When digital photography first appeared 10-15 years ago, almost everything about it was novel: it was instantaneous, pictures could be processed at home on a computer, memory cards (unlike film) could be re-used over and over. But what was once novel, thanks to the wonders of mass production, is now very common place – almost everyone has access to a digital camera these days, even if it just a 3 megapixel lens on their mobile phone. Small wonder then that film manufacturers like Ilford have recently reported increased profit margins of 8 percent, while Fuji film has experienced a sales increase of 7% in the past 6months. Like letter old fashioned writing, cooking over an open fire, or stitching your own clothes, film photography is the next in a very long line of things to become novel due to its advanced years: what was once very old has paradoxically become very new.
In a digital medium where photographs are virtually flawless straight out of the camera, it is not difficult to see how analog photography has become novel: aberrations such as vignetting (corner shadowing), intrusive grain, and poor contrast may have been undesirable when analog photography was still king, but as several dozen film emulation apps on the iphone attest to, it is these very ‘imperfections’ that are now attracting people to film by their thousands. So desirable is the ‘lo-fi look’ of film now in fact, companies are already clamoring to offer people the real deal: established in 2008, The Impossible Project was founded by 10 ex-Polaroid employees who saw that despite Polaroids insistence that there was no more life in their film, there was a new generation of photographers eager to embrace it. Despite industry-wide scepticism at the time, the gamble ultimately paid off; their Polraoid films have not only been a hit with the public, the group has now expanded its operation to include an all-Polaroid shop in central London. Clearly there is a lot to be said for remaining low-tech in a market increasingly saturated by the bleeding edge.
If the appeal of film lies in its imperfections for some, for others the attraction of analog photography seems to lie in something altogether less technical: take a walk around any affluent capital city (particularly Tokyo) and you will almost certainly spot a few people with Holgas or battered Hasselblads around their necks, but what you might also notice about these shutter-bugs is that they don’t ‘look’ like your average photographer – distressed jeans, hair-style veering off at impossible angles, these individuals often look more like your typical clothes-horse than your typical ‘film buff’. Could it be that there is a certain ‘cultural cache’ attached to being seen with a vintage camera as well? If so it wouldn’t be the first time: wind-up toys, bubble cars, lava lamps, all these things made the transition from ‘naff’ to ‘vintage’ before, now it is just the neglected analog camera’s moment to regain some of its lost appeal. And much in the same vein again, if there is a market for it, you can be sure there is already someone capitalising on it: The Lomography Society has just released a range of ‘tricked out’ classic cameras complete with studded gems, while Bape clothing founder Nigo has just released his own range of custom polaroid films. The connection between film and fashion cannot be denied.
While we might ponder to what extent the current craze for film is due to fashion alone or some quality intrinsic to the medium, one thing is for sure: analog cameras are still very much in demand and far from dead. Yet, the question might be asked, what about those still very much in love with digital? Couldn’t the increasing popularity of film potentially spell the end for pixel-based photography? If the current crop of analog shutter-bugs are anything to go by, almost certainly not: as websites like Flickr attest to, there are any number of film photographs out there who prefer to scan their negatives straight to the net, rather than stick them in a photo album, and it is not uncommon to see those with gear-and-crank cameras metering light off their digital compacts. If the shift towards film is anything that could be labeled a ‘movement’, this is a movement based on diversity rather than indoctrinated purism; using the best method for the job rather than one method for all. Long live film then. But don’t throw away your digital cameras just yet.
“Oliver Wood is a freelance writer from Leeds who focuses on art, fashion and philosophy. He has written for publications including BBC Homes & Antiques, Beyond Magazine and Exposed magazine. He is always on the lookout for any exciting new projects to work on.” Twitter:@OliverWood7