Magic of Film
Magic of Film
No matter when you first pick up a camera, the instinct is there. I introduced my daughter to photography before she even 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 embrace, ready to receive her.
I had decided to make Grace's first pictures using black and white film. I liked the idea of having a physical artifact of that moment. The film receives light particles that leave energize the silver on the emulsion, a physical and chemical reaction.
With a digital camera the sensor capture light and record a binary representation of that particle—just a string of one's and zeroes.
It is nostalgic to consider that film in my archive; each frame was there present for 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 have more emotional connections to my film photographs, more so 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 only different.
Interestingly, when photography enthusiasts, whose gateway to photography was the digital camera, discover film photography, they see every frame as beautiful. A magical quality draws them into the 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 binders of poorly executed photos I made with film.
Film photographers experience two genuinely magical moments. These universal reasons many of us fell in love with photography; the first is observing a black and white latent image develop into a positive image in a tray of Dektol under the glow of an amber safelight. Another is the full-on 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; these are both like opening a gift on your birthday. Another eye-opening moment of the film's beauty is loading chromes into carousel trays and turning on the projector with the whirring fan projecting the film color dyes in emulsion emitting from the screen.
The mystery of film will remain so.