The news was announced last week, January 6th, that Kodak is reviving the Ektachrome line of 35mm film. A cheer could be heard going up, from the throats of those who relished the film in its heyday up until production ceased in 2012. Such an announcement was bound to have excited those who still love film photography and those who are just picking it up, in the same way that many music lovers are rediscovering the delights of vinyl records. The news also prompted a spate of commentary on social media. Reactions ranged from glee at the return of some fine old-school tech to puzzlement and disdain at the idea of bringing back something that clearly appeared to be a tech dinosaur.
Reaction here at Oncatography was more to the glee side. Digital photography is the way of the now and the future, but film is fun. Film brings with it a slowness and fuzziness that digital photography does not have (unless you let the filters do the thinking for you). So what if the person next to you has a camera phone, and can keep shooting if you have to stop and reload? So what if they can post to social media instantly, while you have to wait on film to come back? Quantity and speed are nice in this age of high volume demand and low duration attention spans. They have their place. But...
Digital and speed are not the only arbiters of success or superiority of image. Having a phone camera or digital camera does not make one a photographer, necessarily, it just means that one can take as many pictures as one likes...just like everyone else. And crap that is shared on Facebook or other platforms is still that: crap. Which most of what gets posted seems to be.
Digital does many things well. It revolutionized photography similar to the way that computer-assisted drafting disrupted hand drafting in architecture, engineering and manufacturing. I know because I cut my professional teeth in architecture learning to draw by hand, which taught me so much about learning to build buildings. Film photography functioned in a similar fashion as I learned to "make" photographs. These days, I use digital equipment for most of my professional endeavors; I have to, as it is the nature of the business. But I have noticed that long periods of shooting digitally tend to engender in me a laziness of eye and mind. This is something that generally does not happen when I shoot with film. Not only do the cameras I use require a deeper engagement with process, the inherent unknowns around the output of the film has a "duende", a spirit, that gets flattened by the relentless efficiency of digital.
Will film turn around and replace digital? Of course not. The fuzziness and mystery of film does not have broad enough appeal to the cultural appetite for image consumption that surrounds us. Film is worth preserving and nurturing, though, if only for those of us who do not concern ourselves overly much with what and how fast the person next to us is posting on Facebook. A touch Luddite, I suppose, but there you have it.
Here endeth my sermon 'against the dying of the light.
Author's note: a shorter version of this first appeared as a 'reply' to a Facebook comment, January 10, 2017.