Film vs Digital. The seemingly endless debate that has raged for years now. Do we really need more words spouted about this issue? As I pondered what this week’s blog entry would be about, the internal debate between pixels verses film frames swirled in my head. I recently made an investment in a medium format film camera. l hardly needed another camera, never mind a film camera, but the freezer full of film in my house keeps begging me to expose it, and why not add another relic to my collection? My intention is to run 35mm film through the medium format camera, thus rendering quasi-panoramic images on the film (see example above.)
I tell myself that I prefer the permanence that film affords, that I feel more centered when I shoot film, that it slows me down, making my shooting more intentional. I learned photography on film, many years before digital photography even existed. I suppose I feel a connection to my roots when I shoot with a film camera. I also have this warped thought in my head that somehow film photography is more “legitimate” than digital, that it is more “serious.” Which ultimately is a crock of shit.
The irony is that even when I do shoot film, I end up digitizing it with a scanner. Which takes time, on top of the money I spent on film and processing to begin with. And even after the scanning, there’s the retouching of a multitude of dust specks and hairs that invariably muck up the raw scan. The random times I’ve ended up in the darkroom over the past few years have yielded more frustrations than rewards, and more time spent setting up than actually developing and printing. Never mind the chemicals being inhaled while I agitate some prints in the developer tray. And how many of those precious 36 frames from one roll of film are “keepers”?
So why do I continue to shoot film? Why do I feel the need to flagellate myself in the service of the film deities (that might not even exist…gee, how existential.) Why must I fetishize such a labor intensive, unpredictable, costly frustrating process? And who really gives a shit if an image was shot on film or with a digital camera, or even an iPhone? (and to be clear, I’ve created books and exhibits that have featured images from all of these methods.) Does the viewer care? Does the audience put more value in one method over the other? Does anyone really apply more worth to an image if it was the result of hours spent in the darkroom, or if it was a quick hipshot taken with a mobile device while waiting for the traffic light to turn green?
And to push my puritanical inner demons one step further: what are the limits of using Photoshop or Lightroom? Cloning out dust on an image scanned from a negative, that’s ok, right? What about converting images from color to black and white? Film simulation presets in Lightroom, making a digitally capture image appear more film-like? I have software that can make a digital image look like an antique wet-plate photograph. I have apps that replicate light leak damaged film. Foul or no foul? Really, am I the only one who cares about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And by the way, don’t even get me started about my vinyl LP collection.