There seems to be quite a debate amongst old school photographers who were weaned with a film camera in their hand and who now enjoy the digital age. As I prepared to take my first film class this past semester, I heard numerous times how pointless it is to take a film class. “No one shoots professionally with film cameras anymore.” “Any thing that was done with film can be captured digitally. The same principles apply.” Both of those statements may be true to one person and untrue to another. But, either way, it is irrelevant to me.
Film lives. Film teaches. Film mandates patience. Film breeds creativity. Film challenges. Film searches for growth. It isn’t instantaneous and isn’t happenstance. Film is delibearte, difficult and demanding. It is fussy and unforgiving when mishandled. And for all of these qualities, I heart film!
In the beginning, the needs for this class proved challenging. The first two rolls of film that were due ended up being a big zero for me. Nothing like having to anxiously wait a week thinking you might possibly have something great only to find out you have nothing! The first roll of film I tore as I rewound it. (Note to self: press the release buttom on the bottom of the camera BEFORE rewinding!) The second was blank. Not exposed, but blank. Through a series of tests and trials, I came to learn the camera wasn’t advancing properly. After mastering this particular camera’s nuances, shooting another two rolls and then going in to the darkroom on my own time in order to get caught up with the class, I processed the film….only to learn the camera had a light leak.
Difficult. Demanding. Fussy. Unforgiving. Welcome to BW Film 101.
At this point I was beginning to wonder if I was gearing up for an extremely frustrating 18 weeks. And then the agitation in the developing tray began.
There is a wonderment about watching an image come to life in the darkroom. I never grew tired of staring into the tray for those 60 seconds as I watched the details of an image awaken. The next 15 seconds in the stop bath was manageable but the last 60 seconds in the fixer seemed like an eternity! I waited all week to see how I captured light on the film amd once I got a glimpse of it, I wanted to look at it in the light where I could really see (Patience isn’t my strong suit. I was the kid who had to pay the premium price at Thrifty’s One Hour photo lab because I just couldn’t wait 2-3 days like everyone else.).
Once I finally was able to take the photograph into the light, I had to really examine it. Film teaches. I had to learn how to see tones and shades of gray. I had to learn to understand how adding or subtracting contrast would affect the image, BEFORE I re-printed. Each print came at a cost. Film is deliberate. As time went on and as I shot more rolls and printed more images, I began to shoot differently. Learning to process, develop and critique my images changed my approach and how I looked at items and situations to photograph. I began to think less literally and more artistically. I began to think about what I wanted from the image before I pressed the shutter release. Film breeds creativity.
Today if I found myself overhearing the ramblings of film naysayers, I would retort, “You have benefited from the knowledge of film. Though you may not use it as your medium of choice, film informs your digital work. The foundation of understanding was laid so long ago that you can no longer distinguish between that which comes from film and that which comes from the digital era. But I, having known photography with and without the understanding of film, can definitively say, that working with film makes one a better photographer: a more patient photographer, one who can wait for the defining moment; a more artistic photographer who releases the shutter mindful of what the finished image will be; a more deliberate photographer who doesn’t rely on quantity in order to get quality. Film has a place in our digital world and should be a part of the foundation from which our skills develop from.”
There is no question that this semester was a grind… a lot of work in each of my classes. But the pay off was measurable. I am grateful for a program that incorporates digital and film from a commercial and fine art perspective.
I heart film.