First of all, I’m not going to say anything revelatory about why I shoot film, nor anything which really every content creator on the Internet says about why they shoot film. So spoiler alert, no revelations coming. But I don’t think there is any law which says I can’t add my voice to this one, if there is, then talk to my lawyer, if I had one.
Like most people of my age I started out shooting film, it was the only game in town back then so if you took photos film is what you used. Looking back, oddly, one never thought about the act of shooting film very much, one just did it. Got the roll, opened it, loaded it, shot it. Job done. It was the process of photography. I used to do a bit of monochrome darkroom and there was always magic in that, seeing the image appear in the developer tray from nothing. The almost monastic feeling of being alone in the dark with the smell of the chemicals (always use in a ventilated space my arse). I used to have a pair of cut off jeans I called my painting shorts because they were comfortable in the warm room and I knew I could wipe my hands on the legs without ruining anything. Or maybe it was just an affectation? Who knows.
Then once it became an option I made the move to digital. It was so easy, and as we had small children then it was a godsend, you could take as many photos as you liked and be pretty sure of winding up with ones you were happy to keep. I make no bones, at all, for the value of ‘spray and pray’ photography when you’ve got small children, it’s what you need. Upgraded the camera, shot digital everything, got into Lightroom and was really enjoying my photography.
Then for shit and giggles I shot a roll of film again.
It was so different, for the first time in ages I had no idea what the photo was going to look like. Hell I even stared at the back of the camera reflexively and wondered why there wasn’t a screen. It was a blast, so I did it again, and again. Film began to inhabit the top shelf in the fridge door once more. It was just fun. I acquired a couple of film Canon SLRs from my mother in law who no longer used them, I always shot Pentax before. It’s quite nice to have a camera with which I’ve got no emotional history and which I haven’t had since before I met my wife. I can shove one in my bag when I’m going out and about and not worry about it getting stolen or knocked about.
The word you hear, a lot, among film photographers is ‘tactile’ and that’s really the crux of shooting film. It’s amazingly tactile; even more so if you’ve got a camera without autowind as you thumb the film advance lever to cock the shutter. There is that satisfying mechanical ‘clunk’ as you push the button and the shutter releases. Wind, click, ker-clunk – the sound of film. There is also the fact that with film your photo is a thing, you have to manually load (with a degree of difficulty related to the camera) the roll of film and then every time you take a photo the environment physically reacts with the film surface. It’s not hitting a sensor which writes some data to a memory card which you can (and will) just over-write when you’re done. The image is a physical thing which has altered that frame of film forever. You can’t just over write it and reuse it. That fraction of a second is forever recorded onto the film. At the end of the shoot there’s no just popping the card in and downloading the data stream, you have to take that roll of film and then develop it. Once more the physical medium is forever altered and your image appears, and then when you look at the negative there, in that small square, is that fraction of a second forever frozen in time.
Now, I’m not getting all luddite and dewy eyed over this. I’m not even thinking of giving up digital and going all film. I’d not want to go back to taking n rolls of film away on holiday with me and then trying to get them through the modern X ray equipment without fogging. I love being able to take bracketed insurance exposures of things, and also taking images which aren’t worth taking as photographs but because I’ll know that whenever I look at them I’ll remember being in ‘that’ place and time taking it. With film you’re careful about using your film stock up. I love being able to take out my phone when I see something interesting, photograph it, edit it and upload it to Instagram. Digital lets you do great things and I’m all for that.
But I’m also absolutely going to keep shooting film too