Digital photography is a dying fad. People are turning back to film at an alarming rate. So much so, in fact, that more than a dozen new film manufacturers have sprung up in the past couple of years. New film is being introduced into the market nearly every day. It’s a revival in full swing. Even Leica has announced the slow phasing out of their digital cameras over the next couple of years. For those of you still shooting digital the writing is on the wall.
Okay, so none of that is true. However, film is not dead, it just smells funny! I stole that title from a Flickr group. If you shoot film check them out. The point is that film is indeed not dead, quite the opposite. Film is not only alive and well but it is becoming recognized as a distinct process from digital. Hopefully, at some point in the near future, the age-old war of film versus digital will disappear forever. Because, the reality is that there is no war. Film and digital are not in competition with one another. They are different and distinct; apples and oranges. However, like Quebec sovereignty, this is not an easily grasped concept.
Over the past few years I have bought and used and sold over a dozen digital cameras. The only one that came close to satisfying me was the Ricoh GR Digital IV. Good camera. At least for me, as a street photographer, it performed and delivered. I have an entire body of work heading for publication, which came from this little gem of a camera. But, in the end, I was still not satisfied. After some soul searching I realized that it was the “digital” part that was not pleasing me. I wanted to use film. I longed for a mechanical camera – a machine – and not a computer. So it goes.
After a little searching I decided to bite the bullet and buy a Leica M6 with a 35mm Summarit, a rather affordable setup actually, in Leica terms anyhow. For the streets the 2.5 Summarit would be plenty fast and, as we all know, the M6 is the favored film version of the M series (aside from the M3, but I wanted a meter). From the very first subtle but distinct click of the shutter I knew I would be a Leica man for the rest of my life. And, I was back in business with film and a real machine of a camera! Megapixels and CCDs and LCDs and firmware left somewhere in the dust. It feels great.
So why shoot film? What’s the big deal? This question will have no sufficient answer for people who are content with digital images, or those of you who love the instant gratification of the LCD, or the countless hours in Photoshop. If you love that stuff you will not be convinced of the merits of film. Probably, you would never have liked film even when it was the “only” choice. On the other hand, if you don’t like all that techie stuff, or if you don’t like images with that clinical “digital” sharpness, than perhaps you are a better candidate for initiation into the world of analogue photography.
From the tactile experience of a physical negative to the process of optical printing, going analogue is simply worlds apart from the electronic experience of say an x100 or the frustrations of photoshop and ink jets. After all, is anything sexier than the look, feel, sound and smell of a Leica M6 with a fresh roll of HP5? With each smooth kinetic advance to the next frame a blank canvas awaits my imagination. A little patch of magic emulsion yearns to be exposed. With each subtle but decisive click of the shutter another moment of time is captured, physically captured, in visual form. There are no ones and zeros here baby, just pure optical capture.
When someone asks me why I shoot film I know that my answer will not be good enough. I know that I will not likely make any converts. However, I cannot resist talking about the mechanics, about chemistry or the smell of film and the sound of the shutter. I can’t hold back sharing my excitement about opening a fresh roll of HP5 or schlepping to a lab or the darkroom to see what I got this week. But if someone really presses me then I make a good sound argument for why I shoot film. It usually includes the following points:
I’m lazy and resistant to change.
Because the Bible says so.
Because 35mm film = 8797327628379843 megapixels.
Digital is just a fad.
Because I’m an artsy snob who also pretends not to watch television.
Because I got 35mm film with my new glasses instead of prescription lenses.
Because Republicans shoot digital.
Humor aside, film is the real raw and don’t forget it. Digital is good too, but different. If you like film, shoot film â€“ if you like digital, shoot digital. If you are really gifted, maybe you can handle using both without having a meltdown. I shoot film because that’s how I roll. It makes me happy in a way digital never will. So for all you film shooters out there, hold your head up high and enjoy the analogue revival. And, the next time someone points to your camera and asks if they still make film for that thing just say â€œnoâ€ and walk away.
“Squeegee Boy” (35mm HP5) (c) 2012 Michael Ernest Sweet
Michael Ernest SweetÂ is a Canadian award-winning educator, writer and photographer. His first published collection of street photography is forthcoming from Brooklyn Arts Press in the 2013. Michael divides his time between Montreal and New York City.Â MichaelSweetPhotography.com