I bought my first digital camera in 2000. It cost about £250 I think, and for that I got 1 whole megapixel. Being born in 1982 meant that for the first part of my life, photography had been on film, mainly with cheap, plastic bodied cameras. Although I did buy (and still own) a Olympus OM-10 film SLR that was infinitely more satisfying to use. In fact I only stopped using my ‘snappy’ film camera in about 2005, which really doesn’t seem that long ago, does it?
Digital photography is now so commonplace that is hard to comprehend a time when it wasn’t around. Now we always have our phone cameras at the ready to snap a photo and instantly see and share it. And that is a brilliant and wonderful thing. But let me take you back. As a kid, taking photographs meant buying a roll of film of either 24 or 36 images. You couldn’t see the photo you have just taken on a screen, so you just had to point, shoot and hope for the best. Once the roll was full, you took it to the chemist (why the chemist?) or Snappy Snaps and waited 3 days for the prints to come back ( unless you paid extra for the 24 hour service!). It was such an exciting moment getting to look through the photos; the joy of seeing images you had forgotten taking or weren’t sure if they would come out.
That’s not to say there wasn’t any downsides to using film. There was the utter frustration of opening the back of the camera only to find that the film never wound on in the first place. Or excitedly opening the envelope of prints only to find blurry images of a special day. Both of those examples come from personal experience, just in case you were wondering.
But there is something about film photography that is enthralling. I think because it cost money to both buy the film and then get it processed and images printed, more care was taken over each precious shot. Not wanting to waste film brought a more considered eye and a conscious thought process. And digital photography is as almost exclusively visual. But film brought together other senses; you had to physically pull the film out of it’s canister to load it into the camera, then after taking each shot by pressing down an actual button (!) there came the satisfying winding on the exposed frame, ready for the next shot. And in order to see the images that had been taken you had to get them printed, bringing a whole other set of sensory encounters; the tactile feel of the glossy prints, the weight of the paper and the lingering scent of the developing chemicals.
I went to art college just as digital cameras came onto the market, but film was still king. So I was taught both film and digital processes. My college had a full darkroom and I was taught how to develop both film and prints. I loved being in the darkroom so much so that I bought all the equipment that I still own, despite not having had the space to use for many years! I very rarely use my film cameras and darkroom equipment now. Mainly cost (film is expensive!), but also don’t have the space to set everything up to process and print. So it languishes away in boxes, yet I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of everything.
Yes, I’m being nostalgic; film cameras and the photos taken on them represent part of my childhood. There is the tactility and the slower pace of the processes are something most of us lack in busy modern life.
But my love of film photography is more than that. When I look at photos taken on film, there is a warmth that is missing in their digital counterparts. Modern, digital images are so crisp and sharp that they could almost be computer generated, not as real. So maybe my sentimentality is because film photos feel more like my memories; slightly fuzzy snapshots of brief moments that seem important.
Do you still go warm and fuzzy over old printed photographs? Do you still shoot film? I would love to know! Leave a comment below or come find me on Instagram !
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