This morning I was idly looking at twitter when I saw someone say “Why would anyone want to explore analogue photography? You don’t find gamers wanting to play with pacman anymore. Or do you?”
This, to me, is rantbait. You understand the concept of rantbait, don’t you? A sentence or thought that you mention to someone – or just throw out into the ether – knowing that a response will be forthright and forthcoming. It’s quite an old joke amongst many of my friends; how long is it before we can get Mike to start foaming at the mouth when we go to the pub? Admittedly, sometimes I over-egg my indignation because it’s funny.
Anyway, I love analogue photography. I have more film cameras than digital ones and make more film cameras out of matchboxes and insulation tape. Last year I turned a boat into a camera, for goodness’ sakes. I’ve had a go at making developer out of old coffee and orange juice. If I ever get my act together I want to make my own light-sensitive paper, and run that through some old paint tins with pinholes in the side. I sometimes teach people how to make and take analogue photographs in analogue cameras, and the question of why we do this comes up every time.
It’s because instant gratification is so much more boring than waiting for the results. It’s because the act of making something yourself is so much more satisfying that pushing a button. It’s because the end result is never what you expect, and it’s so final – you have to take what you’re given, and so you have to prepare well or accept the variations that may occur. And the variations are beautiful. They’re what makes a sterile photograph live. They can turn a document into art.
Sure, it takes longer. There are apparently more efficient processes. What you get at the end may not be what you want. But what you’re doing is front-loading the effort; you’re taking ten minutes thinking and concentrating on what you feel the end result should be at the start of the process, instead of spending two hours tinkering in Photoshop at the end, endlessly cropping, colour balancing, tweaking, adding tones and overlays to make it look like it came from an 1930’s camera loaded with 1970s film.
And anyway, if you reduced everything you do to its most efficient process then we wouldn’t bake, or make soup. We wouldn’t draw or paint. We would render down our dead for food and heating. We wouldn’t have a civil service, or a diplomatic corps. We wouldn’t have flower beds, or three thousand varieties of cheese, or two hundred types of hat, or any clothes other than smocks and sandals made from planks and twisted plant fibres. We wouldn’t have exploration, or scientific discovery, or the drive to find more efficient ways of doing things. And so, in celebrating the inefficient, the variable, the unpredictable and the process that requires apparently more effort, we provide juxtaposition and contrast to the world around us in its spirit of finding the New Ways of Doing Things.
Also, if I can document the world around me now without (directly) requiring electricity or infrastructure other than running water then when the end of the world does come I can document that, too. In fact, a lot of my hobbies have a postapocalyptic application…
By the way, this is just how I think of this. Your thoughts and opinions may be totally different, and that’s fine. I only speak for myself.
(All the photos above were taken with a film camera, the last one with a camera I made myself and I had no idea that it would come out that beautiful; the black & white images I developed myself, the colour ones went to a service.)