Despite all things digital, 35mm film seems alive and well in 2012 but the question remains: Why?
Although the film versus digital debate has quieted somewhat over the past few years, the elephant is still in the room – will analog photography survive? Perhaps a more pertinent question is, why would anyone care in this age of all things digital?
What is it about those little metal canisters of silver emulsion that prevent us from just letting go? To get a grip on analog photography and its enduring allure, I sat down (albeit virtually) withÂ photographer Mat Marrash of Findlay, Ohio. Although Mat has grown up alongside digital photography, he is under thirty, he works exclusively with film.
Michael Sweet: Why use film?
Mat Marrash: Using film offers you the chance to slow down, carefully compose each image, and anticipate results. It builds a level of confidence in your shooting ability that I personally never had with an LCD screen showing me if I got/didn’t get “the shot”. Additionally, (negative) film offers wider dynamic range per image and quite a bit of exposure latitude. Finally, if you’re shooting medium and large format film on a regular basis, film systems will continue to be cheaper than their digital brethren for the foreseeable future.
MS: You didnâ€™t exactly mature as a photographer during the â€˜analog eraâ€™, so what drew you to analog photography?
MM: In still learning the ins and outs of my digital system, everything was starting to feel bland, and devoid of personal style. Add to this the thousands and thousands of junk images piling up in my hard drive, there had to be a better way. Medium format film was just the slow-down I needed, and I haven’t looked back to digital since.
MS: Is there anything about film that you donâ€™t like, anything that frustrates you?
MM: Though I love everything about the analog workflow, from shooting, to processing, and printing in the darkroom, I’ll always hate dust! It’s always seems to wait until there’s an image you really care about scanning/printing for it to start showing up.
MS: What about black and white? We often hear that if you want good black and white you have to shoot film. Is there any truth to this?
MM: The smooth, long tonal scale and high dynamic range of a well exposed piece of B&W film will always have a feel to it that digital can’t come close to.
MS: Do you see a future for film, especially 35mm?
MM: I think film will always have roots in 35mm. As a teaching tool, 35mm is much more efficient, giving students more opportunities per roll to experiment; film also keeps their minds focused on the subject, not the back of the camera. Add to this the Lomography community, focusing almost entirely on 35mm with unique, lo-fi still and motion picture cameras, 35mm will probably be the film format that holds out the longest.
MS: A few years ago this debate was making a lot of noise, now it seems to be more quiet. Does this mean that film is in fact really dead, or do people just not care anymore?
MM: Film is still very much alive and kicking. I think “the debate” for consumer usage is clearly over, as digital owns the market on everyday image capture. But for the creatives, the hobbyists, and the professionals looking for high quality imagery, many are starting to look at or go back to film. For some it’s the plethora of older cameras that can be experimented with. I personally enjoy everything about the wet darkroom. Being in control of the image from exposure to print, without a computer, is an experience that makes my work feel substantial, and far outside the millions of “digital noise” being uploaded to the web daily.
MS: For most of the last decade film-based photography buffs claimed that 35mm movie production would be the savior of 35mm still photography. Only a few short months ago things changed when the last newly minted 35mm movie camera rolled off the production line. What do you think of all this?
MM: It’s truly sad to see that no more 35mm motion picture cameras will be made. From the contacts I have in the movie industry, few were phased by this announcement last year as those that use 35mm setups have been using the original system they’ve purchased, with only minor repairs needed. I recall them describing their Arriflex cameras as “Tanks capable of lasting another 50 years easy!”.
MS: Similarly, newly produced 35mm cameras have all but disappeared from the market also. Granted there is still some plastic stuff put out by the Lomographic Society, but serious film manufacturers have stopped production on nearly all film cameras. Most even expect Leica to abandon their film camera production soon. Do you think this means that film photography will die a slow death as the existing gear slowly enters disrepair?
MM: While it’s true that few new cameras are entering the market, the existing second hand market of 35mm film cameras is nearly the same size as the market for new and used digital gear. So long as there are those finding/buying old cameras and professionals servicing and/or modifying these cameras, film photography will still exist. Film’s biggest “killer” right now is the decrease in demand for film.
As Mathew reasserts, film allows us to slow down and focus on image composition, on the â€˜craftâ€™ of photography. 35mm is an excellent teaching and learning tool. Weâ€™ve all heard many photographers say the best way to learn digital is by shooting film. Perhaps there is some truth in this saying after all. But will all this be enough to save the industry? Mat Marrash thinks the answer is an unqualified yes. I hope heâ€™s right; Iâ€™m spooling a roll of Tri-X into my Rollei 35 right now!
Matthew Marrash is an analog photographer from Findlay, Ohio. His work may be viewed on his blog at MatMarrash.com.
Michael Ernest Sweet is an award-winning-educator, writer, activist, and photographer. He is based out of Montreal and NYC and his work may be seen at MichaelSweetPhotography.com.