Life moves fast. It is getting faster. The entire Internet is in our pocket. Knowledge, for pleasure or purpose, is very nearly instantaneous. People take immediacy for granted. The average number of images uploaded to Instagram per day is around 50 million. Take a second to let that sink in. 50 million. Per day. Average.
That’s a whole lot of instant gratification.
That’s a whole lot of images created on impulse. Created to be seen for a few brief seconds then swiped past.
Created but not seen. Not truly seen. Not by the creator nor the recipient.
Film changes all of that.
Film is a process. Not that the act of making an image, digital or otherwise, isn’t a process. Film is just a different process. A slower one. A more involved one.
I started photography with film. I continued with film long after many of my compatriots had switched to digital full time. Part of my hesitation was that I wasn’t happy with the available cameras or the software. The other part was my love with the process. I just wasn’t ready to give it up.
Eventually I did. Though not completely. I couldn’t because I loved the process.
The darkroom was the only part of the process that I let fade. Soon it will be back but I’ll save that for another day.
There is a very well defined act in shooting film. A tangible one. One that lets you feel, literally feel, the image being created. You handle the film in the canister. You touch the emulsion as you load the camera. Then again when you develop it into negatives. Finally, you have contact when you make the print. That image is part of you.
The darkroom is magic.
Sure all that stuff above is mechanical. Mostly done by muscle memory. It was the fast part of the process. The part that needed to be done with just a tad of urgency. Shooting weddings on film teaches you that awfully quickly.
The part where things slow is the physical act of pressing the shutter. 35mm gives you 36 frames. In 120, 645 gives 16. 6x6 drops you to 12. 6x7, only 10. 4x5 and 8x10, you get one. One frame. It isn’t instant. It isn’t infinite. Every frame needs to count. Needs to mean something.
It’s okay if it only means something to you. Not every frame needs to be shared.
On my desk sit three 35mm cameras of varying ages. A Minolta SRT303b. A Canon F-1. The Lake Placid Olympic edition no less. A Nikon FM.
In one bag, you’ll find a Hasselblad 500 C/M as well as a Mamiya 645afd. In another bag, my EOS 1v HS, a camera that became attached to my hip and has seen many adventures in far flung corners of the globe. Like a good Timex, it’s taken a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.
In the fridge are boxes of my favorite films in both 120 and 35. Portra. Ektar. Velvia. Provia. And a newcomer, CineStill, which definitely needs a 120 size. Back on my desk you’ll find various flavors of Ilford. HP5, PanF, FP4 and Delta. In between those is the odd roll of TriX.
I use those cameras for personal work. I use them with clients too. Not often enough but I do.
I use them when I need a creative recharge. When things need to slow down. When I need to see.
To really see.
Each frame needs to count. Needs to count just for me. Shadows. Light. Dark. Color. Faces. People. I use them when I need to study.
They are my Zen moment.
Because I am still enamored with the process, I treat my digital cameras just like the film ones. In my head, there is no LCD. Just like there is no spoon. Did I just date myself?
Go find an old camera. Check the garage sales, KEH, eBay, wherever. Load up a roll of film and find a place to sit. To watch. To study. To breathe.
When everything lines up, press the shutter. Slowly. With purpose. Listen. Wind. Then wait.
Find your Zen moment. The next image.
Revel in the process.