The Sad Truth about Practicing Film Photography

Film photography has always intrigued me, but I entered photography from the opposite direction. I just learned about the logic behind exposure, and digital was the easiest way to go. Obviously I started shooting in digital, and I still do it, constantly. After stumbling upon a film camera that I found, because of a small experiment triggered by watching a movie, I learned to shoot film, too – and the exposure logic was still the same. I didn’t know how to develop, so I had to send my rolls of film to a lab. I also had to send it in pairs, because two rolls of film was the minimum quantity that lab would develop.

This year, this laboratory stopped providing this service, leaving a considerable number of amateur and vernacular photographers empty-handed in terms of film development services. If a good friend hadn’t taught me how to develop, I would be empty-handed too. I don’t blame the lab, I understand that they need revenues, and investing in such a small number of customers is not profitable.

I’ve learned to develop and print, but I have gone from buying the film and chemicals, to only developing the film. I don't do any printing, but I hope to get a darkroom revived for the use of a small community of film photographers in my country.

Almost all the members of this tiny community are young photographers, which leads to my first point about the truth of shooting film photography.

Let me tell you a little story about a hateful and discouraging video. I'm not going to post the source of this video, because I just don't want to give such discouraging content more exposure. Recently I watched a video in which a man was mocking young photographers who are interested in film photography. He was mocking them because apparently he thinks they are pursuing film photography out of a nostalgia for a time they didn't live through – which is not paradoxical, but ridiculous, as he states.

This made me think a lot, and I realized that I wasn't nostalgic. In fact, I don’t even consider myself an artist. Recently I took a great course online that pushed me into writing an "artist statement", as the wonderful artists of the Helsinki School do. But I excused myself from the lecturer and wrote a simple statement around my Social Photography.

This bitter encounter with the aforementioned video made me write another statement, so I now have two statements that give my passion a certain direction. This new statement centers on film photography, and preaches the following:

I allow myself to practice a less-meaningful form of photography in terms of societal studies, because it is not targeted to the public. The process of this different way of practicing photography is slower, and I found it to be a therapeutic procedure. Since it is not limited to meaningful social documentation as my work shown online, its scope is broader, and therefore I allow myself to experiment further into fields I haven’t mastered, even though it doesn't prevent me from pursuing my passion for photographing people candidly.

Currently my scope, in terms of analog imagery, goes from preparing the chemicals, to drying and storing the negatives after developing them. The images that result here are "more mine" than if I’d taken them in a digital format, because I believe that an error while developing could erase the exposures. There is a high risk of not capturing the expected, but it doesn't matter, since it is all part of the same therapeutic exercise. The audience for such images is smaller than it is for digital formats, but it still works well with the social photography I love the most.

In simple words, I’m not being a snob or a bourgeois, and I’m having more than mere fun. I’m having the time of my life with photography, both digital and analog.

A different form of photography

For me, shooting film is just another way of capturing images. We have all read about the benefits of shooting film, which encourages us to shoot fewer, but better-quality images.

I’ve been shooting 120 format rolls of film for a while now using my beloved self-made birthday present camera, which allows to make 6x6 square exposures. The 120 film format is limited to 12 exposures, and I recently got a tank camera that my grandfather bequeathed to me. I felt that shooting 36 frames was hell of a lot after shooting just 12 frames.

After shooting my last 35mm exposure, I felt that I had spent ages with that roll of film (and it only lasted about a week inside the camera). I developed it recently, and I even felt that the format was amusingly small – and this format is the equivalent of a full-frame camera. The images that came out of the film were gorgeous, and I’m happy with them, even though they might not be deep in terms of storytelling.

The Sad Reality

Now the bitter part of this practice: it is getting harder and harder for me to find films and chemicals. I’m even developing with expired chemicals, doing the math around expiration times to develop my films in the best way possible. I’m about to learn how to develop with paper developer instead of film developer because the stores that sold it here no longer sell this line of products. Buying online is too expensive for me, so I have to do my best to use my remaining chemicals in the most efficient way I can.

Film is not dead, but sadly, thanks to people like the one mentioned in the unshared video, its life could be in danger. Please allow film photography to breathe and live! Practice it, get to know it. It will teach you invaluable experiences about photography – experiences which, if you love taking pictures like me, you will appreciate your entire life. 

Originally Published at Light Stalking