The Physical Image
I haven’t done much work on film lately and I am thinking whether I will ever come back to using it. So I have been digging in my analog archive to see what was there on film that made digital uninteresting in the first place… I have started this process a few weeks back. I sorted and dated all the film I shot. I have not counted each roll exactly, but it is over 50kg of film. I am scanning it now — I am on roll 26 out of what i am estimating to be around 2000. That is roughly about 30000 images considering that I have been shooting both medium format and 35mm. It is mad! 13 years of work. Meanwhile last month I shot about 10000 images on digital. Mainly for work, but I actually took some time to go out and shoot my own stuff. Now what does it say about the value?
I don’t think this is that easy to gauge. I have done just a few commercial assignments on film, in consequence most of the work on film is personal — travel, parties, random life snaps, one or two more structured projects… Are these any better from some of the digital work I have done — that is questionable. I would argue that they are not, especially when I do not have access to colour darkroom anymore and I keep scanning and printing the images digitally not enlarging them in a tiny pitch black room with a strage etiquette of behavior. Knock twice if something always keep touching the walls, double bag everything to make sure the light won’t flood onto your print. This was magical! Waiting for a roll of film to be developed had the same quality — you just don’t quite know what will come out. I loved this feeling of anticipation, but also the feeling of control and confidence. I am taking this picture and I am sure that it will come out just as I want it to… Honestly, I did not care at all. This way of thinking about images I make is rather new to me. But certainly I had to have this feeling at the back of my head. You don’t have to be confident when shooting digital. You just do it and do it again, and again, and if necessary again. There is no real need to understand how everything works — the film, the light, the settings. None of it matters as long as you are able to get a decent looking picture. The alchemy is gone. No longer you are the mad man with a black sheet over his head transforming the real into a silver artefact on a transparent piece of plastic.
There is also the way the pictures look. They are different than digital. They are imperfect and in their imperfection they are more interesting and real. Again I am using the word. Real. They are not artificial — they actually really exist. They are objects that we can alter — we can burn them, we can crumple them up into a ball, we can cut things out, we can scratch things out. We can write on them. Sure you can manipulate digital — but if you are not an idiot you always keep a copy unaltered. You can always come back to what it was before. Digital just does not have the same power to change the way you feel about things.
I can mimic medium format aesthetic by stiching narrow depth of field panoramas and using VSCO filters but I just can’t contain the same emotion on as I could on film. As I keep scanning roll 27 I am thinking of a photograph my Grandma and Grandpa have on their wall in their living room. It is roughly 30x40cm black and white hand retouched photograph took on ther wedding day. They just stand in front of the backdrop, there is one or two plaster columns with vines somewhere in the background they don’t even look very happy, but you can see in their eyes that when this picture was taken in 1947 it was a moment of great magnitute. Photographs that resonate through past and present into the future — just like the one of my grandparents are an essence of why I love film photography so much. Now something to consider — next time you find a studio, wherever you are in the world, that will take your portrait on film do it. I guarantee it will be a lifetime experience.
As for myself, I try to convince myself to shoot more work on film. But I just don’t see it happening any time soon. I wish I had a studio that would allow me to do so but with the way things currently are I don’t think I can afford that. I can set a goal for myself though — do one paid portrait session on film until the end of 2016.