Back to film

Taking photographs is important. Photographs freeze time and space to produce a representation of our experiences. The person taking the photograph is a participant in a creative process, not just a voyeur. With the advent of digital photography the gap between taking the photograph and seeing the resultant image has narrowed incredibly. No longer are you waiting days for the prints to appear through the post or at the local developing shop. You can review your shots immediately, make alterations and post them on the internet in the space of a few minutes. Not only that – you can take as many shots as as you like, limited only by the capacity of your memory card (and you can always carry a spare). You needn’t worry too much about composition (you can crop), focus (the camera does it automatically), exposure (you can correct post-shoot), colour (you can change) or very much else in fact. Just press the button and hey presto.

And all this is very good news in many ways. Taking decent photos is easier and cheaper – and the photographer has more control over the final image.

But there’s a downside. I’ve taken literally thousands of digital photographs over the last few years. They are stored on Aperture, Flickr, Snapfish, internal hard disc, external hard disc, old computers, CD and goodness knows where else. I rarely go back to look at them, even the ones that have been deemed in some way, to be special. Of course you can run off your own prints, or get your images professionally printed – but I rarely bother. I’m given to think that in some ways its just too easy now to take digital snaps. The extent to which the photographer interacts with the subject in the moment of creation is increasingly limited. The extent to which the machines condition the creative process is increasingly expanded.

Film is revolutionary. It may be old but its radical. It represents not just, an alternative technology, but a different approach to taking pictures. – one in which the process becomes more thoughtful and considered. Every push on the shutter will cost you 40p for film and developing so you’ve got to think carefully about how you want to spend your money. And there’s no instant feedback. You have to wait until the film comes back to see the fruits of your creative interaction with the world.  That wait creates anticipation which, in turn, increases the enjoyment of seeing your prints.

Then there’s the quality question. Which produces better images – digital or film? In many ways its an impossible dilemma – because it all depends on what you are photographing, and why. What we do know is that film is still used by many professional photographers simply because it is capable of producing stunning, powerful, and abiding images. Film negatives can be scanned in order to digitalise them, and the continuing improvement in scanners means that this option is becoming more available to people wishing to have the best of both worlds. Perhaps this is the way to go by using film to produce the images themselves, and digital technology to process them.

Now where exactly did I put that old Canon A1?