Stephen Shore thinks film has lessons to teach today’s photographers.
Want to become a more decisive photographer? Color photography pioneer Stephen Shore says you should start by shooting with film and developing a darkroom habit.
Shore may seem like the quintessential image of a contemporary photographer who established his craft in the 1970s, and has maintained a stubborn devotion for analogue methods up to the present, but you’ll be surprised to know he has embraced iPhone-ography in the last few years of his six decades-long career, posting his snaps on Instagram like the young ones do.
Still, he maintains that film still has lessons to teach today’s generation of photographers, and strongly believes the darkroom still houses a wealth of creative experience up to the present.
He explains in detail in an interview with Artsy why he thinks a career in photography should be built on the foundations of film photography.
“I don’t have a prejudice against digital—that’s all I use now—but I’m convinced that there are certain things, very hard to describe, that are learned by doing darkroom work,” he explains. For one, he notes that a big chunk of the decision making is physical. It trains you to look at light differently, as compared to manipulating exposure using a slider in Photoshop or Lightroom.
“Turning a dial, pressing a button and exposing it, taking out the processing paper and looking at it—people get a more visceral sense of the decisions they make by working in analog.”
Apart from the more hands-on approach and slower process that film photographers today sing praises to, film is also widely regarded as a relentless teacher of discipline. This is what Shore himself learned, but more as a matter of economics than an “aesthetic discipline.” With limited shots, you simply have to learn how to be a more decisive photographer and shoot deliberately. Each shot with film costs money, especially today.
“With the color 8×10, it would cost $15 a shot—about $75 in today’s money—every time I took a picture,” said Shore, who began shooting with a 35mm camera and moved to 4×5 and 8×10 large format. “I just decided I wouldn’t take more than one picture of anything, and over time this became an extraordinary discipline—it forced me to decide what I really wanted.”
There you have it, young photographers, straight from Stephen Shore himself. Don’t dismiss your grandparents’ good old film cameras just yet. Grab one, load it with a roll, and begin your journey to becoming a decisive photographer today.