 months. Since launch I’ve come out with a new version about every month. I get it now!
3. What do you love about film photography, and what do you think is the relevance of it (or positive aspects) in today’s digital age?
A wise man once said “delayed gratification”. I love that!
Film lets you focus completely on your subject without the distraction of immediate feedback or various technology settings. It’s liberating. You are invested in every frame, forced to concentrate, focus, and discriminate. The exposure is not free. It’s a different mindset and it definitely makes me a better photographer.
I shot over 130 digital images during a group shoot (some people were taking 200 or 300) and only one or two made it through my preliminary selection round (and it takes time to look at 130 images!). The next day I shot just under a roll of film, maybe 30 exposures, and I was really happy with several frames. I didn’t get around to developing the film for several days, and this delay effectively distances the resulting image from the act of taking the picture. This makes selecting images much easier: you can concentrate on the photo, not the memory of taking it.
When you look at the contact sheets of some of the Magnum photographers from the film era you will see an incredibly small number of frames shot for each subject. We’ve lost this efficiency with digital.
Processing your own film is another opportunity to be creative, and also to think deeper about the trade-offs in terms of the physical attributes of the negative: tonality, contrast, range, etc. Development brings out the inner alchemist and lets you play with various combinations and dilutions of developers and emulsions. Every negative is unique. You can’t load any presets.
Film also remains relevant today for purely technical reasons: there are various characteristics and properties associated with specific film stock that digital can’t currently deliver. Some of the Fuji digital cameras have a tribute to this and let you select which “color film” to use, e.g. Velvia, Provia. Silver Efex post-processing B&W software lets you play with different film, developer, and EI combinations, a tribute to the distinct look associated with these classic combinations.
4. So you released this application for free which I think is incredibly generous of you and of a huge asset to the community. But in today’s capitalistic world, why did you decide to keep it free?
I have benefited immeasurably from online resources. Whether it is someone willing to patiently answer, at length, basic exposure questions, a site where I can find the owner’s manual for an obscure camera, or articles and content on blogs like your site. I’ve always wanted to be able to make my own contribution. I hope people find it useful. It will always be free.
5. Any ideas for upcoming new versions on different platforms?
Lots of ideas, but I am going to stick to the iPhone and iPad, I just wouldn’t have the time to do justice to another platform. The next major version will add a dilution calculator, it’s something basic that I always seem to have trouble with, and I’d really love to make a version specific for the iPad (picture an old GraLab).
6. Can you share your interest and passion in street photography? How you first discovered it, and what you love about it.
It’s been a circuitous route. My wife had wanted a “real camera” for a long time, and the birth of our son was the perfect opportunity. I ended up using the camera about 90% of the time and started taking lots of photographs, going for walks around the neighborhood, bringing my camera to family gatherings, etc. The camera had a manual about half an inch thick. There were multiple autofocus modes, exposure modes, flash modes, etc. I actually bought a book dedicated to using the camera.
I wanted to understand what was going on under the hood. What were all the decisions the camera was making for me that I wasn’t even aware of or understood? This is when I started to think film. I wanted to get a good enough understanding of the fundamentals to be able to take advantage of the digital camera, and I thought a less sophisticated film camera could help with the basics.
Growing up I lusted after the Canon AE-1 Program — it was ridiculously expensive – and now I had my chance! This was a great camera for me, it has manual focus and automatic exposure options. I started taking pictures of our neighbors and life around me. I started to use the camera in manual mode to better understand exposure, depth of field, and other basics. This is when I first started to hear the words “street photography” and understood its meaning.
I started to seek out opportunities to bring my camera where there might be people. Going to pick up dinner? Going grocery shopping? Bring the camera!
7. Any other projects (photography or programming-related) that you have in the pipeline?
I have a few film experiments underway. I was given a beautiful Polaroid 110 from the 1950′s. The film for this kind of Polaroid was discontinued long ago, but apparently 4×5 film is a perfect fit. I can’t wait to try it! I have a Travelwide 4×5 camera also on the way, these will both be very fun to play with.
I’m exploring ideas for a project. I’ve gone full circle, from developing and immediately posting images for the world to see – immediate gratification — to thinking of a project as a long-term endeavor. I took some photographs recently on a cold and rainy day; it was fun to see the range of reactions. I’d like to explore this further.
8. Who are some street photographers (contemporary) you recommend other people to check out?
I’d like to mention two recent book acquisitions:
Garry Winogrand. The catalog from the retrospective that just closed at SFMOMA. In addition to being the first major retrospective in 25 years, it also contains work published posthumously from the thousands of unprocessed and/or unreviewed materials found upon his death.
Magnum Contact Sheets. This is a tremendous book, a compendium of 139 contact sheets by 69 Magnum Agency photographers. There is some iconic work here, and you can see them in context and sequence on the roll. What image was picked? Why? What was the thought process? An unflinching look into the creative process, you can spend endless hours with this.
9. Any last words or people you would like to mention?
I’d like to encourage everyone to shoot at least one roll of film. The next time you buy groceries pick up a disposal camera (yes they still have them) and have some fun. Or pull out that old 35mm camera you have on the shelf. It will be a great experience – you will benefit and so will your photography.