Zen and the Art of Film.

Recently I have started using film again. Not for work you understand; most editors and agencies would have apoplexy if faced with a colour slide or roll of Tri X, but for pleasure.

And, I have to say, I am enjoying this renaissance, this return to a method of working which on the face of it, seems inconvenient and slow. So where is the pleasure in using this medium, which we are told is rapidly becoming obsolete?

Firstly for me is the equipment itself; my Digital SLR is a versatile sophisticated professional tool. It is also a complex electronic appliance, with mazes of menus and settings and a myriad of buttons to control it’s every action. My film camera however is a simple mechanical device with no more controls than are necessary to create an image. It is often said that the camera doesn’t matter in the picture taking process, but I feel a stronger affinity with my simple film camera, a more direct control of the picture taking process; it isn’t doing anything that I am not aware of, and this inevitably affects the pictures that I take, and importantly, the pleasure that I derive whilst taking them.

Of course one of the more profound differences between film and digital is that of time. With film there is no immediate ‘chimping’ of the image, no instant gratification, no editing on the fly. Without the constant draw and temptation of the image review, I am free to concentrate on taking pictures. But what about checking exposure? For many years photographers, myself included, took properly exposed pictures with no more than an exposure meter (and sometimes not even that) and a well practiced brain; it’s simply a matter of learning the craft.

This delay between the taking of pictures and their review could have another positive side effect. Sometimes after working on a picture I find that when re-visiting the image after several days my opinion of it has changed; this time lapse from the taking of the image to its editing, means that I can view the image far more objectively. Any attachment caused by the recent knowledge of how difficult an image was to take, is eroded, and I can view the picture more ‘purely’ or dispassionately, and this has to be a good thing for the editing process. This is, after all, what professional picture editors do on a daily basis; they review images objectively with no knowledge, and therefore prejudice, based upon how the picture was created, and form judgements purely on the image as presented.

There is one final appeal, which may not apply to everyone, but it certainly appeals to my esoteric nature, and it’s this: not many people use film anymore. At a recent event it seemed that everyone had a camera; with the proliferation of affordable digital SLR’s they are everywhere, but amongst this throng of wannabe paparazzi I was, it appears, the only one using film. This gave me a sense of satisfaction, a sense of distancing from the masses. Snobbery? Possibly. But let’s be honest, we all want to feel a little bit special, a little different from the common man, is there any harm in that?

Whilst digital may be the necessary journey, the high speed train rushing us from shutter press to finished image, film is the Zen Way, where the journey is just as important as the destination. Think of it this way; even if the destination is disappointing, at least if you have enjoyed the journey, your time will not have been wasted.

  1. Hi Mick thanks for the the wise words. I keep telling myself that digital is fine when I put the film grain in that I want with software, but I still keep thinking I want a Canon EOS 1v film body! Andy

  2. Well, now is the time to snap up those ‘obolete’ film bodies, the prices have tumbled, unless of course it carries a Leica logo, but that is a whole different essay!

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: