This morning while lamenting a lost roll of film (I’d loaded it wrong and spent several days shooting, well, nothing) Tara said something like “I don’t know why you keep messing with that, why don’t you just go digital? I’m sure you can get the look you want with filters or something” I don’t remember my exact reply but it was something along the lines of “there’s a little more to it than that.”
Which got me thinking, of course.
And now I’m writing about it, of course.
I’ve resisted calling myself a photographer for my whole life for a million reasons, I just like taking pictures. I like documenting things and I like trying to express a feeling in something visual. Writing isn’t that much different honestly, often when I’m writing I’m trying to convey a feeling and choosing the words and structure I think will do that best. With photography, it’s about picking the right moments to capture a feeling. I didn’t realize it had been this long, but 2 years ago I wrote some thoughts about photography in general and touched on the film vs digital issue then. A lot of that still holds true. But today, in 2012, why do I shoot on film?
There’s no simple answer, but a few things play into it.
It’s about the process.
I’ve certainly taken a good number of photos on digital camera, in fact that’s exactly the point. With digital I just snap away. Here’s a shot. There’s a shot. Whatever. I don’t feel invested. Of course I realized this long after the fact, but because digital is so easy to see what you just did, and redo it, or take a ton of photos and later just choose the best one, it doesn’t feel valuable to me. That’s not a projection on any of my friends who shoot exclusively on digital, it’s just for me and for the photos I’m taking, I never felt invested in the digital shots I took. I felt like I was just taking a photo to have it.
When I realized this and started making the transition to film each photo suddenly became precious to me. I didn’t know if it turned out right or not. Should I take a few more just to be safe? Well, I can’t because I only have 36 on this roll, and maybe I’ve already used 10 of them, and maybe there will be something I want to photograph later on before I get to a new roll. I had to think about how I was spending each and every shot. Why do I want to take this photo? Is this a photo I’ve seen a hundred times before and I just want it for myself as well? Is there something here that other people may be interested in? When I look at this photo years from now, will I feel what I’m feeling right now? I never thought about any of those things with digital, and suddenly I think about them all the time. But more importantly, I like the photos I get when I think about them more before I take them, and for better or worse, I think about the photos more when I am restricted by film.
It might take me a month to go through a roll of film. Sometimes a week, but I’m not a “crank out a million shots a day” photographer. I don’t even consider myself a photographer to be honest. I really enjoy taking photos, and I enjoy taking digital photos less.
It’s about the gear.
It’s no surprise that the camera as lust worthy object plays into this decision for me. Well, it’s no surprise to me and is probably not a surprise to anyone who has been following my shenanigans over the years. I fetishize objects, and the craft and care that goes into an objects creation means something to me. At one point in time people made objects because they expected the people who bought them to use them for the rest of the lives. An object like that holds more value, to me, than an object who’s designers knew their creation would be obsolete and trashed in a few years.
I’m also not made of cash, so if something maintains it’s value is a very important thing for me to consider. Digital cameras do not hold their value, in fact they depreciate worse than cars. All digital technology is like that, because things keep progressing. Somethings are necessary, like computers – and you know going into it that your purchase today is going to be worthless a few years from now. Cameras are optional, and if I have the choice of spending money on something that will be obsolete technology-wise and worthless cash-wise in a few years, or something that, baring misuse on my end, be just as functional and worth just as much as today as it will be in 5, 10, 25 years – well, that’s an easy choice.
The camera and lens I’ve been shooting with for the past year were made in the 1960’s, and work just as well as they day they were released, and judging by prices online, have actually increased in value in the last few years. I just swapped out the body for a current production by the same manufacturer – the model they released about 10 years ago. Which is based off of, and barely changed from, the design they released in the 1950’s. There was nothing wrong with the one I traded away from, I just wanted a little more modern functionality – but the camera I have right now I can use for the rest of my life and get results that are technically just as good as the ones I’m getting today. I can probably pass it down to my kid, assuming he gives a shit, and he’ll be able to use it for his whole life. 50 years from today it will be just as functional as it is today. There’s no digital camera that can make that claim.
It’s about the feel.
Shooting on film just feels different than digital. I feel like I’m actually creating something that didn’t exist moments before. I don’t get that feeling shooting on digital, and it’s a feeling I like.