When I first joined film photography communities some 10 years ago, I honestly did not expect that it would grow very much. Most of the world seemed to have moved on from film stocks, and the cameras were no more than vintage keepsakes of photography history. I would get strange looks whenever people figured out I was shooting with a film camera. We were seen as a bunch of misfits, or hipsters, as the wretched label came to be. But, the deeper I got into it, I more clearly saw what shooting film meant for those who did: it’s a form of creative rebellion in a world that puts a premium on perfection.
I’m not new to shooting film. I belong to perhaps the last generation able to experience it from a young age. I can still remember my mom’s strict reminder whenever she handed me a fresh roll of film: don’t waste it. Fast forward to 2009, I found myself rekindling my relationship with film photography, enamored with one film camera after another, beginning with a multi-colored Holga for medium format and a Nikon FE2 for 35mm. To date, I’ve shot (and wasted) more rolls than I could have during film’s heyday. Perhaps to comfort me and justify how I shot back then, I eventually chose not to think of it as wasting film; I was learning photography in a way that was most accessible to me. I couldn’t afford a DSLR back then, so the film route – inconvenient and outdated as it may have been for most – was the next best thing. Most of all, it looked fun, and I was fascinated with the different kinds of results and techniques there to explore.
Lomography and the Analogue Lifestyle
As with many film photographers who discovered the medium in the last decade or so, I found a renewed interest in shooting film through Lomography and its playful and often experimental approach. It made me look differently at the seemingly outdated medium, and think differently about how photography can be approached. For me, it took away a lot of the pressure to get perfect photos with each shot. It was what got me shooting a lot and learning eagerly in the process. I no sooner realized that its so-called Analogue Lifestyle invited creatives to abandon perfection and extreme technicalities when shooting. Its appeal lies in embracing unconventional results, making something out of mistakes and happy accidents, and adapting the look distinct to film. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a creative rebellion to me, especially at a time when Photoshopping, Instagram filters, and “I’ll just fix it in post” have become the norm.
Lomography has been instrumental in film photography’s resurgence and rise to fame as an alternative medium for creative photography. As much as some may dislike or even hate it for all its “gimmicky” stuff, we can’t discount that a big chunk of today’s film photographers discovered and developed a love for film after discovering Lomography. It made the medium much less intimidating and brought forth the fun and experimental side of photography.
Expanding Creativity by Embracing Imperfections
It’s easy to see how digital photography came to strive for perfection the way it does today. Technological advancements mean adapting to the needs and caprices of the industry. It should make everything faster, easier, and more convenient. The results should always be perfect with so little effort. Some gearheads may even say, if it’s not the latest and greatest, what’s the point of getting a digital camera?
But, with film photography and other traditional photographic processes, we have something that has already stood the test of time. The methods give us more creative options when it comes to the results we want. Nothing has replaced the look of wet collodion processes like tintypes, which is why there are still tintype studios and photographers like Markus Hofstaetter driven to keep it alive and expose us to it. Film photos can have many different looks, but they will always have a dreamy and nostalgic quality perfect for emotive and cinematic photography. Black and white film, in all its grainy and dramatic wonder, will always exude timelessness and grittiness in street photographs.
The continued availability and accessibility of film stocks today simply means we have more options to expand our creativity by embracing alternative mediums, imperfect as they may be. Traditional photographic processes are far from perfect by today’s standards, but they still have something to offer. Keeping them alive simply means we uphold the choice to harness what we can out of them.
It’s Way Past Film vs. Digital Now
I’m not shooting film with the mindset that it’s superior to digital photography. The film vs. digital argument has been way, way overdone by now. The answer comes with advantages and disadvantages, and each appeals to its own audiences. I love that film is there as an option for people to slow down and explore other approaches to creative photography.
Film photography has a bad rep because of hipsters, but I don’t let that discourage me or other people who have a genuine interest in giving it a go. Believe it or not, there really are people who truly want to shoot film because they like the results and the experience. People turn to it when they want to slow down from today’s fast-paced way of living and creating things. I noticed that more and more of these are younger people who never even held a film point and shoot camera until they bought one off eBay out of curiosity. I’m really excited about it not only because it helps keep film alive, but also because it’s still a relevant and legitimate medium for creative expression.
You may prefer the convenience of digital over the slowness of film. Maybe you see film photography as nothing more than a frivolous novelty. You may even scoff at every photographer who proudly hashtags Instagram posts with #filmisnotdead or #believeinfilm. But you cannot deny that it still has a place among photographers today. It remains a creative call, just like illustrators and visual artists still pick up real brushes, paints, and paper over a graphics tablet that does it all. Just like Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, and other renowned directors still use film stocks for their cinematic masterpieces. Just like many musicians making their latest and greatest hits available as playable and collectible vinyl records today. All of these embody both creative rebellion and creative choice, and I love it.