Untitled photo

The idea that I had once made plans for how I thought 2020 would go now seems charmingly naive. 

And that's such a catastrophic understatement that I've stumped myself for what to write next. So, starting over:

Back in January I started a new project: to see if I could use film instead of digital cameras for the kinds of photography that I enjoy. Specifically I wanted to learn if I could go minimalist, with the idea that if I could bond with my electronic rangefinder of uncertain reliability, then I could maybe justify buying a more expensive mechanical rangefinder that I could continue to use for the rest of my life, which I assume would be another thirty years, give or take.

Like I said, naive. And I modified that minimalism after only a month, when I bought my Nikon F6, which turned out to be a very prescient move. But I also thought that I wouldn't buy any more lenses or cameras after that – and I was half right. No lenses, but five new cameras, although only four of them take film.

Untitled photo

I set the goal of using 36 rolls of film, which was both a modestly attainable target and more than I had used in the previous decade. I'm officially giving up on that number now – there's simply no way I haven't exceeded it. I'd gone through two dozen rolls in the first six months of the year, despite the first lockdown and the screeching halt of everything that came with it. Since then I've probably doubled that, but simply didn't have the energy to keep track and update my project gallery. Maybe at the end of the year I'll go through my catalog and see what the final number is – I do set Vuescan to name each roll with the camera, lens, and film, so I can count back that way.

As far as the Use Film project goes, it's over. Its goals are accomplished and its questions have been answered. From now on I just do what I do the way I want to for its own sake, not because I'm testing anything or trying to prove something.

And that's a relief to say, even though it's what I've been doing for a while regardless.

Untitled photo

I answered my main question: yes, I can use film to take the kinds of photos I like. My favourite flying airplane photo was taken with pushed HP5 film and a 35mm lens on my rangefinder, and this routine skyline shot was with my F6, 24-35 zoom, and FP4. So technically nothing stands in my way for that. But the broader question was about if I could handle the expense, workflow, and shifting to monochrome that goes along with shifting much, or most, of my personal photography to film long-term.

Digital capture does colour superbly, while colour film is disproportionately challenging. For back and white those competencies are reversed. So for me to use film is to use black and white film. I do miss colour occasionally, so I have some Portra and Ektar around just in case, but it's not my main thing. Black and white film is also significantly cheaper than colour, and now that I'm developing my own that further reduces the costs – once I've done enough to absorb the cost of its required equipment – and shortens my turnaround time. All good things.

The secondary question, about voluntary simplicity, has also been answered. As much as I would love a brand new Leica M-A, and could see using such a wonderful machine until I can't any more, I'm never going to have only one camera. I do like my smaller rangefinder, and would hate to give it up, but I simply take better photos with an SLR. Sometimes compositional accuracy matters. But the bigger picture is that my most interesting images (to me, at least, if not to anyone else) haven't been taken with either my rangefinder or SLR.

Untitled photo

I started out trying to learn if I could take the kind of photos I already liked with film cameras, and ended up finding photos that I could only take with film cameras.

Like many people, the lockdown in the first half of the year had me anxious and ungrounded. Unlike many people, my response to that was to buy a toy panoramic camera. Initially I thought it would be good way to show that the empty streets weren't just a trick of good timing, but by the time it arrived the city life was getting back to normal. Fortunately I found another way of using it to capture and express my experience of everything that's been going on.

Multiple exposures are a distinctly 'film' thing – while some digital cameras have the ability to overlay photos and simulate the effect, the gestalt is not the same at all. It's far too precious, too intentional, to work for me. I'll take the analog uncertainty of a simple double-exposure over its digital simulation any day. And I see no computational way to recreate the organic collisions and chaos of all of the things, petty or profound, that catch my attention when I'm photographing for my panortho series.

Untitled photo

So that's the update. Film is no longer a special effort or a project, it's just what I use. There will absolutely be times when it's what I need to do what I want, and other times when it's simply what I prefer for whatever reason. And other times digital cameras will be the right choice, whether for their electronic capture capabilities or because I have a massive array of different lens and camera options. 

I've learned a lot these past months, including not to commit to long-range plans. I do have some projects on the go, and some ideas for new ones. And I'll choose the cameras and medium for each that suits it best.