I realized I had over 100 posts that were created and never posted. They cover a RANGE of topics, they are of varying age. This is one of these posts.
I was asked to write a post about switching from film to digital This request made me look back on when, how and why I made this move, and back on all the strange things that happened since then. I admit this is a strange look at the photography world, but the post is true, so that’s all the reason I need. This topic, even after all these years, seems to really get people going. What I want to make clear is I don’t care. I really don’t. I actually think what you are about to read is really funny because it was really funny at the time.
Now I use mostly film, but I love things like about digital. Digital photography is a powerful, fun tool and the “how” doesn’t interest me that much. It’s all about creating. Just go do it. Don’t ask permission. Just go. If you have something to say it will show in your work. Creating unique and recognizable content is not easy, even with the latest technology. Great work takes time, thought and focus. Digital gave a voice to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who otherwise might not have ever engaged with their visual side. Good luck, keep pressing.
Over a year ago I shot what was potentially my last commercial photography assignment. Photography has taken on a new direction for me, and working for other people, in essence shooting other people’s images, is no longer what I want to do. (Save the comments about “I shoot my own images,” I’ve heard it all before.)
During this last shoot, which was very enjoyable, a strange thing happened. This thing was not strange for me but it certainly was for those around me. I shot film, all black and white film to be exact.
Around me were four other photographers, all shooting digital(Two because I asked them to). I clunked around with my Leica and Hasselblad, waist level finder and all, looking at the world with my head pointed at the ground. I worked slowly and in constant reminder mode, urging myself to forget everything I knew, everything I’d learned about “being a photographer.” I tried to work free of expectation, free of the poison of industry trends, popular themes and especially free of what the masses were doing.
The clients were young, relaxed and accommodating, as were their friends. I once spent a fair amount of time studying anthropology, so for me to be able to spend time with this group, hearing their conversations, listening to their music, learning from their style was a great thing. Clunk, clunk, clunk I began to connect with the event and with the people.
Not long after beginning the shoot I was approached by a gregarious, young guy in his early 20’s who said, “Oh man, I really love your cameras.” We chatted while I worked, and then he made the realization I was not only using old cameras, but I was using film. “That is incredible,” he said. “Film is so much more interesting.” “Digital is okay because sometimes I want to see the images right away, but film looks better and is more interesting because you can’t see the images.”
Believe it or not folks, this happens to me ALL THE TIME, and this event was no different. All though the day, and into the night, people approached and offered their support of film, the “old ways” and the casual, visual nonchalance of working in digital. I would guess that I’ve head this same sentiment during every single event I photographed since that fateful day in about 2001(or2002, can’t remember exactly) when I switched back to film from my beloved digital. Yes, you read that correctly, when I SWITCHED FROM DIGITAL BACK TO FILM. I was an early adopter of digital. Yes me, the same guy who has been labeled “anti-technology, a luddite, backwards, stupid, behind the times,” and the guy once told he was “going the wrong way on the highway.” Me. Same guy.
Brace yourself, I was using digital, potentially long before you were.
Now, I had an advantage. I had just been released from serving four years with the Eastman Kodak Company. Ha, get it? Released from a four-year stint………Kidding, Kodak was a blast actually, and taught me a tremendous amount about the industry. I just knew I wanted to be a photographer again so I left.
What gave me an advantage was that Kodak had been a major part of the first high-end cameras to land in the professional market, namely the DCS 520 and 560. These were $15,000 to $30,000 dollar beauties that gave us a first look at what was possible with a decent file. So when Canon came out with the D30…I was ready to go. Plus my wife worked for Canon. Wink, wink.
Within a few short months I was standing on a golf course in Flagstaff Arizona, shooting a “destination wedding” and the groom gathered his groomsmen, looked at me and said, “Check this out, this guy is super-high-tech, and he’s not shooting ANY film.” I did manage to fire off a few 4×5 Polaroids during that event (foreshadowing?) but for the most part he was right on the money. I was booking jobs because I was fully digital.
And then, a short while later, it all changed. First of all, I grew tired of spending my life in front of the computer. Coming from the documentary world, the idea of turning over my post production and edit to someone else was so counter to how I viewed my work that it was never even a remote possibility. Turning over the post, to me, seemed like blasphemy, a sign that the photographer was either completely unattached to their work, or was shooting the exact same pictures every time. Neither described my methods. I began to feel like I wanted to hold my Leica again, something small, light and void of the electronic umbilical cord.
