Fiction & Film

(or “why I prefer to shoot on film versus digitally”)

Film is the first photographic medium I first encountered. It is what scattered my mother’s desk, covered fridge walls, and filled the albums packed onto over burdened bookshelves. My mother always had a camera plastered to her face for every outing and occasion. Her father was an orthopedic surgeon and photography hobbist. Years after he pasted away, I encountered what was to be my first camera cleaning out their house. A beautiful Leica R4 with some minor light leaks that I sacrilegiously remedied with duct tape. I was completing my second year as a chemistry major on the pre-med track. I was a chemistry lab technician to make extra money. I eventually fell in love with the art form, pursuing the beauty of science through a more visual craft, becoming the new technician for the darkroom.

I love film. People think of photography as instantaneous, as a document, something stern and objective. We hold our snap-n-shoots up, hit the shutter release, and peer intensely at the LCD screen. We compare it with the scene that lies in front of us, re-shooting if necessary to capture what we feel resonates most with the experience in the exact same moment we are actually experiencing it. In real time, we are trying to capture this image, transcribe this experience as it is being created. A digital document based off of a pixel-based transparency of composition. It’s a bi-directional feed of media production and ingestion, feedback and adjustment, repeat.

I broke my Pentax I-10 snap-n-shoot I bought on my travels in Tokyo. First I dropped my Hasselblad on it and scattered the LCD screen. Then I dropped it in a jacuzzi in Palm Springs. Amazingly it still works, but I have no idea what the composition of my photos are and no way of switching my camera settings except for my flash on/off. Whenever I take a picture with it, people ask how it looks. I show them the broken back which has stickers of me and my girlfriend on it and they look at my quizzically. Broken, don’t know, is my usual response. It reminds me of shooting with a film camera.

There is a certain magic to it. Maybe after weeks or months of actually taking the images, I will upload them to my computer and finally look at them, having no idea what to expect or what I shot. It’s fun to string together this visual narrative together with the poetic remnants of memory. It’s much like reading a book and there is an excitement to seeing what’s next. It also has the potential to jog the memory of unexpected things one might have forgotten about that day. Even though we are the author of memory and these images, the narrative takes unexpected turns. The story of memory is reshaped by something beyond our control. It is both God-like and fictitious simultaneously. It is a fable and fairytale made of patchwork truths. The conception of these images lacks the cyclical process of experience, consumption, response and adjustment. It is almost free of the typical judgement that accompanies the instant snapshot review on the LCD moments. This is followed by expressions of like or dislike potential then followed by a “do over”. We tailor the transcription in the moment with instant judgement feedback. This is missing in my relationship to shooting with film, or with my broken snap-n-shoot.

In the process of shooting, to film development, to darkroom or scanner, to final print, so much can go wrong. Try traveling around the world for one year in some of the world’s most humid climates, add countless x-ray machines and summer heat in both hemispheres, add being out of the darkroom for 7 years to realize you have over 20 rolls of fogged color film. There are changes I will make next time, but there are things that you cannot control either. It’s part of the process and part of the product. I like this, this collaboration with chance and science called artistry. It is the beauty of fiction.

( NEWS: I will be uploading weekly images and galleries from my travels, so remember to come back soon!)

(UPDATE: I failed to even touch upon the aesthetic aspects of film vs. digital, which is another book unto itself. To read more about this “dying” art, check this out. I see the difference between film and digital much like BJJ vs no gi/MMA. I prefer the “gentle art”. Sure, no gi/MMA is definitely more popular, fast slick, don’t have to worry about those persky grips slowing you down, but so much of the nuance and beauty is lost. Often people are learning these low percentage flashy moves, but their basic positions are very poor. No one knows how to shoot in manual anymore. Brazilian Jiu Jitstu became part the foundation to which modern MMA owes it’s success and we cannot forget that. Call me old fashioned, but you can always bet to find a roll of film and a gi in my bag.)

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