I have been staring at this blank page trying to decide what to write for my first post for some time now. There has been one main idea nagging me, and it seems an appropriate topic for a first post. In the academic world, and as a photographer, there is one question that I get asked constantly: what is the role of film in this digital age?
There has been a push in some academic settings to move to an entirely digital process in the classroom. And many have predicted that film is a dying medium. However in the past year or so there has been a rise in artists and photography enthusiasts using film, as well as the creation of some hybrid processes between digital and film. So there must be some benefit to film over digital; something that draws people to analogue despite the claims that it is an irrelevant and dying material.
I, like most others not more than a few years ago, learned photography with film. Using a film camera (an old K1000 to be exact) I learned how a camera captures what we see, how to use my camera to get the best possible images, and how light interacts with the world around us. Film photography was the beginning for me, and was what got me hooked on photography. I know many people have had the same experience. There is something almost magical about analogue photography that digital doesn’t possess. And the learning opportunities with analogue are much greater than digital in some ways.
In the education setting I see film as an extremely important tool for students to learn. Analogue photography allows students to learn camera functions in a very hands on, literal way. Students are able to learn exactly the process going on when they take an image, and how to control this completely. And, when using film they must learn these things in order to take strong images. They get a more complete understanding of photography when learning with analogue techniques. Digital photography doesn’t require that you understand how your camera works or how to control your camera. If the image doesn’t look right, you can just change some settings (or hope the automatic setting works alright) and take another one right away.
One of the most important aspects of film photography is how it forces the photographer to slow down. Digital is a quick medium; it seems that the goal of digital is to shoot as much as you can as often as you can (which I am guilty of at times). Shooting digital doesn’t require the photographer to pause and consider the best composition or exposure. One of the reasons I keep using film is for this reason. I have noticed when I go for a while shooting strictly digital that I get sucked back into the method of shooting fast and not thinking as much. I always kick myself when I go back to view the images and think of all the different ways I should have composed the image. When this happens, I pull out my analogue cameras and force myself to slow back down, and view each scene more completely. Doing this refreshes me, and renews my photographic eye.
As most analogue photographers will tell you, there is just something different, and wonderful about shooting film. Although most film techniques and looks can be recreated in the digital world it is far more authentic and genuine creating those effects using the traditional methods. And for me at least, releasing the shutter on an old, solid film camera is much more satisfying than any digital camera.