If you ask Virginia Delgado why she photographs with a film camera, and not a digital one, her answer is deliberate, and unflinchingly polite.
“While I understand that digital photography would make my life easier…” she begins.
And soon, you will realize that question makes about as much sense as asking Ernest Hemingway why he didn’t just use a mac template to pen his letters; or informing jockey Ron Turcotte that, while Secretariat was a fast horse, horseless carriages are really where it’s at.
Film photography, and specifically the “street photography” that is Delgado’s specialty, is to digital photography what apples are to oranges.
“To me, photography is showing what you saw; recording something as it was lived,” she says. “Not re-imagining it later. Manipulating an image is design, not photography.
“I don’t crop.”
Street photography began in Paris in the 1920’s and 1930’s, as artists there attempted to capture the dramatic changes sweeping Europe at the time. It made its way to America, reaching its nadir here in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Film gives Delgado’s images a realism and sense of place. As a medium film imparts a quality that is easily recognizable, particularly to the trained eye.
Delgado found her art form by chance. Born in the United States to Uruguayan parents, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in English and a passion for creative writing, and short fiction in particular. She parlayed that into a career teaching English as a second language in both the United States and South America.
Delgado began shooting pictures with an old Minolta film camera around 2001. She had just recently met the man who would become her husband, and she was encouraged by the fact that he liked her pictures. They moved to the Cape where she enrolled in a class about darkroom techniques. She also took a portraiture class at the New England School of Photography. Aside from that, she is primarily a self-taught photographer, though she has benefitted from the support of several veterans of the genre.
In 2006, she moved to Uruguay for several years, for a change of scenery and the opportunity to be closer to her family. While there, she worked with an chemist and photographer who, she says, possessed an “incredible knowledge of the chemical element of photography.”
The science of photography is the recording of light on gelatin strips covered with silver nitrate. Where the strip is exposed to light, the silver darkens (thus the “photonegative effect of light appearing dark and vice-versa.) The people who understand this medium, and how to work with it, are becoming fewer and more far between, each year.
Here in Rhode Island, she notes that Angelo Marinosci, Jr. and Stephan Bridgidi have been wonderful resources, both “incredibly talented and generous with their time and support.”
Delgado first came to Bristol in 2001, passing through on her way to Newport. “I knew this was where I was going to live. There’s a peace about Bristol. It’s a nice, simple town with a beautiful quality of life.” It made coming back to Bristol an easy choice when she returned from Uruguay in 2010. She lives here now with her husband and two daughters Isis (17) and Sasha (15), both students at Mt. Hope High School. She is currently teaching ESL at Roger Williams University, and maintaining a photography studio and makeshift darkroom in an airy space on the 3rd floor of the former Byfield School.
As you might expect from an artist who disdains cropping as artificial manipulation of an image, Delgado’s approach to photography is to do it deliberately, the right way, and to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. “Everything ought to be decided the moment you take the photo,” she says. You start with good exposure, enough light for details in highlight and lowlights.” Don’t ask for numerical specifics — she shoots without a light meter.
There are opportunities to apply variables during the developing process, with filters, aperture and exposure. During exposure — a matter of seconds — she may play with the image, using her hands to block the light.
Digital photography is all about second chances. You can take shot after shot after shot, deleting your mishaps with the touch of a button. It’s why most of the world prefers it to film, by a long shot. Delgado may take weeks to develop a series of images, slowly and deliberately. She knows that with film, there are often no second chances.
“I recently photographed an actor/restauranteur in New York,” she said. “He was backlit, so I had to overdevelop the film to get the contours and shadows; to keep him from looking like a silhouette.
“It took a week of research before I felt brave enough to touch the film.”
Contact Virginia Delgado and view her work here, on her website.