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Internet Helps Analog Photography Hold On
AP Business Writer

"I've taken it to Central Park to take pictures of friends' kids," he said.

Before the Internet, he probably wouldn't have thought of getting the camera, he said. Then, finding information on old cameras involved writing to manufacturers and getting old catalogs from them. Now, he can just ask aficionados eager to share their knowledge on the Web.

Goldfarb bought the Graflex a few years ago for about $750. He said it's now worth a lot more - perhaps $1,200 - as people's eyes have opened to the cameras via Web forums.

Another find: a huge but modern camera that cost about $13,000 new, bought on eBay for $850. Through the Web, Goldfarb hired a machinist to produce an adapter so he could attach to the camera a lens from the very earliest days of photography, 150 years ago.

One online fount of information is Rowland Mowrey, a retired Kodak researcher in Rochester, N.Y. He spends 2 to 4 hours a day online on photo sites and e-mail, sharing knowledge gathered during 32 years in the photo industry.

The discourse isn't always to his liking. The Internet has spread a lot of myths in photographic circles and "created more acrimony than I've ever seen in groups face to face," Mowrey said.

He has sometimes seen others give advice about mixing photo chemicals without mentioning potential health hazards. "And then when I try to say something, all hell breaks loose," Mowrey complained.

But Mowrey has connected with valuable collaborators online. One sent him about 250 rolls worth of film without the coating that makes it light-sensitive. Apart from coming up with new chemical formulas, Mowrey is now planning to lead workshops that teach participants how to coat their own film and paper.

"None of that would have happened if it weren't for the Internet," Mowrey said.

However, Mowrey has no illusions about halting the decline of film-based photography, which he devoted most of his professional life to. The Internet may be one of the best things that ever happened to traditional photography, but it still may only amount to an additional bailing bucket on a sinking ship.

"The investment to restart any photographic (production) line is so enormous it boggles the mind," Mowrey said.

Homemade film will only go so far, especially in terms of light sensitivity - Mowrey's film won't be very light sensitive compared to commercial products. Manufacturers have kept some parts of the process secret, and may take those secrets with them when they leave the film business.

"Even though the Internet is there, there is a certain level we can't go beyond," he said.