The Absence of Fear

Posted by on Feb 15, 2014 in Projects | 25 Comments
The Absence of Fear

»I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.«
Nelson Mandela

I’m not a brave man. And I’m usually not very much into New Year’s resolutions either. This year I wanted to work on that and change it up a little. One of my goals for 2014 is to conquer my fears and do more things that scare me. I believe that fear can hold you back from doing what you were meant to do in your life and from becoming the person that you were meant to be. Looking back on my own life, I realize with distance how many of my decisions were driven by fear. Being afraid of change frequently led me to do the safest or the most comfortable thing and held me back from doing the right thing.

I see the same problem in photography frequently. As soon as a photographer becomes commercially successful you often see their artistic development freeze. With commercial bookings, clients usually expect a certain style, a signature look. That’s nothing bad, it’s often the sole reason why someone gets to work for a client in the first place. But this is also a very dangerous place because it doesn’t allow for artistic development if you’re not careful. Commercial success forces many artists to maintain a certain status quo until they lose the urge to create. This doesn’t only apply to photography, you can also see how musicians are often being criticized for wanting to develop in a different direction and try something new.

I’m very curious to find out where my own development will lead me this year. I’m planning on doing a lot of scary things. I haven’t picked up my Fuji X-Pro1 in a long time and I can feel that I’m getting away from digital more and more. I purchased an old Leica M2 at the beginning of January to complement my Leica MP and to carry with me everywhere I go on every single day. That’s a big adventure for me, I usually only did that when my wife and I were traveling.

I mainly shoot Kodak Tri-X with the M2, which is interesting because I’m normally not a big black and white person. The M2 also doesn’t have a built in meter, so I have to guess my exposure when shooting that camera if I don’t have a light meter with me. That’s challenging but also a lot of fun.

I started home developing my black and white film from the M2 in our kitchen sink. The idea behind that is to find out how practical it is to exclusively shoot film and to gain a better understanding of the whole process. Developing my own film is quite an experience. It regularly takes me about four hours to develop and scan four rolls of Tri-X. Needless to say, I have even more respect and appreciation for my lab now than I ever did before.

Here are a couple of shots from a recent trip to Dublin. All the images below were taken with the Leica M2 and the Voigtländer Nokton 50mm 1.5 ASPH VM on Kodak Tri-X 400:

















  1. Thomas Skrlj
    15. February 2014

    Talk about a quick transition to black and white! Beautiful photos. It’s ironic, I find the idea of absence goes well with them. Hoping you don’t break your resolution!

  2. Johnny
    15. February 2014

    Thank you very much, Thomas.

    I’m happy you enjoyed the post. True black and white film, especially Tri-X, grew on me a lot over the last two years. But I’ve never exclusively shot it for a longer period of time before now. I really enjoy doing that a lot.

  3. The Absence of Fear | Johnny Patience
    15. February 2014

    […] I’m not a brave man. And I’m usually not very much into New Year’s resolutions either. […]

  4. Joey
    15. February 2014

    Love it! My experience has been similar, I was so accustomed to shooting digitally, but when I started shooting film I found it more and more enjoyable, to the point where I rarely ever pick up my X100. Working with film (especially when processing and scanning at home) feels much more like a “craft” to me, and contrary to what I would have thought at the outset, I enjoy the process much more than I ever did previously. And I thought I LOVED photography before!

    Glad to see you’re venturing outside your comfort zone, Johnny! It’s a good reminder for me to do the same! :)

  5. Johnny
    15. February 2014

    I completely agree with you, Joey. That’s the beauty of the manual process. It feels like craftsmanship. Even though home developing is obviously not very practical with higher volumes of film, it’s really a wonderful experience.

    Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts! :)

  6. Cidereye
    15. February 2014

    Really LOVE these photos!

    Out of interest I’m wondering what developer you used for processing your film as the tonality looks great?

  7. Johnny
    15. February 2014

    Thank you for your kind feedback, Cidereye.

    I used Kodak D-76 (1:1) developer for all of these.

  8. Ray
    15. February 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Finally getting around to commenting here. So appreciate this post (as I said on Twitter, I am in the same place right now). The Tri-X processes so beautifully and really captures the heart and mood of the city. There’s something very special with black and white, something I’ve always admired. That’s why a roll of Delta is sitting in my bag right now. Dying to get to it!

    Keep on doing your thing to keep it fresh! It’s what I’ve always admired about you: you shoot for you and you alone.


