A Bangalore-based black-and-white photography group BangBW presents its first exhibition of 50 photographs, many of which they process in dark rooms at home

In an age when digital photography rules, here’s a group that clings to the beauty of black-and-white images. And that too, mostly photographed on film.

BangBW, a group of photographers from Bangalore interested exclusively in B&W photography was formed on Flickr about five years ago. They have over 250 registered members today, and decided, “why limit ourselves to sharing our pictures on the Internet?” An exhibition of 50 of their photographs taken by 10 photographers, are part of an exhibition “Light, Shadow & Life” that opens today at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. The shots have been taken on 35 mm film, large or medium formats, and include some digital photography as well.

The photographs span across genres to include street photography, travel, nature, wildlife, architecture, abstracts, still life, portraiture, and more.

“Many of us are hobby photographers, who’ve learnt hands-on. Some of us are freelancers. The group consists mostly of techies, businessmen, some students and some retired heads of organisations, all with a passion for B&W,” says Shivakumar L. Narayan, a member of the group who is participating in the exhibition.

One of the biggest challenges the group faces is getting the raw material — film rolls! “We once pooled in money and wrote to Fuji (manufacturer of film roles), negotiated with them for weeks on end to get some 100 feet of rolls to shoot!” recalls Shivakumar. Anyone in the group who travels to the U.S.A. or Europe also has the responsibility of bringing film rolls back.

Once the photographs are taken, processing these films is no easy deal either. No photo-processing studios in Bangalore processes B&W film. Sometimes the group members pool in rolls and courier them to the few remaining studios in the country in Ahmedabad and Mumbai where B&W films are still processed. “Some members have a dark room in their home or office where they process their own film,” he adds. They print using the traditional darkroom process. Moreover, each kind of film requires a different chemical to process it, and these are found in a few shops on Avenue Road in Bangalore. “Looking for them…that’s what makes it fun,’ says Shivakumar with satisfaction.

Zeeshan Nofil, a 35-year-old management consultant, whose photos feature in the exhibition, is fond of doing street photography and portraiture; he started off in 2003 with his own camera.

Till then, he would borrow from friends. He shoots only on film and 95 per cent of the time, on black-and-white film. “I have a small lab at home where I develop my own film. The entire idea of controlling the process is fascinating. It is almost hedonistic. I need to know how the film I use behaves when exposed to a particular amount of light and setting, then I need to follow the indoctrinated discipline of thrift (I don’t have the luxury to see the image like in a digital camera), then I need to take all the necessary care in the lab to make sure that the birthing process is accurate. When the image unfolds under the running tap of water, that pleasure is intoxicating.”

Shivakumar too raves about why B&W attracts him, despite so many logistical challenges: “The moment you separate colour from an image, you get into the soul of the image…you can ‘feel’ the image. Colours are a distraction.” Raj Arvind, another member of the group shoots only on large format (remember those photographers who went under the black veil behind the camera to shoot?). Each “slide” he shoots on is almost the size of a notebook, and each frame can take up to 30 minutes to shoot because everything is done manually, points out Shivakumar.

Members of the group also meet at least on alternate weekends or travel and shoot photographs on a variety of themes. “By Thursday evening we start planning on Whatsapp and on Saturday morning we meet at the railways station or bus stand and head towards Hogenekal, or Lepakshi or any other place like that,” he says. Onc th pictures are uploaded the group shares information on how it was taken – the approach, the experimentation, the exposure to light etc.

The exhibition has been curated by well-known photographers Rudra Sen and Anand Sharan. Renowned photographer T.N.A. Perumal will inaugurate the exhibition at 6 p.m. on April 11. On April 12, wildlife photographer Ganesh H. Shankar will give a talk at 5 p.m. The exhibition is on at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, from April 11 to 13, 10.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m.