I have to confess that I have
not exposed a lot of film recently. The same goes for many photographers
I know, who admit to the same thing with a similar trace of guilt that
I feel about it. Many folks have been swept up into the digital realm
and been hooked by the instant review, easy download, and of course the
excitement of being able to manipulate their images with such ease in
the so-called "digital darkroom." But on a recent rainy afternoon
I spent some time with some old friends--my slide film and negative
files. I flicked on the light box and took out some slide sheets and relived
some great memories through images I had made in the past. It was an odd
and interesting experience--not seeing images on a screen--and
it reminded me of why I had always loved film and made me rethink my almost
total digital conversion. There the images were--real and not virtual--and
along with them came the colors and tones that became almost visually
tactile as I passed sheet after sheet over the frosted glass of the light
It's odd that looking at those images made me almost nostalgic for
film, and the experience prompted me to bring out the old Pentax 67 and
load a roll of 120 Velvia. I went out on the next available day and exposed
a roll--nothing special mind you, just some pictures of blooming
spring that was just then appearing. I had to check myself sometimes from
looking at the back of the camera after the picture was exposed--force
of habit with digital these days. And the wait for film processing was
also an odd feeling, rather than being able to just go indoors and download
the images to see what I got. But when I got back the box with the uncut
transparency film there was a certain apprehension--how was my exposure,
did I get steady shots, had I lost my touch with film exposure? But as
I looked at my pictures frame by frame there was a growing sense that
the charm of film had not escaped me. I used a loupe rather than the zoom
tool to check out sharpness and depth of field, and drank in the vibrant
colors and sharp edges of details within the frames.
This may sound foolish to those of you who still shoot mainly, or entirely
with film, but once you've turned the digital corner you can't
help but feel that film is somehow quaint. Indeed, the industry itself
has termed film as being "conventional," or "traditional"
or even "analog," a phrase that for me seems to evoke 33rpm
platters spinning on a record player. But the beauty and strength of film
cannot be denied, and if you go back and forth between the two mediums
you begin to see that digital is a bit of a "thin" medium
while film seems to be more robust, more visually tactile, and in many
ways a richer photographic experience, at least when you look at a roll
of 120 transparencies next to those digital images on the screen.
But happily there is a way to "marry" the two so you can get
the benefit of both worlds. If you love film and just can't give
it up you should not deny yourself the benefits of the digital darkroom.
I have seen some amazing transformations from scanned film to print via
the computer. In my mind the enlarger/projected light path form of printing
is going by the boards. There's little doubt that scanning and digital
printing offers so much more latitude and creative freedom, especially
to those who can't afford the space or find the time to set up and
break down a conventional darkroom. It also encourages us to complete
the creative cycle begun when we first snapped the shutter. To me, every
image is a sketch that is finalized by the photographer doing the printing.
It's the last touch on the visual canvas. True, I still have a black
and white darkroom set up in my home, but for color and most of the black
and white work I do now it's going to be a digital path to the print.
So, I've gone back to working with film, at least part of the time.
Call me old-fashioned, call me nostalgic, call me a photo conservative,
but it's hard to give up a medium that has so much strength, beauty,
and potential for creative expression.