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The Social Politics of Shooting Film

Bronica ETRS

A lot of people pull me up to chat about film cameras. Most often it’s because I’m carrying a piece of gear they used decades ago (Nikon F2A Photomic) or the oddity of seeing an unusual camera (Zenza Bronica ETRS) on the street. But every so often I meet someone I’d describe as the Post-Film-Pro-Digital Apologist. I find myself being expected to apologise for shooting film.

This happened again on Sunday when Megan and I were at the Derwent Valley Autumn Festival. She was shooting the Holga 120n and I had my lovely old Nikon F2A Photomic around my neck.

The guy who started this conversation was in his mid-50s, grey wild hair; he was a little out there in a conformist type of way. Maybe that’s a confusing description. He looked well to the left of corporate, if that helps. Like… oh… a photographer.

So he starts with the line asking about whether it’s a Nikon F2 around my neck. He used to shoot film back in the day. And I’m thinking great. You used to shoot film and we’ve got some connection in this crowded festival area just for a few moments and that’s a kind of nostalgic niceness that I can appreciate.

Then the short conversation turns. He shoots digital. And I’m thinking “Yeah OK you shoot digital now, that’s cool.” I didn’t see his camera, but I take his word for it. And he follows with the justification. It’s faster. Easier. And he gives me a rave how he used to do all the processing and stuff in the old days… pushing Tri-X 400 to 1600 etcetera… and I realise that what he wants is either absolution or an apology.

No, seriously. I get the feeling occasionally that digital converts want me to apologise to them for shooting film. Which is crazy because they, of all photographers, know what the difference is between the two technologies. They’re different things… and I felt compelled to mention the Nikon D90 that I use for product photography and blog content. He seemed relieved. At that point he knew I wasn’t crazy, I guess. Or, at least, I’d made an effort to validate him as a real photographer.

I didn’t mention my concerns about digital archiving (re: file formats over time), the illusion of a digital photograph that isn’t printed, the way digital makes me not see and machine gun, or that film slows me down. I need a cost to the photograph. I like to feel that I’m making something solid and tangible rather than a conceptual photograph for my hard drive. I have a passion for the feel, process and aesthetic of making photographs with film.

But here’s the rub – why does it bother photographers that I choose to roll film into a camera and process the negatives in my bathroom? I don’t get it. And I don’t say sorry for shooting film. I love shooting film. I love rolling it, processing it… I even like (not love) scanning it (because I don’t have a dark room).

These (generally older) photographers seem drawn to the film cameras and then appear to have a compulsive rejection. I mean, why not just admire the engineering and beauty of a working piece of history? This guy obviously loved photography. He may have even missed the nostalgia of fixer on his hands. But he needed me to validate his choice (or mine).

Here’s a novel idea. Something way out of the park for a lot of photographers. How about we all just appreciate the pictures? Works for me.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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