Things come back in vogue all the time – right now, it seems to be film, both in photography and filmmaking (tho less so in filmmaking I think).
I was talking with Carl Olson (from the Digital Convergence Podcast that I co-hosted for a while) on Skype a few weeks ago and he mentioned how he’s going back to film – and it turns out, it has become a real passion. So when I saw the video at the bottom of this post from Al Roker on the Today Show, I instantly thought of Carl and what he’s doing… so I asked him to tell us a bit about the why and how of going back to film photography.
When digital photography and filmmaking burst on the scene in the late 2000’s, the craft became more affordable than ever before. Like 99.9% of all other photographers, I abandoned analog film entirely and my analog gear sat in storage for over a decade.
Caught up in the excitement of DSLR video that the Canon 5D Mark II brought into the mainstream, I started a podcast called the Digital Convergence Podcast. planet5D’s Mitch Aunger was my first guest (and he would later appear as a guest host in dozens of episodes to follow). The name Digital Convergence Podcast seemed relevant at the time. Digital was all the rage. Convergence referred to DSLR's that shot both still photos and HD video. And Podcast, was, well, a then-novel delivery medium for serialized audio shows.
However, as great as digital photography and filmmaking is, I felt a huge void in what I call tangible art – art that you can touch and in some small way connect you with the artist who created it. When I visit an art museum I instinctively want to touch the painting or sculpture before me (but that isn’t a good idea in a museum!). You can see the brush strokes, the finger prints, the smudges and marks left by the artist who made that art. It’s this physicality that I miss in digitally produced art. Over the past several years I started to oil paint in earnest and loved the tactile nature of the craft and the fact that each completed piece was unique.
One day I happened to pull out an old Polaroid SX-70 that had been in storage for years. I bought Impossible Project film for it and was surprised that it still worked! I did the same for my old Nikon 35mm gear. While nostalgia is certainly a part of my fascination with analog film, there was also a rekindled interest in producing fine art. Since so many people have abandoned film altogether, it actually provides an opportunity to do something different, with a unique look, that few are doing today.
My interest in fine art photography renewed, I decided to buy an old Mamiya RB67 – the “beast” as many photographers fondly refer to it. Exposing 120 film in it and seeing the huge negatives and transparencies I produced with the RB67 was exhilarating. For a few hundred dollars, I bought a complete system that would have cost nearly $20,000 back in the 1990’s during analog film’s heyday. The RB67 is slow, heavy, and cumbersome. Shooting with the RB67 forces to you to slow down and carefully consider what you are doing. Surprisingly I found that I enjoy the thoughtfulness of the process. Since then, I’ve added a Yashicamat 124g TLR camera to my collection as well as several old 120mm box cameras and Kodak Brownie Hawkeyes that I’m restoring. I haven’t had this much fun in photography in decades!
I’m not going to say film photography is better than digital – it’s not. It’s just different. And I won’t give up digital photography and filmmaking. Both have their place and rewards. For example, I recently shot a mini-documentary about a “maker” – an experience wood turner – with a RED Weapon equipped with the Helium 8K sensor. The irony is not lost on me that I’m making a documentary called Analog Made with a digital camera!
And so that brings me back to the Digital Convergence Podcast… I felt it was time to change the name of the podcast since each word in the name either boxed me in (digital), had lost its meaning and context (convergence), and was redundant (podcast). In January of this year, I changed the name of the podcast to Artful Camera. The tagline for show is: “The art, craft, and business of analog and digital photography and filmmaking.” It’s liberating! And I’m excited for the future.
– Carl Olson
Remember Cameras? Al Roker Goes Back to Old-School Photography
TODAY’s Al Roker is still going cold turkey from digital technology, continuing his series on all things analog. This time Al explores the world of pre-digital photography, and instead of film, the entire segment is shown in old-fashioned still photographs!
(cover photo credit: snap from video)