Film Photography

“Do I believe in the objective existence of beauty?” was the question that persuaded me to purchase an old manual SLR camera (a Pentax K1000, to be precise) and start learning film photography. Curiously enough, law school is what drove me to the question. But that’s a long and boring story. The answer, of course, is yes. Not a hasty “yes;” but indeed a “yes.” After all, I spent much of this last year of law school in books on jurisprudence, with a particular emphasis on natural law. The question of whether beauty has an objective existence seems to have some relation to the question of whether there is a natural law. But I digress…

Given that beauty has an objective existence, and with the added premise that it exists in the world around us, I set out to capture it on the medium of silver halide crystals in a gelatin emulsion on a strip of plastic. Or, more to the point: 35mm film. Admittedly, I have enjoyed taking some Polaroid pictures also — both with my old OneStep Express and with the new OneStep 2 — but in somewhat fewer numbers because Polaroid film is expensive!

I chose film as my medium in order to slow myself down and teach myself patience. I also chose it because my early experiences with film, all of which took place with cheap consumer cameras, failed to result in clear pictures. It would have been easy and, in a sense, liberating to buy and use a DSLR camera. I chose constraints, limitations. This project had to be a challenge if it was going to be worth anything.

The choice has certainly paid off. From the time I purchased my first digital camera (probably around the year 2003 or 2004), I was able to effortlessly take clear photos and see the results immediately. I have captured some memorable moments, but I’ve never taken digital files to the store to get prints, and I’ve rarely gone back to look at the photos. I’ve spent more time looking through my old blurry film photographs than my digital ones. The ease of taking the photographs seems to have diminished their value to me. On the other hand, I experience a real feeling of excitement opening up the prints from my latest roll and a real sense of joy when at least some of the photos come out well. Those photos are accomplishments, and I value them so much more for what went into them.

Some have stated that the medium is meaningless; only the results matter. That’s a sensible position to take in a culture of consumerism. The photographer is just another sort of factory worker. Just as we don’t care about the overworked Chinese person who attached the screen to your iPhone before jumping to his death from the roof of the Foxconn building, the photographer doesn’t matter to us, nor the experiences that went into making the photograph. Luckily, I’m not taking photos for consumers. I take photographs for the experience as well as the results. Those experiences, including the choice of film as my medium, are meaningful to me.

I’m posting daily to Instagram, but I plan to put the occasional wordier post up here with thoughts related to a photo, or the story behind it.

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