I was born in 1982 so by default, my first experiences with photography were on film. I had a mother who loved photography and from an early point in my childhood, I remember her handing over her EOS “something-something” and being transfixed by the idea of using this tank in my little hands to make pictures. Over the following years of my childhood and into early adulthood, I experienced a range of cameras – all film – and enjoyed the anticipation of waiting to see the images I had made.
I took many photos until one day in my early 20s when I simply stopped. Digital cameras came of age and I moved on to the next big thing.
Alongside my mother’s camera, which I was often begging to use, I had many of my own cameras through the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. As a young child, I collected keyrings and had several 110 keychains that reminded me of spy cameras, I also shot a lot of disposable cameras and had a small collection of branded point and shoot put out by the likes of Coca-Cola and such, which often came in bags from the local Easter Show.
From about seventeen onward, I got more serious and saved for my own EOS “something-something” kit and can recall having at least three different kits until around the age of twenty-two when I switched to digital. I have no idea where two of those kits ended up but having now joined the contemporary film community, I can only hope they had a new life, in new hands that appreciated them as much as I did.
My third kit is another story and I fear it is very much long dead and has gone to the great darkroom in the sky. Having once again dropped a large sum at the time on a “cheap” EOS kit, I spent the night celebrating and drinking way too much. This was accompanied by other poor choices such as shooting ISO 400 film on a pitch black night with a friend. We then retired for the evening ready for an early rise to head out body boarding in Wollongong on the South Coast of NSW the next day.
The following morning, feeling under the weather, my group headed out and stopped for breakfast at a popular tourist spot, the Kiama Blowhole. I set the camera up for a self-timed shot of the group, resting on the rocks next to the blowhole. The blowhole went off, distracting the group then we turned around and in my hungover state I left, forgetting my camera which remained on the precarious rocky position overlooking a salty water spout. I remembered several hours and several hundred kilometres later. This was the last film camera I owned until recent times and it was a fitting end as I myself, simply forgot and walked away from film for a very long time.
Over the coming decade and a half, I trialled many digital cameras and built up quite a collection within the Canon corner of the market and later with Nikon which I still use and regularly swap glass between my digital and film camera. I always chased the perfect image but in digital, “perfect” was trying to eliminate the visibility of pixels and the better cameras and lenses got, the more sterile I found my photography to be.
I enjoyed some genres of digital such as macro, where minuscule details were brought to life on a bigger scale and clean images were a must but I always felt something was missing in my images of every other subject. I was also becoming a lazy photographer who would shoot a hundred or more photos to yield a small handful of usable images. I would zoom in when editing and discard anything with any sign of not being super crisp in detail but ironically, also hated the super clean look of a crisp digital image.
A family friend came to me one day quite late in my digital life and gifted me his father’s Olympus OM-2n kit. It was beautiful with a red faux-leather case, three lenses and numerous knick-knacks, such as filters and cleaning equipment all stored carefully. My friend knew I liked photography and handed over this memory of his recently passed father in what was a huge gesture and was, sadly, greatly under-appreciated by me at the time.
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When I saw the kit in the faux-leather case, I was interested in its intrinsic value as a display piece when I had the space “one day”. At the time I had not ever thought that I was going to shoot film again and had no interest in re-learning. So this camera sat in a closet for another two years.
Those two years passed. I was completing a double-degree and had a young family and all the responsibilities that go with those two things. I needed to purchase a new laptop for university but the family budget was spent, so to do so, I sold my large Canon kit to fund it. Without a camera to amuse myself, I went looking for the next reasonably priced option in the digital market so I could still shoot something. At this time, I also moved house and during the move, I got the forgotten Olympus out of storage. It caused me to assess my next photographic move.
It prompted me to think about the cost of shooting and scanning film versus the cost of a new top of the line digital camera, which was the dream camera at the time. I sat with an Excel sheet and worked out I would have to shoot so many rolls of film to match the price of the Nikon DXXX I was looking at. Also, if I did decide to go to film, then I would have to learn to develop film to make it a viable option and this added another piece to the puzzle.
I love science and the science developing film and my thrifty nature had my interest piqued to start a new journey. I bought a roll of ILFORD HP5 PLUS and shot my first film shots in more than a decade and a half on a camera built in 1979. It produced something far from the sterile, crisp, images I was producing up until then on digital. That grain, the tones, the look…this was what was missing for me and I knew as soon as I saw the images.
In time I learned to develop black and white film and it was everything I had hoped for. I got a cheap enlarger and started to teach myself how to make prints. I had always admired the kids who did photography in high school and got to play in darkrooms but I had never taken part so for me, this was kind of like getting a second chance to relive that moment and see what I missed. There have been a lot of firsts since I started shooting film again. The first time I saw my images come out of a developing tank, the first time I saw my own contact sheet, the first time I made my own print, the first time I nailed focus on a medium format lens and most recently, my first large format image and the first time I honestly realised I had fallen head over heels for film and could not get enough.
So, this is the story of my return to film and it will continue into the future. I have only recently moved to large format photography using a Cambo monorail camera and I have commenced work on building a real darkroom as opposed to annoying my wife by converting the bathroom monthly.
I still have many aspirations within the context of film photography, such as one day hosting a gallery of my own photos somewhere locally. For me, film has given me a lot back as well. I work in a complex, rush-rush job and have all the stresses of the modern world. I am “corporate” 40 hours a week and this had started to weigh on my mind as I searched for creative outlets. Digital was rush-rush and the goal was “perfection” so it never gave me that outlet, it just reinforced the mentality that my work had.
Film has slowed me down, forced me to accept imperfection and grain, and has allowed me to think artistically, thoughtfully, slowly. I am glad I returned to film and believe it will be a part of my life for many years to come.
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