Photography is a gateway to many things; I am not sure how else to say it. No matter when you first pick up a camera, the instinct is there. I joke that my daughter was introduced to the act of photography before she met her parents. Within a few hundred microseconds, I had made photographs as my daughter flew through the air from the doctor’s hands to my wife’s, ready to receive her.
I had decided to make black and white film photographs earlier that day.I liked the idea of having a physical object of that moment. The film receives light particles that leave a mark on the emulsion. With a digital sensor, photographers capture a binary representation of that light particle.
I know it is a little nostalgic to consider that on the negatives and slides in my archive, each piece of film was there when I made the picture. For a brief fraction of time, the shutter opened, and light from that place entered the lens and touched it. Not only was I was present at that exact moment, but the film was there too.
I can’t say for sure why I like my film photographs and have more emotional connections to them than my hundreds of thousands of digital images. It is not because the film images are of a higher quality or render the subject better than digital capture because I can say with certainty that they are not better, but they are different.
It is interesting that when photography enthusiasts, who’s gateway to photography was a digital camera, discover film they see every frame as beautiful. A magical quality draws them in to love look of film. They often confuse that magical feeling with quality.
I remember during a conversation with a professional wedding photographer who had recently discovered medium format film photography and was thrilled at how beautiful every frame was – they weren’t. Because they were using film, they were all the better in their eyes – they weren’t. Photographs captured on film are in and of themselves not always great. I can testify to the hundreds of thousands of poorly executed photographs I made on film. But I do understand emotionally what they were reacting too.
Film photographers experience two truly magical moments different from watching your images download from a silicon chip to another digital device. The universal reason many of us fell in love with photography, and that is observing a black and white latent image turn to a developed image in a tray of Dektol under the glow of an amber safelight. Another is the sensory experience of opening a freshly packed box of 35mm slides and holding them up at a time to a light to see what you captured, like opening a gift on your birthday. Then load them into carousel trays and turn on the projector with the whirring fan and the light projecting the color dyes on the film that was in the camera receiving the light from the space you were in when you pressed a shutter for a fraction of time. No LED Projector no matter how good can replace the brilliant colors from the film emulsion emitting from the screen.
I suppose this doesn’t reveal any of the reasons I like my film photographs better than the digital ones. But I do.