Berlin in Black and White: Cinestill BwXX Film


Ever since I read about someone losing a year’s worth of film in an x-ray scanner, I’ve always been nervous about rolls of film being obliterated at airport security. So, when I travel I tend to take a digital camera with me, and I for the most part I shoot, post and print in colour. Having said that, at weddings I prefer to take an analog camera. Usually something small that if – god forbid – I were to forget after a long night of partying, would be less costly than losing my digital camera. What to do when you’re at a wedding out of town? Well I’ll take any excuse to buy a new toy. I was attending a wedding in Portugal and bought a nifty little point and shoot camera and a few rolls of film at a quaint analog store in Porto. The shopkeeper preloaded a roll of CineStill BwXX as freebie. I wasn’t too keen at first, but after getting the film developed, I was hooked. Thus, my journey into pure shadows, lights and lines had begun. 

Last year I spent a great deal of time traveling and taking photos – I was in Norway, Iceland, my native Canada, and Australia for a month, among other places. At some point I came to two important realizations. Firstly, while traveling is fun it is also expensive and physically draining – and not great for the environment either. Secondly, not everyone has a vibrant European capital at their doorstep. I have a unique opportunity not only to take interesting photographs, but as a resident of the city I could dig deeper and tell stories.

Photographing places that are new is easier than taking photos of people and places you are familiar with. It makes sense, if you were seeing everything every day with fresh eyes on your daily commute, it would be quite taxing for your brain, and you’d be exhausted before you got to where you were going. For me, film photography is a way to counteract this phenomenon. Learning to use a new medium and a new camera, and discovering those abilities and limitations gives a new perspective on things you thought you were already familiar with. Limitations aren’t necessarily bad, they can often be quite liberating. Having defined parameters allows you to focus your creativity. Having said that, it did take some practice to be able to “see” things in black and white.

Fortunately, CineStill BwXX was readily available at a shop in Berlin. I took my more sophisticated Minolta SLR camera to the store, bought and loaded the film. I was right where I wanted to be, in the middle of my adoptive home. Berlin is a big city, but in a paradoxical kind of way. It is getting increasingly crowded and bustling, while at the same time remaining spacious and distant. On the one hand new buildings are going up everywhere, on the other the historical buildings and monuments continue to define the skyline. My intention is to capture Berlin’s unique, and at times contradictory, bigness. It is then quite fitting, that a new old camera is the tool I’m currently using to tell that story.