I believe everyone interested in visual expression were intrigued by digital photography and the possibilities emerging with it. This was certainly true for me and I quickly bought Nikon DSLR. The D70 actually played a big part in my path to photography. I was studying art and was only using photography as a means to an end. Having the possibility to fire away and instantly seeing the results was great for experimenting and learning, but it quickly became too easy and “perfect”. The value of each picture, and consequently the effort and soul put into it, dropped. I became lazy, my photos became boring and I lost the spark.
This is true for many image makers I have spoken to and I think a lot of creative people feel the same. Digital is such a sterile representation of what’s in front of you – great for documenting, but lacking in character and individuality. When almost 50% of all photos (on Flickr) are taken with an iPhone – a digital camera with a tiny sensor and fixed lens, it’s difficult to find your own visual language, except by choice of subject matter. Hence the incredible popularity of for example Hipstamatic and Lensbaby – apps and lenses that would give your digital camera or phone a “unique” analog-like, unpredictable or even “flawed” output. The rise of Impossible Project and Fuji Instax illustrate this further, and points out another shortcoming of digital photography – the lack of a physicality. Today people are willing to pay 2-3 euros PER PICTURE for Impossible-film to get a tangible, analog result. A polaroid camera doesn’t have 50 Megapixels, 4 axis image stabilisation or a dedicated selfie mode. It’s imperfect, unreliable and impractical. Digital cameras are better than ever and nearly everyone walks around with one in their pocket, so why are manufacturers of photographic film talking about a comeback? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.
Fujifilm announced that they sold about 6,5 million Instax cameras in 2016 and Harman Technology (Ilford) has reported a 5% growth in film sales per year the last 5 years. Kodak Alaris (in effect what is left of Kodak) is seeing a similar trend and has developed films that are ideal for scanning, and at CES 2017 they announced the return of Ektachrome!
We have seen from the #saveanalogcameras 2017 survey that analog photography is not dying out, its users are actually relatively young on average and very active. The analog community has been kept alive by the few and their passion for cameras, the process and the art of photography. Now we are seeing new generations of analog enthusiasts that didn’t know film before digital, they choose to “go back to” analog, and that is very good news!
With regards to acquiring equipment and supplies, globalisation plays a big part in the Nordic countries, with smaller population densities and bigger distances between people with niche interests. It is reflected in several of our results that people look online, far away and even abroad for inspiration, gear, supplies and repair shops. Saying that, us analog enthusiasts are certainly aware that we need to support those who still work locally with analog equipment, supplies and services if it is to have a future. This was made very clear to me when one of Oslo’s best labs, LabDoka, closed in 2012. The value of having people with similar interests to talk to and learn from is invaluable, and competition is vital to maintaining a good service for customers. According to the numbers we still favour our local stores when we buy film, get film developed and need repairs or service. That is also very good news!
Our survey has shown that unfortunately most analog photographers haven’t got a healthy network of analog geeks irl (in real life) so they turn to Youtube, Reddit, Facebook and so on. We definitely have work to do in that respect and it is up to every single analog geek to take the initiative. Build it and they will come!
To me analog photography was never replaced by digital, it is just starting to find its place alongside. It will never regain its position as our main image capturing medium, our phones now (over-) document our lives, but it’s distilled down to the best things about photography. The art, the process and the craft. It is a physical process, not a virtual one. Hopefully it will help the art of photography survive and influence young photographers to embrace the craft. It is certainly reassuring that a lot of the analog products that are seeing steady growth (Instax, Lomo, Ondu) are aimed at young people, AKA the future.
For a lot of photographers, amateur or professional, going analog is a way to differentiate their work from the rest. For others it is a way to challenge themselves and retain their passion for what they do. Some of us simply appreciate the incredible cameras and lenses out there. Either way, from what our survey tells us and judging by trends in the market, I would say that analog photography has found a niche place alongside digital for the foreseeable future and all of photography is better for it.
I would like to end this article with an email I got from my friend Craig George, a brilliant UK wedding photographer and artist. In 2016 he decided to move from digital to film. This baffled me, so I asked him why.
Why I use film?
I have the width, I needed more depth…
The answer is simple; it produces the results I’m looking for. Over the last 5 years I’ve been a wedding photographer, and always on digital, at the beginning of 2016 I started to get a churning feeling in my stomach, a yearning for more depth to my art. You see, to produce the images I’m passionate about takes more than what is produced, its coupled with how!
Digital photography has provided me with a platform to move, digital technology is progressing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up, not being a technically minded person, I soon fell out of touch with the modern capabilities and intricacies of each camera model. However, the release of focus shift technology stirred up a question on my mind
– “where’s the skill gone?”
The more I pondered on this question, the more I found it hard to be proud of my photography. Why?
Firstly, because I didn’t feel it was a skill anymore! (or at least I wasn’t challenged) – within a large parameter of scope any in camera mistakes could quite easily be rectified in post-production by shifting the 1’s and 0’s around to produce the final corrected image. A huge safety net, creating lazy photography on my part.
Secondly, whilst editing digital images for hours on end, in the coming weeks post wedding, I found myself looking to emulate the look, and ever elusive feel of a film photograph. Once this epiphany occurred, the simple question was – “why don’t I just shoot film?”
I have reignited my passion through the challenge and results of using film, exploring new techniques and communities en route. I’m proud of the part I’m playing in preserving a traditional art, I’m proud of the work I’m producing for myself and my clients, and finally I’m proud when I say “I’m a photographer”!