Just about a week ago I was called by the reception at work that a package arrived with my name on it. I was genuinely surprised, because I have never received anything unexpectedly at work. Who on earth would have sent me a package and especially to this address? It must had been a conspiracy.
My curiosity reached an even higher level once I picked up the package and I realized that the sender is an old photographer I only know remotely through a friend. I made some small animations in flash for him as a favor and I’ve almost completely forgot about it. It seems that he has a much better memory and he sent me this little package to cheer me up.
Well, he managed to make me very happy, because the small box was full with gorgeous films of many types. There were even some legendaries like the Kodak Ektar 25 and some, which I have never even heard of before, such as the Lucky SHD. Now I have film for tungsten light and a bulk package of medium format Ektachrome. It is truly an amazing gift, even though some of the films had expired way before I was born (which unfortunately was already pretty long time ago).
Of course I have already had an interesting collection of films. But, with this addition, my stock has reached the critical mass to share it with you. After this post I finally free some place in the freezer and it will become hard to show the full collection as a whole.
Temporal storage of my film collection
Film collection revealed
|Kodak Technical Pan
||Agfacolor Portrait Xps
||Ilford FP-4 Plus
||Forte Supercolor Fr
||Fuji Superia Xtra
||Fuji Pro 160 NS
||Ilford Pan F Plus
|Kodak New Portra
||Fuji Pro 160 Tungsten
||Lucky SHD 100
|Kodak Portra 160 NC
|Kodak Elite Color
||Fujifilm Pro 160C
|Kodak Gold 200
|Kodak Farbwelt 200
I also have some photographic papers (Forte, Foma) for black and white prints
Just another angle
What film really means to me
Also I have started to think about my very intense reaction to this gift and decided to try to summarize my thoughts and feelings about what film means to me.
Film powers old cameras
First and foremost film allows me to use the plethora of cool film cameras, which would otherwise be usable only as fancy paperweights at best. This way I can experience what other people could feel when they used these now vintage cameras through history.
Even better, if I put state-of-the-art film into any old camera, I can achieve state-of-the-art results if the lens is good enough. I think it is fascinating that someone can reach levels of quality today with the very same gear his grandfather used, which was considered impossible at the time the camera was made. This is something a digital camera of current times will never be able to provide. If this would not be enough, film opens up the world of medium and even large format photography on a very affordable price point compared to their digital counterparts.
Film is a symbol with deep meanings
But film is a lot more than the ticket to film cameras. It is a very deep symbol in our culture. It symbolizes nothing less than eternity. It captures moments but unlike the digital sensor it encapsulates them. Film itself becomes the frozen moment of memory and emotion. This is of course a process, which cannot be reverted. Once something is captured it will be preserved unchanged as long as the film physically exists. This very nature of film gives us the impression of truthfulness, the feeling that anything recorded on film must be real. Of course, we all know that any image in a medium can be faked, but it is very hard to alter the film for ordinary people after it was developed.
Film is commitment
Once the film is loaded into the camera, there is no way to return and the photographer has made his/her commitment to a particular type of film with all its properties. Although there are plenty of parameters that can be changed later (thinking of push, pull, cross-processing and other tricks), the characteristics of the used film will be inevitably present in the result and the possibilities to change this in post-processing are rather narrow.
Today there are many excellent software out there to manipulate photographs. The possibilities of manipulations are nearly endless and even film/developer simulation is possible on a very high level (though it can be debated how truthful such simulations are in reality). I embrace and endorse these tools, but, honestly, the countless amount of options often makes me insecure in my decision. I tend to hesitate and eventually I run into contradictions with myself. I want to retain the maximum amount of detail, while also wishing to bestow a strong character on the image. As a result, many of my images are good, however, they fall short of featuring such strong character and I am frustrated because of the possible other ways I could have chosen. One has to be able to keep the power of the tools provided under control, otherwise that power is useless.
It seems that I am not fully ready yet for the marvels of the digital post processing revolution. I just prefer to work the character given by the film I choose and then try to get the most out of it in post processing. Yes, it comes with commitment, but it gives me results (I like) and frees me from the burden of too many possibilities. All in all I am much more satisfied with my film images.
Chimneys and cranes (2014), Leica M2, Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm f/1.5, Ilford FP-! Plus, Rodinal, Canoscan 9900F
Film is responsibility
A piece of fresh unexposed film is like a newborn baby. It has an inherited genetic character, but it is completely blank, has no criminal record and can become virtually anything. It is the responsibility of the parents (sorry photographer), to provide the best start and guidance to achieve the most. Shoots can be repeated, but every frame is an effort and an investment, especially if someone (like me) uses a tedious hybrid workflow. Of course it is not a good idea to over complicate or worry too much about the process of taking a photograph, just like an overprotective mother can be also harmful. But it is important to be aware of the responsibility over the film we are about to use.
Film is heritage
Needless to say that film has an enormous historical heritage. The different materials, processes and characters resemble historical periods, great moments, fantastic artworks and intellectual advancement. Film has such a deep roots in our culture that it is impossible to not to feel its importance and legacy.
Blue ceiling (2014), Not as famous as the red version, but at least I own the rights.
Film is fun
Despite all the serious thoughts here, film also provides a lot of fun. It is such a gamble to use a crappy camera with some expired film and hope for cool light leaks. There are plenty of applications for simulating this, but I think part of the fun is that the control is not completely in or hands.
Jump (2014) , Pajtás, Lomo Lady Grey 400 (expeired), Rodinal, Canoscan 9900F
Film is alive
Unlike digital files film has an organic grain structure. It can be emulated by software, but computers can only work with pseudo-random generators. There will always be a pattern in digitally added noise. Film has a life-cycle. It ages and it can go bad when stored inappropriately. On the other hand even if it is expired and stored recklessly there is still a chance that something interesting will come out of it. A box of expired film (like the one I have received) is like a box of old exotic old wine. You could find something truly amazing or the completely opposite, but you cannot say until you taste it yourself. This is also part of the magic.
Film is magic
If I needed to find a single word to describe what is the most significant property of film, I would say it is simply magical. There is something mystical about the chemical process, which forms a photograph. I always found this quite fascinating even though I am aware that everything about it is well described and no dark arts are involved. But when I combine this feeling with the uncertainty of the result (especially when I use expired film) and with the waiting necessary to finally get the developed film back from the lab, the experience is truly magical.
These aspects are just a few among the thoughts circulating in my head about film. These are all interconnected, and after all that is why I feel special when I can hold a package of film in my hand. I am sure that others would come up with a completely different list, but I am pretty certain that almost everybody who is old enough to have had some connection with film photography retains some emotional connection to it.
Old negatives (from my first roll which was developed few hours after this moment), Industar 55mm f/2.8 N-61 L/D, Fed 5, Flash, Silver print
Just one more fun thing to think of
I have played around with Blender and made this highly sophisticated scene of a plain and 2 boxes. I painted a texture for it based on some old Forte and rendered the scene. It is pretty obvious that this is not a photograph because of the sharp edges and the way to perfect texture, But the point is that it is possible to make it photo-realistic with some additional effort. An image generated solely by a computer to tribute the film which may be one day substituted entirely by the computer, or at least the possibility will be given. At the end it is all about personal and professional preferences.
Computer generated illustration of old Forte film by Camerajunky