Other things changed as well. Digital had become more of a mainstream part our lives and clients began to view photography in a very different way. Speed and quantity became the driving force while quality of images fell down the scale. Photography went from a historical, permanent record to temporary, disposable and free. Our collective attention span began to crack and peel.
It was over for me, almost before it really began.
Now let me back up. When I originally made the “jump to light speed,” my move was NOT met with positive feedback from the industry, especially the wedding industry. Does this sound familiar? I was called “unprofessional” and was flat out told by “experts,” “digital will not work for wedding photography.” No people, I’m not making this up.
Three years down the road, oh how the world had changed. Just as I was realizing digital might not be my future, the masses had discovered it in full force. Like an army, high on technology, not only were many of these folks steaming full ahead toward all things digital, they were simultaneously trying to condemn anything related to analog photography. It was, and still is, STRANGE.
Get ready for it…wait for it….I did a panel at a tradeshow and was called, “The most unprofessional photographer I’ve ever seen” by a 20-something marketer turned photographer who said that by me working alone, and shooting the dreaded film, I was committing an act of digital treason.
THE EXACT SAME PEOPLE who told me digital would not work for weddings were now telling me, “YOU WILL GO OUT OF BUSINESS IF YOU DON’T SHOOT DIGITAL.”
This transition, for me, proved just how many insecure people packed the photo-ranks. I began to hear countless discussions, COUNTLESS, about technology, and what I began to hear less and less about was the actual imagery being created. Entire marketing campaigns sprang from the lamest of lame premises…”I could have never done this before, but now with my Zupperflex 5000 I can blend margaritas and shoot countless images without even knowing I’m doing it.” Believe it or not, after all these years, I STILL see this campaign being used. Suddenly, photography became about the TOOL. Lame.
The wedding bubble began to build, the ranks filled with those adopting the “Spray and Pray” methodology of the terminally unskilled.(Harsh, but again…true.) By the way, whoever coined “Spray and Pray,” nice work, it fits perfectly.
I went to yet another industry tradeshow and heard a speaker say, “I shot 10,000 images at a wedding, by myself,” and the crowd burst into spontaneous applause. I’m not entirely sure but I think, at that precise moment, a rainbow formed over the stage with a band of unicorns riding the wave. I knew at that VERY moment my future was not long for this industry, although I do love unicorns.
So coming back to my final shoot. I had to laugh. I kept hearing, “I love your cameras.” “I love film.” One person even went as far as to say, “The other stuff doesn’t matter, I only want to see the film.” I only wanted to see good pics, regardless of how they were made.
But my friends, this story gets even stranger. Now in 2013, all these years later, well hasn’t film just become the belle of the ball. Many of these SAME people condemning it for years suddenly realized there was a marketing angle to film, and now it’s okay. In fact, WE ALL SHOULD BE USING IT. Come again. Did I hear that correctly? Dollars will do that to people.
So recently I’m back in the desert, poolside, dreaming up all the ultra-relevant and world shaping blog posts I can do, and my wife finds herself in a conversation with someone who happens to be an event planner. A very nice person, who also does wedding planning. She throws out a list of names of good photographers, all of whom are very familiar to me. She says a name, and I mentally say, “Yep, good choice.” All of them……wait for it…..wait for it…..FILM SHOOTERS. No, I’m not making this up. And then she drops this one.
“Some of these photographers now don’t even shoot film, they are just doing digital with color washes.” The same thing that FIVE years ago was all anyone was doing. Now, it’s not enough. Anyone can do it. It has no soul. There is no style behind it. It’s all button pushing.
So there I am, the castigated one, listening as the world creaks on its axis and comes FULL CIRCLE.
Now, it’s official. Film is okay again.
There is a moral of the story here folks. The only voice that matters, the only direction that matters… is YOURS. Not mine, not the industry voice, or the marketing voice. You can copy cat your way into this business, have ZERO to say and make a perfectly good living. But is that being a photographer?
I’ll let you decide.
For me, it’s simple. Film slows me down, forces me to think and doesn’t distract me by providing the image instantly. I don’t think seeing an image right away is helpful in the learning process. I don’t believe shooting as many images as possible is a good thing. I think digital has nearly destroyed our ability to edit. Film has cut my computer time by 80%. Film doesn’t require the perpetual upgrade, software, hardware, firmware, and it provides a feeling of permanence that doesn’t’ require a cloud of unknown electronic promises.
In short, film fits my lifestyle and philosophy. I’m a better photographer using it, and ultimately that is all that matters.
Keep searching. Keep asking questions. Use whatever you want. There is no reason not to, no matter what anyone says.