When film comes into a store it is usually sold before it ever hits the shelves making it harder and harder to come by for consumer and shopkeeper alike. With seemingly endless price increases and unavailability of every type of film, there is still an unprecedented increase in popularity of analog photography. This begs to question; “why?”. This old medium that is outdone in speed and quality compared to modern digital cameras has been obsolete for more than a decade now. What makes people look back and spend everything short of their life savings on these rolls of celluloid laced with chemicals? In order to understand the revival of analog photography we need to dive into history and find out where and why the ‘film-boom’ had an end. After we discovered this, we can discuss the fact that film photography is back and is here to stay.
In order not to bore you with a history lesson I will keep the history part of this blog as short as possible. However, I believe that it is important to know that film was almost, actually, a dead medium. With the emergence of digital photography in the late 1990’s film photography did not yet suffer a blow. Image quality was not up to par, yet, in comparison to what the analog images produced. Over time, however, image quality increased and the ease and speed of digital photography became apparent to the professional. Furthermore, by the late 2000’s it was cheaper overall to shoot digital rather than analog. The development process is skipped, and photographers could process their own images from home or the office. There was no more need for chemicals and hours of printing in the darkroom.
This democratization of photography was further expanded by reducing the cost of photography itself. After the investment of a camera and lens the consumer was ready to go to work without any other expenses. When it came to film every 36 images another investment in film had to be made. Furthermore, there was the cost of developing and printing the images that added strain to the photographer budget. As we all know now the film manufacturing companies could not evolve alongside the digital uprising causing many of them to file for bankruptcy. Even Kodak, the daddy of the film world, was not able to live alongside the emerging fast paced digital world.
Kodak’s bankruptcy was seen as the final nail in the coffin for analog photography. However, in 2016 the demand for film started increasing again. As a new generation of photographers entered the stage a renewal of interest for the analog medium came along with them. The amateur and professional photographer were looking for something with more substance to make images with. The digital medium works great when there is a need for speed, ultra-high quality and extreme details. However, when one is looking for feeling and emotion in an image analog photography portrays this differently and better than the digital cameras. The non-professional shooter uses film cameras to capture very important moments. These moments would usually be recorded on a phone camera and never looked at again. When capturing that moment on film the picture is real and will, definitely, be seen again.
During the pandemic that recently ravaged the world the love for analog photography grew even more. Going on endless walks became tedious after a while so people sought things to do during their walks. Photography became more popular and because there was nothing but time to kill anyways, film photography gave the people something to look out for. Shooting a roll of film not knowing how the images will turn out, sending said images to a lab to get them developed and scanned to then see and share them with the world. Droves of 20-year-olds plundered parents’ and grandparents’ attics trying to find the hidden gems hidden from plain sight for decades. Cameras that had not been used for years came out of the darkness and where still working beautifully making it easy for new faces in the film photography world to start their analog journey.
On social media platforms as Reddit and Instagram the analog community has found each other. The community shares tips and tricks in order to get to most creative ways of practicing analog photography. There are channels that focus on developing film in many different ways, channels that teach everyone who wants to hear it how to best use a certain filmstock and channels that just show off the beauty that film can be. Also, there are massive communities that will be able to answer all your questions about any analog camera you might be having trouble with. These channels and communities seem be gaining as much -if not more- popularity as film photography itself. The online presence analog photography has makes it as easy to start with. All answers to questions about anything are easily found online.
It seems like the new generation of photographers wants to log their creative madness on something other than phones or other digital media. They want to slow down and do things intentionally rather than shoot a million shots and hope there is a good one amongst them. Furthermore, they care more about feeling and emotion in an image rather than perfect image quality. Naturally, film is perfect for this endeavor. The images can be “perfect” but still have a sense of nostalgia because of the grain and structure of the chemical emulsion. Also, it takes time and effort to get the images. That process is very important for the analog experience. The photographer knows what they wanted to create but will only really know what the outcome of the images are after they have been processed and scanned/printed. The photographer knows they must wait for the image so they will remember what they shot and therefore the moment the photo was made co-exists with the image making it that extra bit special.
The big question now is whether film is here to stay or whether it is a hype that will fade overtime. There are many indications to me that film photography is a hype but will not fade away. Film is still very scarce, there is not enough to go around and shops like ours are sold out before the film is properly entered into the website. Even though there is scarcity, people are still chasing film and have the patience to wait for orders to be filled. On top of that photographers are happy to pay the prices set by the film manufacturers. Meaning that they have so much love for film that they are happy to pay a euro per image. Adding on to this, and this might be a little off track, Leica just re-introduced the original M6 film camera. They are actually remaking the original M6 after 20 years.
Although not on the same level as the hay days of film there is definite increase in popularity and demand concerning film photography. The feeling and intentionality of the medium makes it real. The realness is increased by the physical attributes that house the image, this being the film. Consumers who are alright with paying incredible amount of money to get their hands on rolls of film. Plus, the fact that Leica is going back to its roots proves that analog photography is here to stay.