After digging out my old Nikon and taking a stroll along the canal a while ago, I've felt the need to take more pictures on film, as opposed to digital. Something has shifted and I feel drawn to using analogue tools more and more. Why is this? Why am I finding more pleasure and joy in making images using old methods, more expensive methods, less forgiving methods?
I'm not entirely sure, but this little essay is my way of trying to work this out. I don't quite know where it's going to end up or what will be the final product, so I guess it's a little like the film photography process itself.
To begin with, I'm not a hipster. I'm too old for that. I grew up in a time when film was the only form of photography. I studied it and even gained qualifications in my aim, back then, to be a professional. I chased sharper, better, more emotive images. I immersed myself in it. So I don't use film to be cool, or retro.
Film definitely has a look to it and maybe to me, there is a sentimental warmth to this look that reminds me of the past, a safer happier past if I romanticise. That may be an initial draw, but it's not why I'm enjoying film now. I don't deliberately want light leaks and crappy lenses. But the fact that the images look softer and (to me) more natural, does attract me. Maybe it's my ageing eyesight but I don't see everything as clearly as a 100 megapixel digitally enhanced recording. Film feels more human.
The limitations of film mean that I need to think more about each shutter press. It's not cheap, so I can't waste rolls and rolls. But I've found that this helps me to be more careful with each shot, even if I'm deliberately taking risks or shooting something in the moment. And looking through a viewfinder at the actual scene, rather than on yet another screen, makes me feel more connected with what I'm photographing.
Talking of screens, after the click of the shutter, that's it! No instant review, no stepping out of the real life scene in front of me to think "Is this ok? Should I shoot it again? Should I share this?" No, it's done. I don't know what it will look like, although I'll have a good idea of what I want it to look like. I'm finding that taking photographs this way allows me to remain in the moment. Not be dragged out into another device trying to distract me.
Filming on my Olympus XA2 is uncomplicated, and joyful. I see something, I pull the camera out of my pocket, slide it open, compose, click, close and continue on my way. It is just so beautifully simple. My Rolleicord is even simpler, bigger, heavier (but clunkier).
My film cameras, even the most technologically advanced, do not spy on me. They don't record the exact location where I've shot an image, unlike my iPhone or other digital devices. Whilst sold as a convenience, in case I want to work out where a shot was taken, to me it's another example of a "benefit" actually being a benefit to someone else, someone who may find that data useful to spy on me, monitor me or "monetise" me to another large, digital persuasion engine. No thanks. I can usually remember where most of my shots are made, and if needs be, write this data down with a pen and notebook.
Shooting on film feels more like a craft. I choose the camera, whose lens will affect the result. I choose the film, whose colour characteristics will give my image some flavour. I choose what to film, I choose the development. All of these choices I make. I craft my image. And nowhere is there an algorithm that analyses and decides how to render the final image, to meet someone else's idea of near perfection. And strangely, I've noticed that when I receive scans back from my photo's, I barely need to adjust them at all in order to have them looking how I expected them to. And yet, when shooting on my digital cameras or phone, despite all of the technology, I need to edit each image more, to achieve what I want.
Look, I'm not a luddite (yet). And I'm not judging anyone who chooses digital. I am aware that as a dwindling resource (due to very few film cameras being made now) prices for used equipment seem to be going up. Some "influencers" have hyped certain point and shoot cameras to ridiculous levels. Some people are snobby about real photography. I get it. Film is getting pricey, development too.
But here's the thing for me. It's made me enjoy getting out and making photographs again. It's helped me connect with the world. It's helped me to slow down and appreciate what I'm shooting. And it's giving me more photographs that I feel an emotional connection with. It's helping me to see and to appreciate the world. It's helping me notice. And it's giving me joy.
So for those reasons, I'm shooting film.