It's been one year since I started shooting 35mm & 120mm film again. My digital cameras have mostly been collecting dust and here’s what I’ve noticed within the past year:
PRESENCE: I have been living in the present moment a lot more due to not being able to see what I’ve photographed until I develop the roll of film. I become aware of something, photograph it with intention, and go on to experience the rest of my time fully. There is no back of the camera to review photos, no photos to instantly send to my phone where I then edit and upload somewhere. There is no longer the convenience and instant gratification of all of those things, all of which takes up time, time away from experiencing the present moment.
PATIENCE: Shooting film, developing film, and making prints in the darkroom requires an insane amount of precision and time. Attention to detail is a must and at the end of it all there is a reward as long as patience is practiced. It’s super easy to fuck it all up and there goes your roll of film. When I first got back into developing my own film I almost ruined one roll due to rushing the film onto the reel in total darkness because I actually found myself uncomfortable in total darkness and was trying to rush things to get out of there.
TRUSTING MYSELF/INSTINCTS: I’ve re-learned to trust myself and the decisions I make in my work. I can’t look at the back of my camera to know if something is working or not, I have to be able to sense that and go with my gut. When using the zone system to shoot, I trust where to expose my shadows, where to place it on the chart and how long I decide to develop my highlights.
TECHNICAL SKILL: Since film is expensive I either slow down and take one well thought out shot, or I am forced to think quickly and be ready in advance. Most of the time I get what I set out to do. Often times, I’m pleasantly surprised with an outcome I didn’t expect, like trying out a different light reading. Shooting film makes you a stronger thinker and planner. There is always a plan a, b, and c. I fail too, and that is just as important. Failure is the best teacher, it’s good. Digital is so incredibly easy compared to shooting film, there is always a histogram or blinking lights to tell you if you are blowing out your highlights. There are so many products sold to help you edit your photos the way you want. Digital is sort of like a helicopter parent, wrapping you in bubble wrap so that you don’t fail too hard. You can hack it and hide your lack of skill in digital photography. It is much more challenging overall and requires more technical skill to shoot film. There is no hiding how your photos suck with film. Again…failure is GOOD.
TACTILE: Loading film in the camera, taking it out, popping the top of the canister off with a can opener, fumbling and loading it onto the reel in total darkness is a tactile experience. Prepping the chemicals, finding the right water temperature, the agitation motion of the developing tank, pulling the film out, hanging it up to dry, cutting the negs, archiving them…it’s all a labor of love.
AESTHETIC: Nothing beats the look of film and I am reminded why I fell in love with photography every time I see a print. I do not get that same feeling with digital photography and the editing trends that come with it. Not to say I don’t appreciate digital work too, I do, but film work gives me butterflies. Spending a year with Kodak 400 TMAX and Kodak Portra 400 has led me back on a journey of finding an authentic aesthetic in my own work. I’m not the best by any means, and I’m always, always learning. Film is humbling and keeps you hungry.
ELEMENT OF SURPRISE: The best reward so far is the surprise. The second I pull the film out of the tank, I get insanely excited. I see frames that I completely forgot about. I see frames that I have been dying to see since I made the photo. This past year I’ve repeatedly been genuinely surprised and have felt so much joy from something so small. Like little kid joy.
Some favorite black and white frames of the past couple of months...