Today I noticed that another one of my Flickr contacts has put aside their digital Leica M9 in favor of a film Leica M7. I can quickly think of at least a dozen contacts, who either shoot both film and digital, or have totally given up digital and shoot film exclusively. Some use expensive cameras, some use inexpensive vintage rangefinder or SLR’s, and some even shoot medium format.
When I mention to local photo buddies or other acquaintances that film photography is in no danger of disappearing and tell them that there are huge numbers of film users at online photo sharing websites, I am usually met with open mouth and a stare of disbelief. Here in the outlands, people shoot digital, although Jamie at my local photo lab told me that the students from the School of the Arts are required to shoot film. While film photographs do have a distinctive look of their own, I think investing time into working with software plugins and presets could yield indistinguishable results using digital raw source files. Some of the comments I hear remind me of the arguments heard when audio CD’s first came on the market and threatened the dominance of vinyl LP’s. In a conversation, that “warmth” thing always came up. “Vinyl just has so much more warmth to the sound than the cold and literal digital media.” Of course, let it be known that records also had scratches and maybe it was those clicks and pops that were perceived as “warmth”. Negatives can also have scratches especially in the hands of newcomers to the media. One contact posted a few shots taken with a Rollei that were streaked with processor roller marks that he hadn’t noticed. Some of these new film devotees are taking their shots to the local CVS and getting a disk of low res scans. Not what I would be doing if I valued what I shot.
I suspect that more than any magic quality of a photograph taken on film, it is the way of working that holds an attraction. It is akin to fine art photographers picking up a plastic toy camera to create fine art with. Imposing limitations can force us to see more critically. Having only 36 shots (or 12!) on a roll rather than an unlimited number on a flash media card can makes us think twice before pressing the shutter (not to mention the cost). The real reason for these legions of new photographers picking up film photography is a search for truth. Those who have come to photography in this digital age want to know what they missed. They want to pay their respects, gain an understanding of what their elders knew. It’s like an Elvis fan making the pilgrimage to Graceland.
I have certainly closed some doors to old technology but film is not one of them. I still have two 35mm film systems and all of my darkroom equipment. But I shot film for forty years and for right now I have no plan to give up the convenience of digital imaging to go back to film. I won’t say never though!
TOP: We Don’t Play, West Palm Beach 1973. Leica IIIb w/28mm f3.5 Nikor, Tri-X at ASA 400
ABOVE: As romantic the notion of film may be, it has limitations. I could never have taken as clean a color image on film. Nikon D7000 w/24mm f2.8, ISO 3200; West Palm Beach 2011