On Obsolescence

Today, I developed film. That I find learning to develop film to be something akin to learning mammoth-hunting techniques or how to repair steam locomotives makes it no less cool to have developed my own film. I mean, who wouldn't want to eat a mammoth steak from a mammoth they personally killed?

It's a curious thing. A few years back, when digital cameras were first becoming popular and widely available, I swore I had no interest in them. I liked shooting on film just fine. Of course, I also swore, like many people back in 2001, that I would never own a cell-phone and look how that turned out, right? As I've seen more and more digital photography, I've changed my views on the subject substantially.

Above our non-functional fireplace, we have three 8x12" framed prints of photos from our trip to China in 2005. I took two of them with my old-fashioned 35mm SLR; I took the third with Emily's 3.2MP Canon PowerShot. To any but the most expert of eyes, it is impossible to tell which of these things is not like the others. Some of the most beautiful photos I've seen in recent years have been digital - check out Leah's photos, for example, or my brother's. If we accept the premise that digital image quality is as good as film (which I do), then photography in either format is about the same things: composition, color if you're shooting color, value if you're shooting (or converting to) B&W, and an eye for interesting images.

Still, developing film today was a powerful reminder of the reasons why there still exists a substantial number of photographers, amateur and professional, who prefer film. The process of shooting, developing and printing with film is delightfully tactile and enjoyably meticulous. The instant gratification of digital has its own pleasures, to be sure. But there's a lot to be said for the feeling of anticipation and the first glimmerings of excitement at what images you may have as you see your developed negatives for the first time. It was a reminder of what I always said when I argued for film over digital back in the day - any digital medium is a set of instructions which a computer will use to recreate a picture, whereas film actually is a picture.

Even so...I like digital a lot these days, and don't plan on going back to film photography on any kind of permanent basis.