  9. Johnny
    15. February 2014

    Ray, thank you so much. :)

    You are completely right about black and white. There is something special to it that is worth being explored and discovered. I usually rely a lot on color in my photographs and it’s a very humbling experience to only have light, shadow and geometry to work with.

    That doesn’t meant that I won’t shoot color anymore. I love it even more after having to learn how to work without it. But it’s a very interesting thing to do.

    I’m very much looking forward to seeing you shoot the Delta! And thank you again. I really appreciate your feedback.

  10. Paul Pride
    18. February 2014

    Hi Johnny!

    Firstly I have to say it’s very unusual to see some black and whites from you but it’s a welcome change. With the exception of the old Merc I much prefer the indoor images. Compositionally and emotionally they say much more to me and I prefer the way the light falls in them.

    Fear. Now that’s something I can identify with all too well. I’ve had long battles with myself about my own confidence and the direction of my photography and still question my moves every day.

    I may have put you in the same pigeon hole you mention at the start of the post. I often look around your site and marvel at the glorious colours jumping off the screen at me. Your colour photography is stunning and an absolute pleasure to view but I’m not feeling the same thrill from these images. Before I switched away from digital I edited the majority of my photos as black & white but since shooting just film I have been so enthralled by the colour I can achieve that I have very little desire to shoot monochrome. This may change when I start to develop my own, it may not. I’ve got a couple of rolls waiting to develop at the moment (a Tri-X at 1600 and an Ilford XP2) so I will reserve judgment until I get these done.

    The emotion I feel when I look at colour film photography, especially my own, is something new to me. I know what the light was like, the temperature, the mood. They all add up to give a completely different emotion to black & white. I often look at another website (the image is found) and have found myself missing his colour work recently.

    There’s no doubt that black & white has its place and often serves to give a better result that colour but I’d rather have the option to convert for the majority of my photos. I know it’s not the ideal solution but I’ve found that desaturating Portra 400 gives a fantastic black & white look. I guess I’m not 100% away from Lightroom yet!

    Keep up the good work man.


  11. Johnny
    18. February 2014

    Thanks very much for your feedback, Paul.

    I really appreciate your thoughts. Your comment helps me a lot making the point I wanted to make with this post. :)

    Dublin was not pretty, it was not airy or whimsical and the weather and light were both really bad. In general a situation where I usually would have avoided taking pictures like the plague. These shots turned out gritty, dull, rough and some of them almost make me uncomfortable when I look at them. They’re the polar opposite of what I usually shoot. But they are authentic. The mood in these shots is exactly what I felt when I took them.

    And that’s the exact point of the exercise: Don’t shoot for other people!

    That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t appreciate positive feedback, you really should. But you shouldn’t shoot to get positive feedback or to please anyone else. That’s the very reason why every other shot on Flickr or Instagram looks so alike. It’s about fitting in and about taking pictures of things that other people want to see. And I think it’s also about being scared to not be good at something other than what you’re comfortable with.

    I found for myself that desaturated color negative film is not comparable with true black and white film, especially with medium format. Tri-X, for example, has a completely different curve and I can only encourage you to shoot these side by side and compare. You’ll be blown away. The problem is though, that this requires you to make a choice before you pick up the camera or even before you load it. That’s often the difficult part for me.

    I really loved the picture of your daughter in black in white you shared the other day. True black and white or not, that was a wonderful image.

    Thanks again for taking the time!

  12. Peter Shpak
    18. February 2014

    Hello Johnny,

    Beautiful pictures…

    I’ve been talking about trying something new for a while and back in December my wife helped nudge me towards getting a Hasselblad. After getting my first roll back I started browsing the web for other Hasselblad shooters and came across your site. Really appreciate your posts and the information you provide. I’ve been learning a ton.

    This post is making me want to dig out my old Nikon SLR and also try shooting 35mm film.

  13. Johnny
    19. February 2014

    Peter, thanks very much.

    I’m so happy for you that you got a Hasselblad! I’ve had a look at your site and it looks like you’re having a lot of fun with it. Congratulations on your new arrival. :)

    I prefer medium format in general, but I love shooting Tri-X in 35mm. It has a very special feel to it that’s hard to get with any other medium. I’m glad you enjoyed these images!

  14. Peter Shpak
    20. February 2014

    Hello Johnny,

    Thank you and thanks for checking out my humble site. Yes I am having loads of fun and learning a lot as well. Things like reciprocity failure and that film doesn’t do well with long exposures (oops there goes that roll of film).

    I am still very green with the Hassy and the whole reverse image is messing with me but I’m sure that’ll pass.

