In the mid to late 1990s when I wrote my first words for the internet, as you might expect, the subject was photography. My images at the time, like those of almost all serious photographers, were all made on film. That would be those now almost extinct celluloid rectangles and squares of different dimensions. In my case, I pretty much ran the gamut of sizes with 35mm, 6x6cm, 6x7cm, 6x9cm and 4×5 inch film occupying my file space at one time or another. In the early 2,000s I began my digital journey and in 2006, I exposed my very last roll of 35mm film.
For all of those new (serious) photographers of the digital era, for which film was a snapshot medium for creating memories of Aunt Emma, Uncle Leopold, and their cat Jeremiah, they just don’t understand what photographers like myself, were giving up. It wasn’t just that now everyone would be a photographer, which would remove some of the special from calling ourselves photographers, but there was no longer a memory separate from prints or the internet. Something with which you could hold in your hand, and feel.
Guy Tal recently wrote a piece on this subject because within the past month, he removed his last few sheets of 4×5 film from his freezer, and gave them away to some archaic relic (photographer or collector) from a by-gone era. Someone like me. He also added that he and a few friends were recently viewing an iconic image (35mm slide) created deep in the Himalayas by an equally iconic photographer who was now deceased. When he picked up that slide, he realized that the slide itself, had accompanied the photographer on that wilderness trek where he created that fabulous work of art. He could touch the atmosphere of the mountains when he felt the film in his fingertips. He could share the feelings of that now gone photographer. Try that with a digital file.
Digital files are a series of codes organized in a way to present themselves visually as the likeness of what you saw through the viewfinder when you clicked the shutter. If that doesn’t sound romantic that’s because it isn’t. You need a camera or a computer or a phone to interpret that code so you can even see it. You can make a print, but that is the second generation. Everything you do with a digital image is second-hand.
In my basement, resides about 50-60 thousand transparencies in the 35mm and medium formats. There are not only memories of places, moments and people, living in that film, but they can also be touched and felt, and even smelled. Film has a smell. They are tangible and by any standards be it modern or old, they are real.
Digital photography itself will someday be obsolete. Maybe we won’t even need a camera (or phone or laptop etc.), but will be able to translate the visions in our minds into a fluid image that others can see as they desire. Hopefully we won’t forget what was good about digital photography when that day comes.
I know that some of you who have been reading my words for a long time are probably lamenting “oh boy“, here he goes again, living in yesterday’s world. Well……sort of. I don’t want to go back to yesterday or to film. I just realize that when something’s gained, something’s lost. We live in a world quick to grab onto what’s new, even if it’s superficial, phony, or even downright evil, and we are slow to remember why we did what we did in the first place. Every generation and every technology has its day, and its purpose. I don’t want to go back to the cars of the 60s but boy, they sure all had their own character. You knew a Chevy from a Ford from a Dodge. Today too many cars look alike, and the work of too many photographers also looks alike. That doesn’t mean that the cars of today are not better than the 60s, or that many of today’s photographers aren’t incredible, it means that we are perpetually giving away what’s good, just because some unknown person says that “we‘re doing it this way now“.
There is room in this world for a great today, and a better tomorrow, but only when we recognize that what we learned yesterday is the foundation for that tomorrow.
I have very few of my film images transferred into the digital format but below are a few that were handy. They were all copied with a digital camera and a macro lens while they rested on a daylight balanced (film) light table.
Medium Format 6×7 cm
Medium Format 6×7 cm
Medium Format 645 (4.5×6 cm)
Thanks for stopping, and may God Bless, Wayne