Whenever I go into Central Camera on Wabash--a dusty establishment that supplies the dwindling number of film photographers with some essential, although marked-up equipment--some of the mustached men dodgily glance up before returning to their meticulous, yet boring work. This contrasts a good portion of their counterparts who glare with curious disdain, wondering why an unshaven, hooded youth has stumbled into their resting place. Well, old people, my name is Sam and I mean no harm.
I've noted a rise in stereotypes in the photography community in recent years, but I often wonder what good that does for anyone. Of course film aficionados can go to sleep feeling like martyrs clinging to dreams of manual everything. But this new wave of ‘internet photographers’ propose interesting perspectives on consistency and social connectivity that everyone who enjoys sharing pictures can take note of.
I don’t know when I really ‘took up’ photography, considering taking selfies on my mom’s 4.5mp digital camera seems to be a pretty ever-present thing in my life, but I will say I first explored the depths of the field artistically in high school through a couple film photography courses. I think this route differs from that of most young cats who are shooting today because I was confronted with the ‘essentials’ of manual shooting (aperture, shutter/film speed, etc) from jump.
We developed our own negatives, made prints, wound film--the whole shebang. At the same time, we experimented with how you actually compose an image. This led to an appreciation for taking your time with each and every photo. If you didn't, you would waste your time and resources. Beyond that, each facet seemed to present an opportunity to express your creativity. Whether it was burning/dodging in unique ways, or going the extra mile to tune your print to the perfect tone.
With that being said, I don’t think that all of this “extra” stuff is necessary in order to partake in the art. At its essence, photography is about a person sharing their perspective with the world. For someone with creativity but a lack of dexterous digits, taking photos can act as a physical manifestation of my mind. Some may argue that the method that provides the least “obstacles” also may maintain the purest form of creativity.
The perks of shooting all digital are apparent--from its instantaneous nature, to how it arguably offers more control, we’ve seen what happens when you let some tech-savvy kids run wild in the streets. To a generation who never dealt with film, what would it take to convince them to wait multiple days/weeks to see if they got the right shot?
A fellow shooter and friend I look up to very much in the field told me that he didn’t fully claim to be a photographer until he was confident he could get a good picture with any camera he was given. That changed my perspective, not only with how I perceive skill in this medium, but also how I plan to develop the craft in the years to come.
Sure I could shoot with my rangefinder until the end of time, but what would that say about my adaptability or variety in shooting styles? I frequently carry two or three cameras on me when I go out, seeing that each option offers a different means to capture the world--certain situations may call for a specific style.
Since I started shooting with film, I think I’ll always be inclined to appreciate its process. I don’t see it slowing down my creativity, but rather something that slows me down to focus on properly capturing my perspective on the world. I’ll still shoot digital for work or if I go to a concert, but once I recognized I get more excited having a film camera in my hand, I haven’t really gone back.
I think an artist is at their best when few perceived hindrances lie between them and the manifestations of their creativity. I know that to some, film lurks in the corner as an unnecessary evil—but to others its provides new areas of exploration and perspective.
As with many other mediums, the battle between analog v. digital will continue to go on. And although certain people may create generalizations based on which one you prefer, the bottom line will always be who is more innovative when they look through the viewfinder.