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We all know that over the last few years digital photography has grown by leaps and bounds. Digital image quality is getting better almost exponentially and computer editing tools are getting easier and faster for professionals and non-professionals alike.
What I would like to argue, however, is that analog, film-based forms of photography will make a huge comeback in the very near future — in fact, it’s already happening.
In 2007 Kodak conducted a survey of 9,000 professional photographers asking them if they still used film. Over 75% of those surveyed responded with a ‘yes’.
More recently, San Diego-based commercial shooter Robert Benson took a small survey of fellow professional shooters, asking who still uses film and for what purposes. The answers highlight why film is still an important choice for professionals.
In this interview Brian Finke says, “I almost exclusively shoot film … I get the, WOW, reaction when I pull the first Polaroid and everyone on set sees I’m shooting film. I am instantly seen as an art photographer…” I love Bryce Duffy’s explanation of how film differs from digital. He says, “It’s like listening to a vinyl record on a turntable through a Macintosh tube amp through good speakers versus listening to a high quality MP3 on your iPod through a pair of expensive speakers.”
To further understand why film will remain a serious force within the future of the photo industry, take a look at the skyrocketing popularity of the Holga film camera. In the past few years, websites like Lomography have made this camera a must-have for many hip young aspiring artists as well as established shooters reconnecting with their roots.
The Holga is also, arguably, the worst film camera ever made. It is made of cheap plastic, the lens is plastic, it only allows for minimal focusing control, its poor design and construction allows light to leak onto the unexposed film, and it almost requires modification to work. It’s like a little handheld photographic chaos creator. And in this way it epitomizes the best aspect of ‘analog’ imagemaking: You never really know what you’re going to get.
Plus, since the camera is so inexpensive, people also love modifying it and creating their own new cameras to further their own specific creative visions – on film. That whole idea is even at the core of the Lomographic Society’s 10 Golden Rules.
I feel the rise in digital photography has actually inspired many shooters to go back to using film, especially with simple cameras like the Holga. And there will be further digital backlash instigated by younger photographers who reject many aspects of the current digital world. These are the same types of people who will take down their on-line social network profiles, start handwriting letters, and block text messaging from their cell phones (or get ride of them altogether). These artists are the future analog creators. Growing up in a digital world, they have a fresh way to look at what the analog world means.
More proof that film still matters can be found in the public’s response to Polaroid’s announcement that it would cancel its instant film lines in 2008. Save Polaroid was formed immediately and there was a massive response on Flickr from photographers all over the world. I personally received at least 10 e-mails from professional photographers the day it was announced.
The Save Polaroid movement was so strong, it inspired The Impossible Project, which lobbied to bring the instant film back. The Impossible Project has now taken over one of Polaroid’s former production plants and is set to release a black-and-white version of instant film within the next month. I’m excited to hear that 8×10 instant film might be back this year as well. You can watch a great video about all of it here. (Dave, I dig that hat and beard combo.)
In case you missed that timeline, Polaroid instant film production was canceled, production plants were disassembled, then they were brought back to life by a very dedicated fan base less than 18 months later. After that, let’s just say I’ve got a lot more faith in the instant film business than I do in the auto industry.
As a little aside, I’d like to remind you all the Fuji did not stop production of their instant film lines when Polaroid did and is still making various lines of instant film.
As a professional you might be yelling at me through your computer something like, “Clark, that’s great that a bunch of hipster kids love playing with a Chinese toy camera and crying about Polaroid cutting off their fun instant pics, but come on, there is no serious market for this type of imagery in the commercial agency environment…” Although that may be true right now for agency work in general — I believe there is potential for its growth in the near future.
Here’s why: I personally know one under-30 commercial shooter who was commissioned for a fairly substantial agency assignment last year using a Holga and/or other types of Lomo cameras, specifically for that ‘look.’ And guess how old the art director was who wanted that ‘look.’ 24.
Film has a potentially big place in the commercial world because those fore-mentioned hipster kids are in art schools all over the country right now and in a few years they will be the art directors and creative directors hiring professional photographers. And they will want to see something else, something interesting to them, including something that isn’t digital. Obviously, digital isn’t going anywhere and will continue to grow and develop as the technology changes, but film is already on its way back.
One major barrier I’m sure someone would bring up if I didn’t is the processing costs associated with film. In many ways, that was a huge part of film’s downfall in the first place as digital technologies became the cheaper option. My thought on this point is fairly simple. The use of film within the future of our industry will come back as a stylistic choice as opposed to a price-point choice. If a given shooter has a film look, he or she will be able to use film and the client will pay for it.
I also think photographers today can use much less film they did before digital options were available. It is possible to do a whole shoot using only a single sheet of film. Plus, there are always digital tools to back up your film shoots in case that one sheet doesn’t turn out. Part of the reason professional shooters used so much film before digital was because there was no back up. It had to be right on at least one piece of film.
The way I see it, film will come back strong before it even gets a chance to go out of style — just like ’80s fashion. Plus, I’m sure Terry Richardson will be partying with a junky 35mm camera somewhere for the rest of his life. As long as he is kickin’ it, we can all … keep on rockin’ in the film world!
What are your thoughts on the use of film in the professional photo world of the future?