Crazy to shoot film?
For a long time ago, I am trying really hard to identify and find the proper way formulate the reasons why I am pursuing film photography. My opinion has changed during the years quite drastically and I went through many stages. If I want to be honest I have started up because it was the only way I could afford to go with bigger “sensor” sizes and thus achieve bokeh.
Later I turned towards the typically listed reasons such as slowing down, being more disciplined and make every frame count. I was also and to some extent still is a big believer of the film look and the superiority of quality of film over digital. But as digital technology as well as the corresponding software environment matured I have had harder and harder time convince myself that these arguments stand if they are closely inspected.
The film look can be emulated so good that I have hard time to tell the difference between some of my own experimental film filtered digital and actual film photo pairs. The quality argument in strictly technical terms has melted away to me unless one uses really big formats. Even worse there are plentiful situations where digital is unquestionably excels for examples when extreme high sensitivity is needed.
One can be disciplined with a digital camera in hand as well. A memory card with just little space on it can simulate the limiting factor of roll sizes, and nothing stops us not to look at the screen every time the shutter was released.
I was really questioning all the effort, time and money I have put into equipment, film, darkroom material and software into film photography. Should I keep doing this or it would be the best to write off all the losses and switch completely to digital once and for all? I had to let this question sit on a hidden shelf for quite some time somewhere in my mind. I think I have my answer now and I am eager to share. Maybe I am not alone with my reasons.
The answer is not quite straight forward. It is an evil mixture of deep psychological hooks on my personality spiced up with a good amount of nostalgia and a tiny bit of snobbism. The trivial part is that I enjoy to handle nice, well made vintage cameras and lenses. They are built to last and most of them even have quite a bit of a history. I think I also have an anti-consumerist side which grasps for the concept of a simpler world where one does not feel the need to change camera body and even brand every second year. I adore my carefully selected gear and I am now very reluctant to change it for the next big thing from the universe of gadgets.
The not so trivial part starts with the limitation factor on choices. If I use a certain type of film, I can technically do countless things with it especially because I use a hybrid workflow which involves digital processing. But a digital raw file with a library of Lightroom filters in hand is just a bigger set of infinite. This could lead to paralysis via choices. Here is a brilliant Ted talk by Barry Schwartz about this topic. I need to accept the inherited characteristics of the material rather than trying to define it. I am very happy with the aesthetics I get from my favorite film stocks, but I have hard time to be able to decide which filter to use when I start out with a digital file.
Of course there is also the fact that to get from the decisive moment to a print or even to a digital file, there is a lot of work involved. Prepare, shoot, make notes, develop,make notes again, scan, process digitally, catalog, select in multiple rounds, archive, print, publish online. All these steps require me to be fully present and put myself into the process. Every stage involves different skills, a lot patience and of course anything could go wrong at any given time especially with the chemicals. Because of this long and delicate process I learn to care more about the photos. Eventually I program myself to like the end results because I have to wait (sometimes months long) to get to see them.
Each and every shoot which survives my process is special for me even though they are not perfect. They have personality and I remember them all. I could mostly tell what film and camera I used even without checking the notes. They reflect a stage on my self-seeking journey, a snapshot of the way I approached a subject and the process at a given point in time. All of these factors together shape the reason why I stick to film.
Of course there are numerous things which I don’t necessarily like about film. While I enjoy working in the darkroom, I am not very happy to get in contact with dangerous chemicals. Working with old equipment means that occasionally they give up, leaving you with nothing but bitter disappointment instead of nice photographs.
This is a high risk high reward game I seem to enjoy. I would certainly think different if I would practice photography for living and not only for fun. In any case, I stop struggling for finding better answers for now. There are still many reasons I have not listed now like working with tactile physical materials or the element of surprise as the process cannot be fully controlled. But I know enough to let this question go and I will keep focusing on the actual act of shooting film rather than analyzing the motivations behind.