Chemical-based (film) photography is disappearing, headed off to join other recent technologies as cassette recorders and tapes that served us well but were in turn improved upon. For purists who cherish the snick of a Leica M3 shutter or the chunk of trays turning on an Ektagraphic slide projector, improved is a fairly dirty word, but computer-based (digital) photography is ascendant. Ask a photographer whether she shoots digitally and you’ll probably get a quizzical look: “Film? Oh, yeah, I used that.” I never met anyone who willingly admitted they voted for Nixon, either.
As we trade film for pixels, and darkrooms for calibrated monitors, it would be easy to discard hard-won experiences as we race to extoll a new way of working. But that is no way to treat an old friend in decline.
Here are a few aspects of film photography I’ll miss:
1. The tactile feel of loading film into the camera. Yes, a difficult operation under duress, but preferable to fumbling a tiny CF card into a slot.
2. The simplicity of the process. No software required.
3. The glow from a lightbox covered with transparencies.
4. Empty film cans. They were invented to put Other Stuff in, right?
5. The sociability of slide shows. People understood how hard you worked to get everything set up. While they waited patiently, they talked to each other.
5. Manual SLRs. With only a button-sized battery to power the meter, the world was yours.
6. Film tab holders. A small crutch on the back door of the camera.
7. Anticipation. On any shooting trip one didn’t know they’d nailed the shot until they were home and the film was processed. Commercial jobs utilized Polaroids for quick assessments, but still.
8. Surprises. The film came back from the lab today, and you did a better job than you believed possible! And their eyes were open!
To be fair, I won’t miss manual advance levers, rewind knobs, sprocket holes, mid-roll film changes, Styrofoam coolers (the film version, not the beer model), film-changing bags, litter from film boxes (at least ten pieces in a package of Polaroid), scratched emulsions, lost or damaged rolls, plastic slide pages…
What memories are you bringing to the Digital Age?