I feel lucky to have grown up with film being my only option to create a photograph. It wasn’t until I travelled through India in 1992, that the world through a viewfinder opened up to me. I was suddenly bombarded with a visual spectacular, the memories of snapping away across that country, made a huge impact on my photographic approach. I used a Pentax P30.
When I returned to England, I started to experiment with 1600 ASA film, doing stage photos in London. I loved the soft grain, but it was only a hobby, nothing more. I printed at (the sadly closed) Joe’s Basement in Wardor Street, London.
In 1998 I travelled to Mexico with my P30, a bag of Fuji transparency, and Kodak Tri-X. I ventured to the most remote places I could, to create a travel archive of pre-hispanic Mexico. What was meant to be a two month trip, became a two year adventure!
I had film developed in Mexico, but the results were not good, so I decided to send all my used film home for refrigeration. Unfortunately, I sent it from a rural post office in the northern central highlands, and yes, you guessed it…..all lost! Two year’s worth of travel, about 50-70 rolls disappeared. I was gutted, and decided to put the camera down for a while.
In 2001, I started to see the growth of digital compact cameras. I indulged my self, recognising the convenience of digital imagery, and no more film to lose. Things soon stepped up, and before long I was the owner of a DSLR. For the next seven years I shot digital, covering various projects. This extended internationally, where I spent a lot of time covering environmental research campaigns using a Nikon D2x and D3 (which is a great camera).
However, I always felt there was something missing. Something odd about the feel of the images. On one trip I decided to bring a Bronica GS1 6×7 to do some colour comparisons. Sure, a different beast, but what remarkable clarity and superior results the 67 neg carried.
I was not comparing medium format film with 35mm digital, but rather looking at the depth, colours and tones between analog and digital… there’s good in both. But I found the digital files were bit too static.
The film photographs reminded me of ‘a trueness’ I had experienced with my P30, something nostalgic, I don’t know. I began to consider my shots as I had in the early years, I was drawn back to the methodical way of taking a photograph using film. The convenience of the digital process had, I believe, lead me to subconsciously devalue and take frames for granted.
Over recent years, I have become less satisfied with digital imagery, the novelty has warn off; everyone’s doing it. Sometimes I receive requests for use of my digital work on the assumption it can be casually given away. This is not the case with film, people recognise its legitimacy, its value.
Is digital a diluted medium? This is not to say there aren’t exceptionally talented digital photographers, and the continuous improvement of digital technology is impressive. But still, I prefer the simplicity of film cameras, film’s natural quality and the measured approach it requires.
This leaves me with a bit of a dilemma…what jobs do I use with film or digital?
Certainly for my personal work it’s 100% film. When using digital, clients expect to see the images almost immediately. But I don’t like to work that way at all. I prefer to wait a few days, returning to the shots with fresh eyes. This helps my digital workflow be more considered rather than being immediate, I need time to think.
Shooting film allows me breathing space and time away from the shots when having them developed. I like to wait a week or two, so when I return to the pictures I see them in a different way, its like focusing memory, and that’s a very satisfying feeling.
After using a Mamiya 7ii with a 65mm lens for the last few years, I have to say it is truly a great combination. This camera is excellent, and is wonderful for landscapes. I always find myself reaching for it first, and increasingly becoming more confident with its unique quality. Kodak Portra 400, scans really well too, giving really lovely colours that I have always struggled to achieve with digital. You will see in the set of photographs I have added, a photo taken on a D3, I don’t like the colours and know it would be far more pleasing if I had shot it with Kodak Portra 400.
I have a hybrid workflow, whereby I shoot on film and scan to digital. I use a Epson flatbed for day to day scans and internet use, but for very high quality printing, I now have my work drum scanned by Tim Parkin at drumscanning.co.uk.
It’s a nice mix that allows me the best of both worlds. I have the choice to print either in the darkroom or digitally. I can keep a hard copy negative and a high-res PSD file from a drum scan. I back up on a cloud drive and store the negs safely.
The ten years or so I worked with digital have been productive, I learnt a lot about different lenses and flash, but I can’t say I am satisfied with the digital medium and its immediacy, but that’s just me.
My return to film feels like coming home, there’s a magic to it that I can’t describe, I find it satisfying, that’s my return to film.
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