Working in a university sector that celebrates “New Media Arts” is really exciting and challenging for a self-confessed analog photographer. It has forced me to review my work in light of available technologies, and allowed me to bounce ideas off those I would normally never get the chance to meet. For this I am eternally grateful. But.
I am a strong believer in film, and its place in the artistic photographic field. Although I may have let my artwork slide recently (bad me!), I never stop wistfully thinking about the all beautiful possibilities presented by traditional film photography. I may momentarily forget the smell of the darkroom, the quiet whisper of footsteps as you walk along the darkened corridors, the ‘subtle’ red glow that makes everyone look eerie, or the feel of the emulsion when you hold the film or paper the right way, but they are only ever a daydream away.
Every once in a while I will read an article and the smells and the sounds and the feel of the darkroom comes back to me. Today for instance, it was reading an article about Sophie Richards, who was the winner of this year’s QANTAS SOYA awards in the photography section, and also a fellow graduate from QCA. Her portfolio is exclusively film, something mine will never be, and she talks about the quality of film. She extolls, as most film buffs do, the virtues of its high resolution and the fixed purpose one needs to shoot that frame exactly right, just once, without ‘chimping’.
The unparalleled quality of film is often a raging debate between digital and film shooters. I couldn’t care either way. Anyone who sees my work knows that I am not interested in the slightest about how sharp my image is, how perfect my colours are. I purposely put my film through xray scanners at the airports, dump them in water, shoot through crappy pinholes I make out of rubbish I pick up on the beach. Quality is not why I love film. I love it because it is not an automated thing. It is a physical thing. I can touch the image as it appears to me in the darkroom. It is intimate and romantic. It has beautiful flaws. It is delicate and serendipitous and temperamental, and I love it all the more for it. That slippery feel of fresh negatives before they dry; that thrill at seeing your image emerge when you dunk your paper under the liquid; the weird dance you do with your hands over the paper as you dodge and burn the light. Film is a private performance. You can let go of your inhibitions, safe as the darkness envelopes you, and you create sense out of a complicated world.