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Film Photography: A Testimony
By Tony Gale
Normally I resent writing things like this. "This is why I love film photography!" Honestly, it's all a bit cultish. I've heard people say before that film photographers have a somewhat religious zeal and enthusiasm - much like Mac users, in fact (disclaimer: I am both) - and as an atheist I find it all a bit disturbing. But then, of course, I'm as guilty as the rest. I've stood on the soapbox and preached about the "feel" of film as much as anyone else who will be writing this sort of thing. And that "look", and the "experience", and all that other crap.
But I'm going to be brutally honest for once.
Because all that stuff isn't tangible. It's not measurable. And a lot of time, I doubt it's even real. Or it's wishful thinking, used to patch up holes in an argument. Mistakes, light leaks and developing problems aren't part of "the beauty of film" - they're errors, problems, and things to be avoided. To say otherwise doesn't ring true to me - not any more, anyway. It did at first, but I got tired of not getting the effect that I wanted, or of shots being ruined. I stopped drinking the kool-aid I was being fed, and I started being honest with myself, so this is me sharing that moment of self-clarity with others. Not because I want to change anyone's mind or piss people off, but because it feels liberating, because it feels good to finally say it. So here it is:
I shoot film because it's work.
I shoot film because it's hard.
I shoot film because there's no safety net.
And to celebrate the "beautiful mistakes" only denigrates and devalues that to me. I don't want to be shooting a rifle blindfolded and celebrating the one round in a hundred that actually hits the target. I want to be a crackshot, and get every single bullet in the bullseye.
That's a long way off. A HELL of a long way off. But I'm enjoying the journey to get there. It feels like I'm learning, like I'm being challenged. And every success feels like a victory, like an accomplishment. This is something I never experienced with any digital camera - or, for that matter, an auto-everything film camera.
And already I can hear two responses: those who shoot with toy cameras and like the randomness of it all, and those who say that digital takes work too. Both stances are valid. But those two camps are simply not for me. The first stance - that of the lomographer - is one I left behind a long time ago, and clearly, one I am now ideologically incompatible with.
But why not digital? It's a valid point, but one easily rebuffed: I simply don't like the workflow, equipment or process. I don't like extensive menus. I don't like a camera that is more buttons than camera. I don't like auto-anything. I don't like having to decipher what everything does. I don't like cameras that feel like they won't outlast me. And while the Leica M8 or M9 present a viable (albeit expensive) option for someone like me, it still doesn't remove the workflow. I hate sitting in front of a computer. I've grown up with them, I'm intricately familiar with them, and if I'm honest, I'm tired of them. I hate sitting here with a scanner. If I could, I'd wet print everything. I'd rather be playing with chemicals than wrestling with a computer, trying to figure out why it's done this thing wrong or made that thing look awful.
It's not that I want to remove all digital technology from my life, but it is truly wonderful (and somewhat refreshing) to be able to create things of beauty without it, and to feel like this thing has been created not in spite of me, but because of me. And in this day and age, this is rapidly becoming a rarer and rarer feeling, and I intend to cling onto it for as long as I can.