When you’re shooting film, especially large format film or even Polaroid, you have a lot of time to think. While you select the film and while you meter the scene with a light meter, my mind normally tends to wander imagining different scenarios and probably the subject that crosses my mind is “why?” Digitally would be so much faster. The session could already be finished or I could be editing some images in Photoshop. So, why am I instead, enduring the necessary tedium of film life?
Of course there a lot of arguments like
- Digital Is Faster
- Film Is Risky
- Film Is Expensive
- Scanning Film is hell
- Digital Is Better Quality
But there is one subject like the Longevity in a Digital World I never hear or read when people are arguing which media is “better”.
This isn’t really a doubt, but it’s something to think about as photographers who create an fluent amount of work . I think of the many photographers I have had the pleasure to work with… long story short, nobody was spared of losing data on the other hand they never lost film negatives (When they were still worked with film) and some of them still have them perfectly preserved.
Think of the story of Vivian Maier she was a nanny who had a passion for photography. She left thousands of images unprinted and unseen until various collectors discovered her prints and negatives. She would later come to posthumous acclaim for her images, seen in galleries around the world. Now the question I have is: Could this happen in a purely digital world? Images stored on devices that are destined to fail have an inherent ephemeral quality about them. What happens when media changes? What happens to those shelves full of hard drives cease to have a computer that can read them? In 50 years, will people still be using USB? Yeah, I think not. Will those drives still be working? Again, doubtful. What kind of legacy are you leaving behind if the next technical revolution renders your storage medium obsolete? Of course, printing is the obvious solution here, but how many of us religiously print our keepers? I’d say not enough. Ever increasingly, I’m delivering more and more files to clients digitally. People want prints less and less.
With negatives and slides, longevity is greatly improved. Nothing lasts forever, but the chances of someone being able to salvage a negative in 50 years over a hard drive are undeniable. I’m no great artist, but I’d like to think that, at least on occasion, I create an image that matters. So for photos that really mean something to me, if I have a choice, I’m shooting film.
Why Film Photography Is Making a Comeback
Practicalities aside, there is no doubt in the minds of these practitioners that the aesthetic of film photography is far sexier than its digital sister. It may be the straightforward chemistry but the unexpected palette, the grain and dynamic range on offer all give personality and delicate nuance to the finished result. “I love the surprise colors of film. Each time I go to a country and take the same roll of film, I come back with a different palette of colors,” says Effendi. “Digital kind of evens it out but with film you really see colors of different countries.” Meanwhile, for portraitist Ryan Pfluger, shooting on a Mamiya RZ Pro II with Kodak Ektachrome film produces a “creamy ‘70s tone” that channels his fascination with memory and nostalgia. “Film gives me the ability to do a lot of subtle things that I can’t do digitally,” he explains. “You get that grain in the blacks and in your creamy whites .”
In the age of instant gratification, waiting for results for longer than a nano-second can seem impractical. But slowing down the process can produce surprising results. And for Pfluger, that’s the point. “To say that film is impractical because we need everything immediately, well there’s nothing immediate about photography,” he says. “It’s like why read a book or why write something down on paper, if it’s so impractical?” In a world already saturated with images, he believes that taking the time to be thoughtful about what you’re putting out is essential.