    I’ve also tried several labs and RPL so far has yielded the best results. Thank you for your detailed write up.

  15. Johnny
    20. February 2014

    Thank you very much for your feedback, Peter.

    You’re right, there a couple of things that are a bit easier with digital. I haven’t shot long exposures in a while but I always wanted to try that with the Hasselblad.

    You’ll get used to the reversed image quickly. I don’t notice it anymore, but I remember very well how that felt at first. :)

    I’m happy you’re getting good results with RPL. I love working with them!

  16. KC Chan
    22. February 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Thanks to your post about film photography, I picked up film photography again and I have just received my first scan (a friend’s wedding) from RPL today, it’s amazing!!! I feel like unwrapping Christmas presents. Totally agree with you about how comfort zone hinders artistic development.

    I would like to shoot my professional work partially with films, it’s a much more enjoyable experience and it reminds me how I loved photography in the first place.

    Warm Regards,

    KC Chan

  17. Johnny
    23. February 2014

    KC, I’m thrilled to hear that! :)

    That’s exactly how it feels for me too – every single time I’m downloading my pictures from RPL. It makes me very happy to hear you’re enjoying the process as much as I do.

    Mixing film and digital always worked very well for me and I think there’s a lot to learn from both mediums. I’m excited to hear how this will feel for you once you incorporate film in your professional workflow.

  18. Jiuye 九野
    4. March 2014

    Hello Johnny, very like your photos. I brought my first camera August last year, and try to find out what kind of photo exactly I want to shoot. Like the photo you took with the negative film, it inspire me a lot, like that feel. I also like B&W photos, shoot with my Rolleiflex 2.8f , Contax G2, Minolta TC-1 sometmes, but so far not much, I still can’t shoot the films without a light meter. :(

    I really interest in the difference between the film and digital shooted B&W photos, sometimes I make some defect on the curve of digital B&W photos, it will become a little film like. In China there are not few people shoot the B&W photos with the Sigma foveon X3 CMOS camera, kind of different from the mosaic CMOS camera.

    Maybe I pay too much attention to the outcome not the process. :)

    Like your photos, 继续加油!

  19. Johnny
    5. March 2014

    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, Jiuye.

    I agree with you and I am very interested in the difference between film and digital in general. I think you are exactly right, true B&W film is even more difficult to emulate digitally than color negative film.

    I have created a preset for Tri-X that I used on many of my pictures from the Fuji X-Pro1. They look ok until you directly compare them with Tri-X. Digital B&W looks much harder than film. Even though Tri-X has a lot of contrast and very deep blacks, it looks more subtle and more gentle. I also think you can see the difference between real and digital grain.

    Guessing the exposure takes a bit to get used to. It doesn’t need to be perfect, within 1-2 stops is good enough. It helps if you home develop your film shortly after you finished a roll.

    I have never heard of the Sigma foveon X3, I will look into that and read about it. Thank you very much for linking your own work, I enjoyed it very much!

  20. Wim
    5. March 2014

    Love the photographs catching light and reflections! Keep going!

  21. Johnny
    6. March 2014

    Thanks so much, Wim! I’ll try my best. :)

  22. Lisa O'Dwyer
    20. May 2014

    I’ve been going through your blog tonight reading everything. I lived in Ireland for 10 years and moved back to the States last summer.

    I love shooting Tri-X in my all manual OM-1n, and I especially loved capturing the rainy streets of Dublin in B&W film! There is something very timeless about the imagery. Looking forward to returning to Ireland in July! Hope the weather cooperates with my trip so I can get out an shoot lots of film!

  23. Johnny
    21. May 2014

    Lisa, thank you for your feedback.

    I agree with you about Tri-X. It’s a beautiful honest film and the look and feel of it is timeless. It looks beautiful in practically every light and it’s wonderful to shoot because of its incredible latitude.

    I’m happy that you enjoyed reading my blog. Interesting that you lived in Ireland for such a long time. Good luck with your trip in July!

  24. Luka
    5. July 2017

    Hi, I absolutely love your photos and I’m having such a good time reading all your blog posts! :D

    I was wondering, with what scanner do you scan your negatives at home? :)

    Thank you!

  25. Johnny
    7. July 2017

    Thanks for your kind feedback, Luka. That’s great to hear!

    I usually don’t scan my own film, but I have two Kodak Pakon F-135 scanners. They are affordable pro lab scanners, comparable with the Frontier and Noritsu that my lab uses. But they only scan 35mm film.

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