In just about every field of life these days, instant gratification seems to be the number one goal. As a result, patience seems to have become a rude word. And, excellence and craft have gone out the window with it. This is no truer than in the world of photography. But, at what cost?
The digital era has made everyone a ’photographer’. All you need to do is hold, aim, touch a button, fire off several frames and voila! All the hard work is done for you.
Yet in the simplicity and efficiency of it something vital and magical has disappeared from the art of photography – a loss of patient, tranquil consideration as you go about seeking out that perfect picture; an absence of concentration as you frame the ideal shot; a lack of wonder when you get your picture back and realise you’ve nailed it.
Forty years ago photography switched direction when a young engineer called Steve Sasson produced the first digital camera in the United States. The prototype was heavy and clunky, but it sparked a revolution: soon major manufacturers were producing small, efficient and relatively cheap digital cameras. The market exploded.
As a BBC Magazine article said of digital: “No more loading cameras with rolls of film and winding on. No more running out of film at the perfect moment. No more getting prints back from the lab to find that a ‘perfect’ shot had been ruined by a stray thumb or a dose of red eye.”
Londoner Charlie Abbiss, working in a film lab, didn’t see the invention through the same rose-tinted lenses; after all, it put his livelihood in jeopardy.
So, in 2010 he and colleague Tori Khambhaita formed Film’s Not Dead, perhaps more in hope than expectation. Abbiss explained: “We all worked with film and were frightened about what the future held… since then the comeback has been immense.”
Photographers from London to New York, Baltimore, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Vancouver and Stockholm have embraced the trend back toward film.
If I shoot one good frame a day, I’m doing well.
Abbiss says there are many reasons behind it: “I think speed is the issue. Personally, I enjoy the slowing down of the photographic process. If you love taking pictures, you want it to last as long as possible, right?”
Photographer David Geffin said in a blog on the Fstoppers site: “I live in New York – any time I get a chance to practice patience, I take it. The more time I spend doing any type of photography, the more I realise it’s about shooting less, slowing down and observing more. I think it’s far more worthwhile to wait, watch, direct a little and have a clear vision in your head ahead of what you shoot, rather than shooting and looking at images, trying to work out what you were trying to say.”
Italian Paolo Marchesi, now based in San Francisco, adds: “It makes you a better photographer. Film forces you to take the time to take ‘the shot’. You have to be fully focused on what you’re doing.”
Abbiss is convinced that the darkroom process absent from digital has also played a fundamental role in film’s comeback.
“Darkrooms are very special places,” he explained. “In the digital age photography has become a solitary sport: one man and his computer either uploading or emailing the shots out. Darkrooms are the antithesis of this, they are spaces for photographers to seek advice, reflect on their work, get opinions and network.”
He added: “I cannot sing the praises of the darkroom loud enough. The best part of any darkroom is the master printer: the title assumes they just print but, oh no, they will help you curate, find the right tones and question your decisions.”
Basically, they’re hanging onto the human touch; the interactions and the moments with other people sharing a common passion. That’s what life’s really about. And if pictures aren’t their to capture an expression of real life, what are they for?