Thoughts on celluloid
Celluloid. plastic, flammable material made of nitrocellulose, used for the creation of cinematographic and photographic film.
To my greatest surprise, on January 5th 2017, Kodak announced the restart of manufacture of the legendary film Ektachrome, for photographic as well as cinematographic productions.
Yes, it’s true that the digital mean has won the battle of image since a long time ago. The Digital vs Film notion should probably be considered meaningless. The domination of the digital imagery doesn’t mean that it managed to incorporate the unique aesthetic characteristics of celluloid -a still ongoing matter of discussion- but it managed to offer a technical flexibility as well as a great quality of image that anyone is able to acquire from inexpensive, widely used cameras.
As a result, the digital mean won the audiance’s impression, pushing away the -once more powerful- film.
Aesthetically and ontologically though, the secret thoughts remain since the digital medium hasn’t yet replied all of the questions. It simply dazzled us with its glorious and glittering surface, its easiness and flexibility.
The last month of 2016 I did a small experiment, a bit technical, a bit conceptual, but surely very interesting. After unburrying a dozen of old, point and shoot film cameras, loaded with 400 ISO films, I decided to check something that I already knew from the past. The expiration date on the boxes said “Develop before 09/2006”. The films inside these cameras had already completed their life circle a decade ago.
The coincidence was tickling my mind. Something that according its manufacturer had died in September 2006 was in my hands in December 2016. So during Christmas I attempted to prove what -as I said before- already knew; that films are, in a way, living organisms, that their material, celluloid, contains a kind of DNA. The discovery of these cameras concurred with the fact that I was going through the final stage of my first book, Milky Way, in which I photographed on film and I had also used expired films to achieve the aesthetic result I wanted in the book. As you may understand, the emotions were overwhelming.
I experimented for several days, taking pictures with these plastic cameras here and there, not really caring about the outcome. However, every time I pressed the button, I had this feeling, that I was sending small electric shocks through the bodies of these “dead” films. Like I using a defibrillator, secretly hoping that the nitrocellulose and the silver crystals on it could be revived.
The result confirmed what I was thinking about.
Most parts of the negatives were unexposed, empty, even though I use flash during the shots and I asked the photo-laboratory for over-development via push processing.
I had done what I could, my consciousness was clear. Still, a few frames, in random places, one here, one there, without any obvious reason, revealed a few faint images. It was like the irregular pulses of a creature trying to live. These frail images were struggling to maintain themselves onto the negative’s surface and I, like a good obstetrician, quickly put them in the incubator of my digital scanner to help them survive.
I was fortunate enough to belong to the generation of photographers that passed from film to digital at the appropriate age, without the fear or distrust that older photographers might have felt. Even though I often read about the conflict between the -new, back then- digital and the classic film, I never wondered what’s better to use.
So I decided from the start, to use them both as a combination and even as we speak, this choice hasn’t betrayed me. Still, even though I appreciate the conveniences of the digital era, I continue feeling charmed towards the life that is hidden inside the celluloid. And I’m even more fascinated when a manufacturer like Kodak decides to revive something so beautiful, so exciting.