I was determined to be the last L.A. photographer to transition from shooting film to digital when it first became a reality. From an early age fixer stains adorned most of my attire from a life spent mastering the subtleties of exposing, processing and printing various emulsions. The latent image held mystical properties as the exposure existed in limbo until given a wet birth in total darkness. The darkroom was it’s own form of meditation where the clock measured only minutes and seconds as the hours were never calculated. You would emerge from the dark with something that had not previously existed and you were somehow changed from the alchemy. Everything done in total darkness was a function of time and that time was spent reflecting on the work itself.
The most concrete difference between film and digital is that film holds the allure of providing a physical original work that is tangible in a way that digital is not. The ability to hold that piece of film and know that it was physically with you every step of the way from the image’s inception, through its birth and ultimately into it's final form. Surprisingly, it was this tangible nature of film that caused me to embrace digital photography and lead rather than follow as it became a viable option.
Shooting film is more time consuming than digital in every way but the most overlooked and time intensive chore was inventory. Every frame had to be counted and logged noting its format and emulsion before delivering to a client, a process that had to be repeated as the film was returned. Any missing or damaged originals had to be reported to the client and a case file opened, frustrating and time consuming for both parties. When digital became a viable option I made the leap simply to be able to provide my client with an original while maintaining an original for myself and never again having a session lost, stolen or damaged during delivery.
You have to be wondering by now if this post is about Bernie Mac at all or just my ramblings on transitioning from film to digital. My shoot with Bernie Mac, one of the The Original Kings of Comedy, did a lot to tip those scales when the entire shoot went missing as the client was to return it. The film was never recovered so the only images that survive are about a half-dozen snip-tests from the E-6 lab and a couple of proof sheets from black & white negatives. I don’t remember all the shots we did but remember it being a busy day. One of the snip tests is marked with an “N” which means that we shot at least 14 different set-ups (every roll of film was given an alpha-numeric code that related to a set-up letter and roll number within that set-up).
I recall the details of the film debacle but somehow most of my memories from the shoot vanished with the film. Bernie was getting a lot of buzz in Hollywood and had made a few movies, his stand-up was on fire and the momentum of his career was building. His only request was that we not schedule the shoot on his birthday - a reasonable demand. When the client told me that we were confirmed for October 5th I immediately realized that they ignored his only request and braced myself for a bumpy ride. I had no idea what to expect but committed myself to getting him out as easily and as early as possible and having a big birthday cake delivered during lunch to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Fortunately the ride never got bumpy as Bernie kept us all smiling and we got on very well. The studio had a car waiting for him when the shoot ended. As was typical I walked him to the car and was wishing him a happy birthday and saying goodbye when he insisted that the next time I found myself in Chicago that I had a place to stay. Hollywood has no shortage of people that will say things to ingratiate themselves to you but I remember this not only because it was a gracious offer but because Bernie was sincere. When the movie poster hit the streets he called to let me know how he happy he was that they had put him front and center on the poster and had me jot down his address for the next time I found myself in Chicago.
In 2008 at the height of a thriving career in stand-up, movies and television he died in his hometown of Chicago while undergoing treatment for sarcoidosis.