I just stumbled over this video that’s “trying to explain film photography to modern kids”, as somebody at PetaPixel put it.
I remember buying my first camera when I was a teenager, and I remember taking an insane number of pictures with it, even back then. Nowhere near as many as I do these days, of course, but still way more than the average person. I also remember the days of agony while waiting to get them back from the lab, and the sharing and the laughing, but also the disappointment if they didn’t come out as I hoped.
I even remember one night — I had already started my training as a professional photographer; 1997 this must have been — when I was out to a gig of my friend Alan Graham, a little over an hour from where I lived. I stayed till the end and shot a roll of B&W. I was really excited; that was the first time I had my good camera (my Canon A1) with me when he played, and also the first time I really tried to do something professional outside of work. I was also extremely impatient. So that very night (probably around 3 a.m. or so) I brought down my chemicals and developing equipment and developed those negatives right then and there in the kitchen at my parents house. I don’t remember if one of my parents woke up or not, but I have this one clear memory of turning the kitchen into a darkroom in the middle of the night.
(Oh, and by the way kids, if you ever see an old movie or TV show, and they show somebody with a red light bulb developing a film — that’s first class BS. You can’t expose film to a red light. The only thing a red (or green) light works for is black & white paper. It’s kinda like the CSI team taking a picture from an ATM camera and zooming in so they can identify the guy who walked by on the other side of the street. Hollywood at it’s finest. You had to put the film into a little container like the one in the picture on the right, and it had to be totally dark while you did this — but only then. Once the film was safely in there, you could turn the lights back on. The real lights, as in this case, the kitchen lights.)
If you got that once-in-a-lifetime shot, like that of a dog that likes to play with balloons and every once in a while would manage to pick one up without busting it, it made you feel like the King of the Mountain. And if there was a pair of shoes in the way, tough luck (unless you were highly trained and highly skilled with a brush, that is.)
Last year I bought a film scanner. I told my best friend that I scanned all our old negatives (we took a ton of pictures when we were, oh between 12 and 14, I guess, and most of them were of us and some other friends just fooling around — not that much different from the kind of pictures you take with your smartphone these days.) When I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she said “an album with the old pictures!” So I made her a photo book (something we wouldn’t even have dreamed about in 1991 or so), and I have to say, going through all those old pictures was very different from going through even my oldest digital photos. And when I talked to my friend after she got the book (she lives about 600 km from here, so I had to mail it), she said that after she unpacked it she sat there for about half an hour looking at twenty years old pictures and remembering, and giggling. Twenty years from now, will we do the same thing with our digital pictures? I don’t know about that…
Although it’s not likely I’ll ever go back to shooting film (except maybe just for fun at some point), I think we did lose something when we made the switch to digital. Back then, photographs were special. Taking a picture of your Big Mac? Nope. The thought wouldn’t even have crossed your mind.