BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Shooting Old School: Zombie Neighborhoods, Time-Worn Towns and Other Random Images

If you read tomorrow's Fort Collins Coloradoan, you'll see my story about zombie neighborhoods — 'hoods with streets, lights and utilities, but no homes. One of the zombies I stumbled upon is called Dry Creek, a surreal collection of streets and cul de sacs that once hosted more than 100 mobile homes before they were moved out a few years ago, leaving behind only the asphalt and concrete skeleton of a neighborhood. It's in the process of redevelopment, but the north end remains full of old mobile home pads and derelict basketball goals... each with great views of Longs Peak.

I decided that such a surreal scene would be the subject for the last six frames on a roll of Kodak T-Max black-and-white film I had sitting in my 35mm camera body for a year. Early last year, I felt inspired to dust off my not-so-ancient 2003 vintage Canon Elan 7 film SLR and get some use out of it, honing my photography skills a bit in the process. I don't shoot using any automatic settings on any of my cameras; all my images are shot in manual mode, so hauling out film every now and then is just good practice because you can't see the images you've shot before you fork over a wad of cash to develop it. In short, shooting film is fun, but very expensive.

With everything digital now, the economics of shooting 35mm is truly cost prohibitive, and unless you're shooting slide film or have rare access to a dark room, you're also giving up some creative control because printing equipment is extremely hard to come by. Incidentally, Jacob and I have equipment that could outfit two separate dark rooms, but I'm not crazy about converting the bathroom into a photo lab again.

Every wasted frame on a roll of film is wasted money, too, so every image must be composed and shot with utmost thought and care. Here's an approximate cost break-down: One roll of 36-exposure slide film is about $10 (Maybe $8 for Fuji Velvia 100, or $15 for Fuji Provia 400X). Development is about $14 per roll with a CD of low-res scans. High-res scans of the best shots on the roll for printing on canvas now run about $60 per scan. So, to shoot and prep an image for fine-art printing, it could cost you $84 for a single image assuming only one shot on a roll is awesome enough to hang on the wall. Ouch. Otherwise, it's about $24 per roll for the film and development, so every frame on that roll will cost you roughly 67 cents, more if you don't shoot the entire roll.

So, it took me about a year to shoot an entire roll of film. The images below are from that roll, and, frankly, toward the end I just wanted to breeze through the roll as fast as possible to make room for a photo shoot coming up requiring slide film. (You'll see those images here in early May.) These images are raw and, with one exception, unprocessed — scanned directly from the negative. For these to be properly processed and presented, I'd print them in a dark room, dodging and burning areas that need it, or at least scanned at a high resolution so I can let my photo editing software do the trick.