The Rebirth of Film

There is something unmatched about film photography. The physical nature of the process, from purchasing the camera, loading your film and deciding so carefully what you will devote those limited exposures to, is as much a sport as an art. Photography as an art form is less than 200 years old. Mind-blowing when you consider the plethora of technology we have available to us in this current time to create images.

I hold many fond memories of growing up in the early 2000’s surrounded by disposable cameras with which my parents would wield with them to every primary school production. They’d end up using all 24 exposures on me cast as ‘Tree Number 2’ in the Christmas nativity. We’d sprint home, package the rolls and drop them off in town to collect them a few hours later. In that time, another disposable had been purchased with the intent to capture the poor attempt at learning to ride a bike that evening. My dad pushing the seat with his right hand, snapping that memory with his left.

And what remains throughout reminiscing on those memories, are the physical images of those days. The nostalgia which flows through every under-exposed 6”x4” which has only just managed to capture some sort of likeness to my smile. I hold that memory, between my thumb and forefinger when we get the photo album out, and remark at how amazing it is that a memory which could’ve been lost, is being held in my hand 11 years later.

Now, it is not new news when I tell you that the development of photographic technology in our phones definitely pushed the film format into the dark for a while. Within a compact rectangle we can snap as many photos as we like, without concern for running out of exposures (though memory is a different problem). Likewise, there is, of course, no development cost. So as the digital era took hold, why wouldn’t you prefer the reusable technology of the phone camera?

Let us look back into 2007, when Apple released the first iPhone. Boasting a 2 megapixel rear camera, a slow lens and no optical image stabilisation. However, the iPhone revolutionised the way in which photography was then intermixed with other applications. This camera, with its limited controls introduced a solid alternative to the point-and-shoot technology and since then, iPhone camera technologies have only increased to expansive and impressive specification.

Fast-forwarding from the initial iPhone, we now look 14 years on, at the iPhone 13 Pro. Released September 2021, the camera technologies on this model impress even the most knowledgeable photographer. Packed into a 6.1 inch display, we have features including aperture abilities of ultra-wide, wide and telephoto as well as 3x optical zoom and 15x digital zoom! It is staggering to consider how in 17 years, development of photography technology into these small rectangles has become so crucial to our consumption that the average joe now has access to technology, which before, would be reserved for those with a succinct skill set on using the tech.

The role of social media cannot be ignored here. The ease of connection from these mobile photography technologies to image sharing platforms has thus increased their popularity, where the desire to live-stream our lives is only helped by the accessibility of mobile technologies.

However, I return to my earlier point. Nostalgia in the form of a 6.1” screen, holding 10 versions of the same photo, comes nowhere close to holding a physical memory in a 6”4” print. There is a lack of perfection when it comes to film which is, I would argue, intentional. We are aware the resolution of point-and-shoots comes no-where close to professional equipment, however, it is exactly that which makes the fleeting, grainy nature of film so appealing. The rawness of catching your friends dart across the bar in low light, praying that the camera would have captured the fleeting memory exactly as it is, is why I will always prefer film to digital. Don’t get me wrong, the cost difference is substantial, and of course, there are contexts which require professional level technology, but for capturing raw memories in all their unstructured glory, nothing beats film photography.

The digital age we find ourselves in now, with every image clinically performed and reviewed before posting, it is not surprising that some are reverting back to this physicality of film. The introduction of Fujifilm’s Instax Instant Mini 8 camera in 2012 became an instant internet favourite with its vibrant colours and easy to use Polaroid technology. With auto-exposure technology, pressure of perfecting knowledge of settings was abolished. The fun, easy to use format aided the reintroduction of accessible film photography.

I remember at various house parties in my mid-teens, my friends brandishing these compact, colourful rectangles, hurrying to direct us all together for a picture because ‘we only had one shot at this’. It was that adrenaline trying to cram together on a small sofa (for a picture we didn’t even know was going to turn out okay) that was the most exciting moment that evening. Soon we all got a hold of the newer Instax Instant minis where added technologies such as flash and close-up lens attachments had us playing photographer, with the slow release of the polaroid film from the top of the camera met with anticipation as to what the lens was able to capture. It was then I realised the unpredictability of film this camera allowed, was the closest I’ve felt to nostalgia since I held the grainy images of my dad’s futile attempts to teach me to ride a bike.

It is with that; I brandish my Instax Instant Mini 11 to every social event I am invited to. As a 23 year old, there is no funnier moment than watching your mid-twenties friends scramble onto a cramped sofa each grinning in hope they will be visible on film. It is a constant reminder of the beautiful nostalgia of my youth and growing up alongside likeminded people. Don’t get me wrong, I utilise my iPhone camera almost every day, with no regard for the lifespan of the photo I take. But for those special occasions, for the brisk frosty walks in the forest or warm, sandy beach evenings shared with amazing people, there is only one format that will suffice, and that is film.

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