The recent resurgence in film photography gives us hope that digital imagery hasn’t taken over the world of photography entirely. Since the creation of what is widely considered to be the first digital camera in 1975 by Steven Sasson, and the subsequent quell in the use of analogue photography, many photographers are surprised that it has taken as long to witness this renaissance of film.
Teenagers are ubiquitously digging out their parents’ now fossilized 35mm film cameras from the attic, or eagerly bidding on eBay to hunt down the most affordable yet functional film camera they can find (for which I am guilty as charged), whilst discovering that this is a more challenging task than they might have believed. For it is a noble truth that the vieux jeu act of shooting film might never revive itself to the standard that it once held when our parents were teenagers. Many companies have stopped sales of film cameras, including Kodak back in 2004, and more recently Canon, who after 80 years of providing film cameras to the market announced last year that this would come to an end.
There are so many reasons for the re-emergence of film photography. It’s exciting and fun to play with your exposure settings, it feels more risky to shoot without a display finder, and it focuses your mind to think more about your shots than if you were shooting digital. These are reasons photographers give anyway, those who truly hold film in high regard and recognise the complexity of the craft. But this doesn’t explain why kids are picking up a film camera without any prior knowledge of camerawork beyond a smartphone – it’s certainly what I did, and it wasn’t because I wanted to go back to basics, start from scratch and really ‘appreciate film photography as a unique art form’ (read in voice of an arts bro).
We have witnessed similar trends with vinyl EPs rather than CDs, and even some people reinvesting in cassettes. Vintage clothing is preferred by many over current high street trends, for reasons of individuality and the soul of the items. Young people are integrating out-moded trends into their very modern lives; vintage has been a revolutionary countertrend to labels and modern conventional practices and styles in recent years, and we all know how much young people like to rebel.
But with film photography I don’t think it’s so much about rebelling as it is about adapting; mixing old and new to create a certain individuality. We aren’t shooting the same people, fashion and scenes our parents were, because these things might not exist anymore. We are re-adopting a sort of superannuated way of looking at our ultra-modern and often overwhelming world, simplifying it all into a photo that you had one chance to get right. It’s honest and unprejudiced, not simply a part of the batch of replicas that digital photography can produce. It’s just like old cassettes, or vintage clothing; with its own personal chronicle of life, it might be the only one of its kind left, granting it an unparalleled uniqueness.
Film photography gifts young people another way to be creative, it is an entirely different shooting experience. With its grain effect and imperfections, there is an authenticity to photos shot on film that can not be achieved through digital photography. It also represents a non-conformity with our current culture of self-indulgence and immediate gratification; it takes days for a lab to process film, even up to a week if you are shooting in black and white. And patience is a fundamental trait of anyone fearless enough to venture into a darkroom and process photos themselves. But the drawn-out process just makes it all the more exciting. You may have forgotten about a photo that you spontaneously took, which turned out to be the best of the roll. Or opposingly, a shot that you were eager to get right and spent a while staging and fine-tuning might end up exposed totally wrong. But this is an important aspect of film: it rejects the overwhelmingly rapid pace at which life moves on a daily basis, and forces us to be patient and assiduous.
The recent circulation of the slogan ‘Film is not dead’ is almost a cry for help, a desperate grasping onto an artform out of fear of its extinction. And it holds much truth; film is not dead, thanks to the tenacity of young people who have taken an interest, for whichever of the reasons I’ve mentioned. In fact, most people would agree that film is really, really cool, but not for the reasons that we stigmatise it for. I’d encourage anyone interested in photography to pick up a film camera and go back to basics, as it certainly taught me a thing or two about photography that my DSLR ever could.