Lyn James LRPS was our speaker, on the general theme of people and places. Lyn is a dyed in the wool lover of film. Not that he dismisses digital, but he loves the look and the workflow that goes with using acetate and gelatine based chemical medium to produce, eventually, a physical image, something that you can hold, in a process that we would call analogue in these digital times.
Analogue as a word goes back about two centuries to describe certain physical chemical processes, but the general use of the word expanded in the 1980’s with the invention of the digital (i.e. with numbers only) watch and was used to differentiate these from the traditional watch faces with hands. Basically it was a marketing term. Moving from there and with the expansion of computer science as a discipline, gradually out of a description of physical properties and into the binary world of the computer and everything associated with it into the general vocabulary has taken a little over two decades.
Film is of the analogue variety of image production. Whereas the production of cameras and camera sensors is a microscopic industrial miracle of the digital age as the production of film was in its hay day (part 2 here), the end user experience is very different. The sensor is not consumed in the production of a digital image, even though it sits in what we still call the film plane. The two processes are, very obviously, very different. The film until about ten years ago was the main stream medium. As such it was produced on a vast industrial scale using vast machinery.
After around 2007, when digital started to outsell film cameras, what was left was an industrial over capacity requiring specialist machinery built to individual specifications, was simply not sustainable on a commercial basis. Professionals, by far the biggest users, moved to digital. Some for reasons of novelty, some for more practical reasons. Sentiment doesn’t play much of a part when money is at stake and the digital medium was easily and rapidly distributable, suiting the photo agencies and news outlets better. Film availability went into decline as stocks and production lines were run down. But it never went away.
There is more of a craft element to film. Or more faff, depending upon your point of view. For this I am not talking about the actual manufacture of film I am talking of the perspective of the end user. It is far more hands on, is made up of more and elemental. There isn’t just one process to film photography just as there isn’t one sort of commercial film process, Kodachrome (K14 process) is different to E6 (process) slide films. By craft I mean the physical production of an image, starting with the limits of the medium. The need for dark room equipment and space, developing chemicals and washes, enlargers, photo sensitive papers stacks the costs up. You can’t do film cheaply, and not all films are capable of being home processed (Kodachrome for instance was not).
But ….. and there is a but for anyone who has done any amount of film photography, there is a magic, and that is the right word, involved when you see the image developing on the paper. You are more involved. Dodging and burning are about the only tools you have to hand readily and retouching is an art all in itself. Even so, every hand produced print is different.
Film also has its own look and it is a popular one. Lyn’s favourite slide (positive) stock was Kodachrome. There are different qualities to each brand of film and there is an irony in that so much of applications like Instagram seems dedicated to a filmic look. Although out of production these last seven years, there is a possibility of Kodachrome being brought back, though no time scale has been announced, nor anything beyond a feasibility study announced. However, it is part of a movement. One which, at the right scale will be able to sustain a profitable niche market.
There is a question of posterity in the dominance of the digital medium. Simply put viewing digital images is entirely technology dependent. In a pure volume sense more photographs are taken, fewer are printed. Once committed to print the image is no longer dependent on technology to be viewed. In itself this might not look to be a serious problem, but within the format of the image lies the seeds of its own destruction. Unless backward compatibility is built into future platforms the range of today’s formats will become unreadable. Redundancy is a problem for computers too. Formats but no pictures. Even then there is the possibility of corrupt files.
There are claims for the superiority of sharpness, resolution, dynamic range made for film, but frankly if they were that critical at least one of Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony, Olympus or Pentax would make a film camera. They don’t. The market at large is for digital images as mentioned above. Mixed lighting looks horrible, mind. Low light is very difficult to handle with a fixed 25, 50, 64 or 100 ISO slide film. Even Ilford XP-1, the most flexible of film stocks doesn’t help a great deal. Look is the main reason I would venture, look and working with 24 or 36 comparatively expensive shots and you are done. Basically work flow.
Having the limitation of a low, fixed number, of goes at getting something right, something worthwhile, concentrates the mind. At a cost. Per frame the cost is higher. It pays to be more deliberate, more critical than with the very low marginal costs of an additional digital frame. Not necessarily a bad thing. The initial cost for the camera body is lower being second hand. The lenses can come cheaper but if they also fit your digital system (assuming you have one) then there is a saving there to be had. The camera bodies also tend to be smaller and lighter and, of course, simpler.
Film is certainly a choice (Glitches at 48:35 for about 2 minutes but this is a good intro to where film is and why), and it looks to be expanding. It’s worth giving it a go if you haven’t and if you havent got a film body and don’t have a beer can or 32,000 straws hanging around (OK they expose straight on to photosensitive paper) how about shelling out £14.99 to build your own?
N E X T M E E T I N G
Creative Round of the ROC.