We need to talk about film.
Recently I’ve been a little jaded with my digital cameras. We’re using cameras that far surpass the equipment used by the masters of photography, our equipment is the most technologically advanced in the history of photography. And yet, are our images now equivalently better than those shot by the masters on, for the most part, completely manual cameras? Obviously not. Why then is the advancement of technology not leading to an equivalent surge in better photos? And many many more better photos? The average person who owns a camera now, or even your average mobile phone, has a piece of equipment capable of capturing life in ways that the previous masters like Cartier-Bresson could not even have dreamed about.
Digital is no longer new. It is here and it is here to stay. There are so many aspects of digital photography that make photography easier and simpler. The images are potentially cleaner and your ability to shoot at astronomical levels of ISO have made wedding and event photography seem approachable and less daunting.
But so what? In my hand I’m holding a more sophisticated computer than what sent people to the Moon. But so what? In my hand I’m holding a computer that produces the most pixel peeped images possible, grainless, minimal digital noise, and with colour rendering that’s so real it almost looks fake. But so what?
Why is my easy to use camera that produces ultra sharp crystal clear images leaving me feeling like what’s the point?
So I’m asking myself, what is the point? Why did I fall in love with photography? And why am I falling out of love with it now? Why has the digital revolution not revolutionised image making?
Cartier-Bresson likened himself to a zen archer, who must become the target so as to be able to hit it (Sontag, 1977: 116). If Zen is a little too cliché, then how about a modern pop cultural take: to bend the spoon we must first realise that there is no spoon (The Matrix). Michael Kenna, a renowned minimalist landscape photographer, is also partial to the Zen imagery to explain his work. Kenna speaks of a conversation between himself and his subject, that every landscape image is actually an intimate portrait. Obviously he is not having a literal conversation with the landscape or his subject. It is, however, a process or a journey of discovery.
In these three examples I think I’ve found the origin of my malaise. I have miss associated what my end goal is. Cartier-Bresson becomes his subject, seeing no distinction between self and object; Neo realises the emptiness of the images presented by the world around him (to view something is to change something); and Kenna speaks about the transformative relationship between self and object.
The image is not an end goal.
The image is not the destination.
The image is a by-product or a consequence of something else.
And what I’ve begun to realise is that simply making a beautiful image is not enough for me.
Susan Sontag claimed that the purpose of photography is to produce ‘not just a record but an evaluation of the world’ (1977: 88). And I would take this one step further as well, that photography is not just a record of your life, but an evaluation of your self.
For me, digital photography restricts my ability to evaluate and critique my own view of the world and myself; I end up with a pretty picture but lack any deeper connection with the image as an object of my artistic endeavours.
In essence, digital photography is too quick for me. I cannot evaluate the world or my own relationship with the world if I shoot 800 photos in 6 days and then in one day go through the images in Lightroom and immediately cull 1/3rd of them. What does that say about me? That I’m not being decisive, that I’m hoping to capture something instead of creating something, and that I’m not truly trusting my own eye?
Of course, one could slow down with a digital camera – you don’t have to overshoot. You don’t even have to look at your LCD screen (which I don’t), but due to the ease of use it is too tempting for me to just take another photo just in case.
All this is why I have decided to shoot film. I want to make the image a by-product of my ability and my artistic decisions. Of course, just shooting film will not do this alone, there will have to be a lot of concerted effort on my part. And there are plenty of film cameras out there with autofocus and electrical features, but I’ve decided to go completely manual. I’ve bought a camera that doesn’t even have an inbuilt light meter. Not necessarily because I believe I will create better photos, but because I want to enjoy creating photos again – like I used to feel when I was just starting out, when everything was new and groundbreaking.
I have linked a few videos that I’ve found very inspiring, the Film Show Season 2 has been a very interesting watch!
Let me know what you think, this was a personal subjective decision and shouldn’t be viewed as an objective view, but I’d love to know if you’ve experienced anything similar or even if you completely disagree.