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Monday, November 18, 2013


I've gone on and on about how the indefinable "look" of film (and everything else) is silly. I've gone on and on about how the use of film can be a useful psychological trick, to change the way you approach taking a picture, and thereby change the result.

Since then, or at least some of that writing, I've been thinking a lot about the democratization of photography, digital photography, and how it's changed the way we relate to photographs. In the 1970s, Sontag had us treating photos as permanent slices of reality, frozen in amber. She was right. The modern digital era has changed that, now photographs are inherently impermanent. The sheer mass of pictures, and the most-recent-first organizational schemes make pictures effectively vanish into the vault of time.

So here's where using film, shooting film, can really change things up.

When you make an exposure on a piece of film, you are starting a process which results in an actual physical object, a negative or a transparency. This is in contrast to simply organizing some 1s and 0s into some information that represents a picture. I think most people get this, at some level or another, if they understand a little bit about film and how it is used. You don't need to be a chemist, you just need to have talked to that uncle about those weird strips of brownish translucent plastic that are in the shoebox with the pictures.

When I shoot film, it's to make a print. The exposure either becomes a print, or does not. Not only am I manufacturing a Thing, I do so with intent to manufacture another Thing. There is no ephemeral, temporary, endpoint. The negative is made, and will reside permanently in a folder. The successes will become prints, another physical manifestation of the picture. Sontag's commentary applies. This object is a permanent, non-ephemeral, moment in time. I relate to it as such, and will probably stick it on my wall at some point.

Not everyone shoots film for the sole purpose of making prints, the widespread use of film scanners makes this physical/digital divide a lot blurrier. Nonetheless, there is still the permanent object of the negative or transparency. Also, I think that people who scan film and then treat it like a digital photograph from that point forward are doing it wrong. They're missing the point. They're probably having a lot of fun, which is a good thing, though.

I find myself sometimes in a middle ground, shooting digital but with intent to print.

Anyways. There's more to it than just the limitations of the roll or sheet of film. There's more to it than simply slowing down. There's the inherent physicality of what you are doing, and that changes the way you think about what you're doing.

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