Over the last few months my results with film have been very mixed. Mixed, stroke not very good. I have been quite disappointed. During the Edinburgh Fringe last year I shot quite a few rolls of film. I was excited to see what I had on them. When I finally got them processed I really liked both the quality and the feel of the images. Needless to say there were plenty of shots that didn’t work for one reason or another, but on the whole I was happy. Film does have a unique feel, there’s just something about it.
It has been argued that film is better than digital, it is more ‘authentic’, it ‘slows you down’, ‘forces you to think’, and ‘makes you a better photographer’. These ideas are nice to buy into if you want. But is it true? I don’t think it is necessarily, you could be just as hasty and rush things with film. I think that to improve your photography you’re going to have to slow down, you’re going to have to start thinking more about what you’re doing, eventually.
Of course with digital photography there is an inherent disposability. You can take 500 shots of the same thing and if they’re all terrible you can delete them and take another 500 without it costing a penny. But does that mean that images created digitally have less value than those created on film? Of course not. By all means enjoy the process, the craft, but it’s that final image that counts. Is it any good? Does it work? Is it strong? What does it say?
So, from the start of the year I’ve gone through quite a few rolls of film without much to shout about. And film costs money. It costs money to buy, and it costs money to process. It’s all very well being ‘authentic’ and shooting film if you’re getting some decent results, but when you maybe get one shot that’s ‘sort of ok’ from a 36 exposure roll, and two that are ‘hmm…’ from another, your wallet starts getting a bit sniffy. And you start to think ‘do I really believe in film? I mean, I know it exists, but come on, gimme a break here, will ya?’
And then I almost destroyed my sensor. My disposable, ‘not as authentic as film’ DSLR was almost kaput thanks to what has been termed the ‘dry method’ of sensor cleaning. Here’s a wee tip for you, despite what actual pros online might say: Do NOT use compressed air. Do not do it. Not even if you have given it a few pre-use blasts to avoid firing cold, nasty propellant liquid onto your precious sensor. Why? Because you can end up with exactly that happening regardless. I know this because it happened to me a couple of weeks ago. Plus, the bloody manual says don’t. I discovered. Afterward. Que a sinking feeling that sinks all the way down into your gut area. Not good.
Anyway, everything miraculously seems ok now. Once I’d employed the ‘wet clean’ method. Thank the Gods for a swab I say. But it certainly made me more appreciative of what I have. A camera that allows me to create colour or monochrome images that can be seen and evaluated instantly, without having to wait or pay for processing, that allows me then to make adjustments if necessary, there and then, to see what’s working and what maybe isn’t. That allows me to change ISO, to auto focus, to process at home the same day. That’s pretty damn good.
Then there was the infrared debacle. I had a couple of rolls of Ilford SFX 200 I had been meaning to experiment with. I thought, infrared will be amazing. Every shot will look strange and fabulous. So I had a little street session in Edinburgh with it, and finished the other roll off on some landscape shots of Dechmont woodland and the UFO spot (site of Bob Taylor’s infamous 1979 UFO encounter).
Again, the results were mixed, and not quite the glowing bag of wonder and excitement I had envisaged. And it cost actual money (yuh-uh!). The ten pack of infrared film I’d bought before getting these ones back from processing also cost money. Then when I did get them back I found I didn’t really like it all that much. Oh dear. I think in regard to black and white film I’ll stick with my favourite: TX400. At least with that I have a rough idea of what to expect, more or less. Infrared was fun to experiment with but I was ultimately disappointed. I’m not a fan of disappointment. Especially when paying for it with cash money.
So do I still believe in film? Yes. Will I still shoot film? Yes, I think so, but my enthusiasm has been knocked a little bit. Which may all sound a bit negative..