Why to shoot film? This is question that I often ask myself. I have a more practical digital camera that I could use, but I often insist on shooting on film none the less.
I often say to myself that I like the aesthetics of film and the nostalgia behind it. I also like it because it puts the responsibility on my shoulders. When you shoot fully manual, you have to do your homework and understand a shit load of stuff on how a photograph comes to life.
Although these (and many others) are legit reasons, I still keep asking me why I still prefer film. Aesthetics, nostalgia or the love for vintage cameras aren’t the main reason, which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about lately.
Getting a bit deeper here
In a nutshell I got back to film right after my dog Saaga died couple of years ago. She was almost 15 years old. Losing her was very difficult for me and right after she passed away, I started look for her old photographs. When she was a puppy, digital cameras didn’t quite exist yet, i.e. her first photos were shot on film. I found it very satisfying to see old photos of her on film. It was significantly different feeling compared to looking at digital images of her. Why?
Now we kinda come to the philosophy of information here. You see, the old film images were formed when actual light from Saaga hit the film. The exact same photons that came from the sun, bounced from her body, traveled through the lens and got projected to the emulsion, thus creating the image. This is what appeals to me. Those exact same beams of light that came from her, were captured on that exact frame of film.
Why should that make any difference? For some reason the way a digital image is formed, doesn’t seem as satisfying. Yes, the beams of light also travel trough the lens, but they will hit a sensor, which you cannot hold in your hand as such. Then the information gets processed by the software, creating a file consisting of ones and zeros.
Preserving memories in a tactile way
If you have ever watched Forest Hill Film Lab on YouTube, you might’ve seen a video where the host Travis compares shooting film to Tom Hanks’ character on Saving Private Ryan, where he collects soil to a jar from his each battle location. I find that a very interesting idea. On a ideological level, I feel like that is something I could do if I’d travel around the world. I find the idea very compelling — to bring back home soil from the places I’ve been and place them on a shelve. The soil is something very concrete and tactile, much like a photo on film. Instead of dirt, you’re collecting beams of light. And instead of a jar, you’re using the camera and film.
I don’t know about you guys, but in this digital era, I often mistake to think the life span of a photograph, with the life span of a smart phone. Nowadays it doesn’t come as a surprise, if photograph doesn’t exist no more than few years… the same time as your latest iPhone. Some people are smart and make good on backups or even printing their cell phone photos. Most people don’t. Including me. I have thousands of photos, that I’ve lost when I’ve bought a new computer, iPhone, hard drive or whatever.
When you’ve got used to the idea, that photographs doesn’t necessarily exist more than few years, it may start to feel astonishing to hold a darkroom print in your hand, that was developed in 1930’s. That used to be the standard. Photographs were made to last. They were the ultimate preserving jars for memories. There’s something that feels real about film photos. They are unique in the sense that those particular photons made the photo. It isn’t just some photo. It is the photo. Sometimes digital image doesn’t that special for that reason. It is just some file — not a unique copy.
When I visit an art museum, I feel the same. It feels amazing to stand next to a painting that Dali (of whom I’m a huge fan of) himself painted. It isn’t just a picture of the painting on Google image search etc. It is the exact same physical object in front of Dali once stood.