”Written byJosh Raynham
Looking back on my younger years I remember distinctly the books we had in our house, stacked up on the shelves, all filled with 4×6-inch photos depicting birthdays, weddings, and a childhood not confined to a digital memory. These photos, I believed, each had a life of their own, a meaning, in some way, that could only be captured in a single moment and that moment burned onto a piece of A6 print paper to be held for decades to come. This nostalgia will always connect me deeper with film than any other form of photography, the idea that as the moments fleet, they can be captured, blindly, but with so much intention. I look back fondly on the days of pulling out our family photo albums and leafing through memories I never knew I had.
Now twenty years on this renaissance that I once dreamed of, and which was encapsulated by the generations before me seems to have rebirthed itself into a modern world. This rebirth, or rather this resurgence has entered into a world of modern advancements, and tools which allow for instant gratification. Modern circumstance has led the film prices to rise and while some may stipulate this as the beginning of the end others see it as part of the journey, enjoying the fact that to shoot film is to capture, truly, a moment in life which brings you beauty. So even as we delve more into this digital age, film seems to be an art form we can’t seem to let go.
Shooting with film isn’t that much different to shooting with digital. There is still the control the photographer holds over the image, by manipulating the exposure through shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity. However, the main difference is that with film the photographer is pretty much shooting blind, not able to immediately check and readjust the settings as on their digital screens. There is, however, this appreciation for the moments and the people we capture. “It makes me sit and think, which I feel brings so much more intention to each photograph. I have to be conscious,” says Gulshan Stodel, a Cape Townian creative and film photographer.
There is something almost romantic, I feel, about not knowing how your image will turn out. Slowing down one must compose each shot as if it were a poem being written for a lover. Every frame counts but really each frame is a mere extension of the mind. When one looks into that dreamy vintage veneer, it is the authenticity that I feel truly appeals to photographers. “I think artists are also very drawn to the making, we have to find pleasure in the making of a photograph,” says CSULB photography professor Rebecca Sittler, “I think many artists really love this sort of sense-based experience of being in the darkroom, smelling the chemistry, watching that print magically come up in the developer… the process of being on one’s feet in the darkroom instead of on a computer through a screen.” Even with those who choose to send their film to labs for development, “there is something special about shooting a roll and having to wait a few days for it to be developed,” says Fynn Wilson, a Cape Town based artist and photographer. It seems that patience leads more to a prolific end product and it is this patience I feel which has then led to the preservation of film.
“The beauty of film is that you are quite literally burning the light of a moment into a tangible memory you can visit forever.” – Jelly’s burly haired Canadian biker friend.
As this resurgence of film photography becomes more apparent it is interesting to see how it is separate yet also still much a part of our digital world. As social media draws from our creative minds many modern-day filters draw heavily on particular film stock or photographs. These days, that “film grain” look has become synonymous with Instagram filters and iPhone apps. But even still this newer generation, who has grown up within a digital landscape, now looks to these platforms and begins to ask the question, “where did these filters come from?” For even an app cannot capture the real authenticity of film. Social media has drawn from that human trait of active preservation, bleeding our creative mind dry by allowing us this feeling of instant gratification. Film slows that down. “Film photography forces you to choose your moment, it forces you to enter into life and look for the beauty within it,” says Gulshan. Whether you are shooting on a professional grade camera or just a simple point-and-shoot, film gives the feeling of a nostalgic days-gone-by era whilst grounding the artist in their work within the modern.
Many conversations these days are turning to the rising prices of film throughout the world. Some argue that this increase is to do with the manufacturers trying to capitalise on this resurgence, where no regard is placed on the customer. Others, however, see a more technical shift which idealises the dependence on biodegradable materials, outdated machinery and a lack of workforce as the reason. No matter how you look at it one thing is clear, film is no longer a cheap alternative to digital photography. The manufacture of colour films today is a high-tech operation, needing much experience, time and capacity. Other areas such as an increased interest in biodegradable plastics where the demand for the base on which film emulsion is coated, cellulose triacetate, has skyrocketed. For this reason, manufacturers find it increasingly hard to source the material at acceptable prices. As with many things, the truth about film prices lies somewhere in between rosy visions of days past and dissatisfaction with modern-day trends. Film cannot be produced as cost-effectively as in the past, and due to shortages in both personnel and material, film cannot be made quickly enough to meet demand and is thus in short supply; therefore, prices have risen.
“I often feel that film reiterates the fact that life is precious, yes each shot is expensive, but knowing that I feel fortunate to be able to capture it (life)” – Gulshan Stodel
At the end of the day whether you’re shooting black and white, colour, landscapes or portraiture, shooting with film is fun. It tests you but also gives you the freedom to express an angle which may be way out of anyone’s creative scope. “Have fun. Love the moments you capture and fuck anyone who tells you what you are capturing is less important,” says Jelly. Whilst film has become more expensive, I feel the cost is relative, and whilst it may be pushing some away from this art form the intake of new enthusiasts is a constant flow. One must learn to be frugal because it reiterates the fact that what you are capturing is precious.
For more of our Visceral features, click here.