You might be wondering why I don’t post a lot of photographs, or why any I do post are from festivals long passed. The time has come to let you in on my little secret… I shoot film.
I have vivid memories of flipping through issues of National Geographic as a kid; I think most people my age do. I remember the way the images made me feel as though I was standing right there in the desert, or a Turkish market, or on the crowded streets of Shanghai at night. I could almost smell the air, thick with the scent of a passing sandstorm, spices, or a mix of perfume and diesel fumes. Every one of those photographs were shot on film. They have that ethereal, gritty, and nostalgic feeling that photo editing software companies try to duplicate through a myriad of special filters that can be applied in the post production of digital images… but it’s just not the same, is it?
I never got to have my great European adventure. At a time before the internet was really a thing, and before the surge of digital and mobile photography, I was lost in post-secondary mistakes and minimum wage jobs. I never had the chance to up and leave with no connection home beyond a pack of postcards in my backpack and the occasional sketchy long-distance phone café. But that world is now gone forever. Today, the modern backpacker feels the need–or duty–to report back in real time with ease, afforded to them by the immediacy of digital or mobile photography. Instagram and Flickr accounts run hot with fresh images of the current moment, and friends and family are constantly kept abreast through up-to-the-minute selfies in front of tourist monuments narrated with cryptic captions. Gone are the scrapbooks hastily pulled together as a showpiece for friends and family.
Don’t get the wrong idea here… I do firmly believe that the immediacy that the smart phone has brought to photography has done wonders in the industry of reporting. We are now able to instantly inform mass amounts of people about social injustice or heinous war crimes being committed around the world. We are able to mobilize and act even before events are reported on the nightly news. However, photography at its core is, and always will be, a retrospective. When you think about it, a picture will always depict the past even if it is shared seconds after it was captured. Why is it that we so vividly remember a 1984 National Geographic photograph of a young Afghan woman but fail to bring to mind the definitive photograph of the Montreal student protest in 2012, one image that sums up the movement?
This project was meant to be looked back on as a personal retrospective and choosing to shoot it on film was, to me, a no-brainer. Film has always been, and always will be, my instrument of choice. Just as a carpenter carefully selects their tools to execute the job perfectly, so does a photographer. Simply put, I connect with film in a way that I just can’t with digital photography. The immediacy of digital or mobile photography takes me out of the moment; eyes glued to the tiny screen on the back of the camera I find myself contemplating sensor size and image quality rather than the artistic merit of the photograph captured. Film allows me to not only remain in the moment, but to feel as though I was a real part of the memories I am capturing, as though they are mine as well… and well, they are. It allows me to slow down and think about every single shot I take, conveying the very emotions that I see in others as well as those I feel within myself.
One can argue that film may have its limitations, but I will counter that in saying that the limitations push me to become a better photographer. In low lit situations I have to work harder and be ever more conscious of my camera settings as I search for the beautiful light pockets that pop up every now and then, gently caressing the faces of animated people. Under bright, sunny conditions shadows become my enemy as they occasionally creep up and block people’s faces all the while completely blowing out the highlights. At times I may get frustrated shooting under the dull yellow glow of tungsten lightbulbs, resulting in images often prone to an incomprehensible slurry of red, orange, and yellow tones – but when imperfections are embraced, magic begins to happen and the elements combine in a way reminiscent of the photographs of my childhood birthdays, under the tungsten sun that is the chandelier in my parents’ dining room. Sometimes I get to have my cake, and eat it too.