Why Film Matters

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.

BYOR 1

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.

BYOR 2

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…

BYOR 3

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.

BYOR 4

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.

BYOR 5

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.

BYOR 6

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?

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Comments

  1. This is so interesting! I no longer have a film camera, but most of my favorite photographers shoot with both and there is such a unique quality to those photos. The light in your photos above is just dreamy. It is interesting that this person chose to approach you in a confrontational way instead of asking questions for the purpose of enlightenment. Of course there must be a reason you choose to shoot that way, why wouldn’t he want to sit back and learn those reasons? Thank you for sharing this.

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Thanks for your comment, Nicole! I sold one of my favorite medium format cameras after graduate school and regretted it for some time and do think film records light in a way that digital still cannot. In hindsight, I think the stranger was expressing more interest in his line of questions than confrontation. I found the conversation riveting anyway and have continued to think about why I still shoot film.

  2. I do both digital and film. A few years back I decided dust off my film cams and start again. more B&W film than color.
    like the BYOR idea.

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Conrad, Glad to know there are others who shoot both film and digital! BYOR is a great time and it can be down anywhere…

  3. I love film, my problem is the quality and costs associated with processing, printing and scanning but I understand why it costs so much these days :( I shot B&W for 2 years because I had access last year to my college’s lab and it was glorious.
    I’m glad BlogHer posted you on their FB<3

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Xenia, I’m so glad you found me on BlogHer’s FB and stopped by! Film can be expensive. I drop mine off at the lab to be processed and then scan it myself, which takes time. It’s a labor of love for me and I too miss having a large college/university darkroom to work in. I still have my enlarger and get tempted now and again to set one up in the house. We’ll see.

      • I just found you via foodloveswriting and noticed your answer to the comment avobe. I just recently started shooting with film (after a few films as a child) and got the film developed and prints made a a lab. The cost of developing seems to be right for me, but getting them turned into positive prints is so expensive. Did you detail somewhere how you scan the negatives? I’d love to know.

  4. Thx for connecting with me on foodbuzz. I just subscribed to your blog feed and can’t wait to see what your next post will be!

  5. There are still aggressive debates going on between film and digital fans but I like it when people like you and some of your commenters here do both. My husband still loves shooting film and has a vintage camera collection yet he does use his digital camera more. I’m a digital girl because as much as I enjoyed film – I was always disappointed with my results. Digital is exactly what I need to have fun with photography at relatively little cost for my 100 stupid shots for every good single shot. But I will always respect film as a medium that true artists and photographers can get really unique results from.

  6. Oh, yes Nikki. You certainly depicted the difference between digital and film. I agree both have their merits, but there is something too “easy” about digital. There are many opportunities for redo’s. By no stretch am I a great expert at either, but there is something so permanent about film- even the foibles and flaws that in its way makes it a bit more human?

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Annelies, I thought the same thing. Film evokes the sense of permanence and that it leaves something of our existence behind.

  7. Beautiful, beautiful photos. That light …! I don’t do much with film anymore, but I keep telling myself to do so … I don’t see why it has to be an either/or, you know? There’s a place for all of it, and all kinds of film, as well as digital, and we’re lucky simply to have all of these options (send that stranger my way and I’ll remind him).

    • ArtandLemons says:

      Thanks so much, Nicole (Cucina Nicolina)! No, I agree. The difficult part about straddling both digital and film worlds is the issue of which cameras to bring. I’m forever weighted down with gear. I agree, there is a place for all of it and I think the stranger would agree as well that we’re lucky to have options!

  8. I so enjoyed this post! The pictures are what first caught my eye, but then it was the story—I love how it really was a story, a scene that you brought us into with you. And I love film, even though I don’t shoot with it often. You’re so right that nothing gives you that same beautiful graininess like film does.

    And PS – you’ve also brought BYOR into my vocabulary for the first time, something I’ve never heard of before and am super intrigued by! Off to research.

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