The argument began Friday night. We stood in line at the food table, the Connecticut River and industrial building covered in gold light from the setting sun. A new wave of diners walked over to the fenced in dining area from the galleries on the other side of Race Street.
Naturally, the stranger approached me, with a line of questions up about my position there. I arrived on the scene, unknown, spinach salad in one hand camera in the other. He eyed the Pentax slung around my shoulder and the Hasselblad cradled in my hand with suspicion. He wasn’t the only one and I don’t blame them really. Who are you, they said in silent nervous glances.
I placed the salad on the food table and managed to squeak out a reply to his interrogation about why I was shooting film there.
Sorry, can we talk later? I have to shoot while there is still light…
True, I should have introduced myself to the party right away. Five minutes in, folding tables and chairs were set up. Lasagna, garlic bread, spring rolls, asparagus spears, enchiladas, raita, rice and other mismatched dishes filled the buffet table as if it were an edible crazy-quilt.
I read about BYOR (Bring Your Own Restaurant) on Facebook. A friend of a friend posted, There’s this cool new thing called bring your own restaurant happening in Holyoke that I think you would love. Held outdoors in whatever park or patch of cement could hold fifty-some people, the idea was as much political as it was artistic and social since setting up pop-up restaurants in a city with a sullied reputation for being dangerous and run down wasn’t the norm.
I quickly shot the scene and tried to summon up any invisible powers I may have carried over from childhood, needless to say, I was noticed. One and a half rolls of film and a short two minute video later, I put my cameras away and headed over to the food table to blend in with the new arrivals.
The stranger approached just as I dropped a spoonful of carrot salad on my plate. Tension was zipped up like a pair of tight jeans in those few minutes of space.
Film, huh? What are you shooting?
Black & White.
Um, is that what you do? Are you with the press or something?
No, I’m just shooting for myself. I’m a photographer.
Is this what you do for a living?
This and a thousand other things…what do you do?
I used to shoot film and had a dark room, but I’ve gone digital.
Oh, I see…I use both.
Why, what’s the point?
I should have stopped there, but I didn’t. Digital is great, but so is film, which can never be replaced. The experience of shooting with film is so different. You are forced to slow down and be more deliberate about composing images. While digital has made significant technical strides, it’s almost too perfect. You can’t get the same unexpected surprises like double exposure or true film grain with a digital camera as you can with film.
So do you develop your own film?
No, I use a lab. Scan the film. Then make digital prints.
I don’t get it. Why would you do that?
Because I like film and I like shooting with it and I like working in a dry digital darkroom. It’s not the same as being in a darkroom developing film and prints, but it’s slightly less toxic and more cost effective in the end.
The stranger asked if I had a card. I handed one over before I placing a spring roll on my plate. I sat down to eat with two women at a table close to his. Our conversation circled around art and other happenings and was altogether lovely, but I couldn’t get the stranger’s parting words out of my head.
After a week spent thinking over our brief interaction, my answer to the stranger’s question remains the same. I shoot film because it etches the past into the present.
Isn’t that reason enough?