–I love film because it looks better. There’s a depth and soul to film that borders on the mystical for me. It can’t be quite defined or explained, only felt. For get science, this is alchemy.
–I love the look so much that I don’t mind the process or the workflow. I didn’t get into this because it was easy; just the mere fact that I have to work at it makes it more meaningful to me.
–The limitations of the process become an asset. You can’t take many shortcuts using film. There is real cost to each shot I take, which makes me more patient and deliberate. There is that “decisive moment” as Cartier-Bresson wrote, and one has to be ready for it when it comes, not looking down at an LCD screen at what they just took.
–What I’m trying to accomplish in my work might not even be attainable for me, but the fact that I keep on striving makes me a better photographer. There’s actually an element of the Islamic concept of Jihad inherent in that. Not that I’ve never actually seen myself as waging a holy war, but digital does have the lion’s share of the market so I do militantly support film any way I can, because the film manufacturing industry needs to meet a certain bottom line to survive, because it’s my medium of choice and I want to be able to use it, because it should be an available creative choice for photographers and filmmakers not just today, but in the future as well. I want to die knowing that processes like film (and magnetic tape as well) are not only being used, but being used so much that there is still an industry supported by these people, supplying artists with the creative tools needed to make amazing work.
-Film is archival. Black & white film is projected to last nearly a millennium, color film, depending on type, anywhere from 150-300 years. That’s damn good if you ask me. Hard drives, on the other hand, last an average of 10 years with a failure rate around 15% being considered acceptable. One has to keep continuously migrating data and changing file formats to be able to read digital files years after the fact, but with film, as long as it’s in a dry, cool, and dark place, the rule is Store & Ignore.
I used digital cameras occasionally but I didn’t officially become a photographer until I started using film, and let me elaborate on that, because I don’t think that about people in a general sense (it’s just that digital images rarely do anything for me). Before film, I wasn’t a photographer because I hardly ever took pictures, I didn’t study or analyze what I was doing (or try to improve it), I just captured snapshots of things that I didn’t want to forget on my phone, I was never consciously or deliberately making a decision to create anything, and I never ever went anywhere with the express purpose of taking pictures. I started out not seeing myself as a photographer but a film-user, and that didn’t change for a long time, because I didn’t do it consciously to make images, but to learn how to use a film camera.
I was born in 1985 so I remember using film growing up, but then digital came around and it was new and exciting. When I was younger I used to think that anything modern was good and newer was better, just like most people my age. Why would anyone want to use an old camera? Why would anyone want to use film? I never saw the point, but 5.5 years ago now, I was rummaging around my grandparents house and found one of my grandpa’s old cameras (a TKC Kalimar). I decided to take it home and use it, because I’d kept hearing that film looked better than digital (it’s true) and I wanted to see for myself again, as I hadn’t used film since about 2002/2003 at that point. I can’t say any of my images were all that stellar, but I just fell in love with the process.
I started finding other better cameras at garage sales and thrift stores for super cheap, with which I was able to do a lot more. From 2009 through 2012 I just documented my life the way people were doing it just 10 years before: on film. Spring 2013 I got asked to do some portrait sessions for a small private school and that took me to the next level. In preparation, I bought a few pro films to shoot the sessions with, Kodak Ektar 100, BW400CN, and Fuji Pro400H, but the results I got weren’t satisfying to me. I spent the next day or two just reading all I could on the internet about film and different film stocks and concluded that a portrait session for clients (even friends) was not the best time to try out three new film stocks, so I did a reshoot using what I already knew: Fuji Superia 400 and Fujicolor 200 (those two films and a lot of post-processing got me through the commission successfully). This was also the first time I gave my business to a local brick & mortar camera store, a business that I still use and a place where everyone knows my name.
Then that Fall I took a photography class at college, that brought my work to another level. Shooting color negative for the previous four years certainly gave me an edge over my classmates, but I still learned plenty about how to achieve the look I wanted by bending these mechanical apparati (camera and enlarger, as well as chemicals) to my will. I also learned a lot about interacting with people and ended up doing fine art portraits for my final project. I learned and enjoyed myself so much in that class that I decided to start a photo blog. I got tired of reading so much negativity and misinformation regarding film, especially how much it costs, so now for over a year I’ve written about good deals and getting the most for my money shooting film. Writing this blog also inspired me to declare a minor for Visual Arts, emphasis on Photography, because a major in Sound Design & Music Composition just isn’t enough for me now.
I go to garage sales and thrift stores, but the majority of my cameras have now been gifted to me by people who no longer use them. For that reason alone, shooting film is about as inexpensive as it is possible to get, far less than buying a digital camera would be. And that’s the theme of my writing: there are too many cameras sitting around not being used, and they deserve better. It’s time someone took these cameras out of the closet, dusted them off, and put them to work again! If you have an old film camera you don’t use anymore, please give it away to someone you know; you may just end up encouraging a youngster to find an interest in photography.
I’m currently in college studying music composition, I record myself, put out albums, play shows. This is my photographic outlet.
© Joseph Irvin. All of the photographs on this site, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted by the photographer. No content may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without express permission of the copyright holder(s).