I am sometimes asked why I still shoot film.
“Is it the quality of the image?”…”because the grain is unique?”...”is it because your a hipster?”
There are many reasons to shoot film. But among all plausible answers I tend to go back to the same reason over and over again:
“Because I love the silence it brings to my life”.
Our lives revolve around technology. We speak and interact through it, back and forth, in many different ways. In the process of this technological revolution that has been occuring over the last ten years cameras, along with smartphones, evolved to become instant image producers. Today, even the simplest camera is capable of shooting, editing and sharing photos with the world almost instantaneously, feeding the veracious demand of news providers and social media. And although I love having all these tech-tools at my fingertips, I also feel that there is very little room for silence in this process…silence in the form of absence of noise, time and communication.
There is a say among woodsman that states that firewood provides heat three times: I) when you cut it; II) when you carry it into your home or campsite; III) when you light a fire. I regard film in the same manner as I feel it opens three windows of opportunity for silence to coccur in my life.
I) When I shoot film. There is no “chimping” (looking at the viewfinder to see what you have), no overcomplicated menus to go through and there is no histogram telling me what is wrong. In other words, the camera is silent and I am more focused on whatever scene I am shooting.
II) When I develop film. In the darkroom I am alone and silent, working with my hands, preparing the chemicals, loading the film and developing it. Furthermore, there is a gap between the time of shooting and the time I develop or get the film back from the lab. I feel that this type of silence, here present in the form of time, is sometimes highly rewarding and rare in this world.
III) When I print from film. Again, I am alone and silent in the lab, working with my hands, making test strips, dodging and burning, printing my best work for archival, to hang on a wall or to offer to friends as a gift. There are no distractions, no text messages, no social media feed to look at and no calls to answer. If anything, I’m distracted by my own thoughts and ideas.
One can certainly argue that I could easily do all this with a digital camera by forgetting the LCD exists, shooting manual, leaving the pictures to marinate for a week or two in the SD card and edit the work in a computer with the WI-FI disabled. I could…but I am certainly not going to! And, why should I? If I am shooting with a digital camera I am going to take advantage of its gimmicks. If I am at the computer I am going to be multitasking and, occasionally loose track of what I’m doing because of an email or a phone call. It is just the way it goes.
With film photography there is no other way. You have to wait, you have to be there, you need to find time, you have to cope with its limitations and you have to enjoy the type of silence it provides.
Every time I think about the relevance of film in my life I always remember the last days I had with my grandfather. We were close…we were friends. Having my camera with me at all times allowed me to document his life, and over the course of his last week with us I shot a couple of rolls of 35mm film, much of it to cope with the pain of knowing that he was going away. Once he was gone I threw the film in a drawer, together with twenty other films that were already waiting to get developed.
During this period of my life I would develop film twice a month. I would randomly choose a couple of films and I would load two or three tanks with either 35mm or 120mm film. Somehow, the films that I had shot during my grandfathers last days never came into the tank and were left untouched for almost nine months.
On a beautiful summer morning I got out of bed and decided to develop a batch of film. I went into the darkroom and loaded two 35mm that I had randomly taken from my drawer. I loaded them into the spolls and proceeded to develop it as usual. As I got to the final wash I pulled a strip of the film and peeked to see what I had. It was my grandfather. Instantly, I started crying. My heart pounded in anticipation and the last minutes of washing the film felt like an eternity. Once it was done I pulled the film out the tank and looked at the negatives. For a brief moment I was back in that last week with him.
I re-lived this experience a couple of times more while making the contact sheets, selecting and printing some images in the darkroom. In all these moments I was alone in my room or in the lab. I was in silence. I was forced to react to the film, and to the emotions I had stashed in that drawer nine months before. Film allows for this to happen.
I honestly feel that in the process of keeping up with the demands of the digital world we are excluding silence from the formula of our daily affairs as photographers and as human beings; we are becoming incapable of copping with the absence of noise. And while there is no escape from the digital world, I have found that by keeping film alive in my workflow I’m forcing myself to secure these moments of silence while doing something that I love.
No matter which ISO settings I use in my digital camera I always find that medium to be to noisy :-)