We live in what many term the digital age. And yet, why has there been a recent growth in the popularity of film as a photographic medium? I asked three experts to weigh in on its relevance.
Just because digital cameras have saturated the photo market and nearly every mobile phone has a camera that can rival the quality of a point-and-shoot doesn’t mean that film is dead. Film is very much alive and has a specific role in our society today.
I asked Daniel George, a fine arts graduate and photography professor at Brigham Young University—Idaho, what advice he would give someone who thinks film is dead. “I don’t know if I’d give them any advice but just to tell them that they’re flat out wrong,” he said. “Kodak is still making film; there is still a market for it.”
I posed the same question to another professor, Brian Atkinson. “In art, it’s thriving,” he said. “In commercial photography, it’s not preferred but because there time is money.” Atkinson continued, “Unless you are established enough that people are going to wait on your images, you are competing with other photographers and I don’t think film is very viable there. Not that it’s dead, but it’s using the wrong tool in that application.”
Darren Clark, Chair of the Art Department at BYU-Idaho likened the film-digital distinction to the choice of medium in fine arts. “Digital and film are two different tools that are available to you like painting vs. sculpture vs. ceramics; it doesn’t really matter as long as you have something to say,” he said.
His answer shocked me. I have shot with film my whole life. I use digital for certain things, but if I had a choice I would shoot black and white Kodak Tri-X 400 speed film any day. I interviewed these professors to prove that film was better but I was humbled in my “holy war” against digital. These three professionals know from experience that film isn’t going anywhere; there will always be artists who will use it.
“I think there will always be film, but it may be that artists have to start making their own film,” Clark said. “The motion picture industry is partly responsible for continuing film processing. There are still some directors or cinematographers who like to use film and we should be grateful for them because that used to be the driving force behind the film industry and still is to a certain degree.”
According to a news release that was posted on Kodak’s Newsroom in June 2015, there has been another development in the world of motion pictures. A company called Alpha Grip, which is based in England, has just developed what they are calling the Alpha 1 Lab.
According to the news release, “The Alpha1 Lab measures 42 feet long and transforms into a state-of-the-art film processing trailer capable of deployment to any film set or studio around the world.”
This will enable filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and JJ Abrams, who shoot most, if not all, their movies on Kodak film to continue doing so with ease.
This is truly a step in the right direction to keep film alive. Yes, digital photography is convenient and cost-effective. You can shoot for days and not worry about paying a fortune in processing—a positive thing for consumers and professionals today. Yet film remains relevant to students, niche artists and enthusiasts who prefer a vintage aesthetic. “I imagine that there will always be certain cultures that still use it, especially in the world of fine art,” said George. “I think there will always be some level of interest; it might change and evolve but I think it will still go on.”
The role of film in society today doesn’t need to answer the question, ‘What’s better: film or digital?’ but rather ‘What is the best tool for the job?’
“Why do you use a socket wrench sometimes and pliers another time?” said Clark. “Sometimes one thing can do the job better.”
About the Author
Hans Koepsell lives in Rexburg, Idaho with his wife, Emma, and is currently studying photography at Brigham Young University—Idaho. His interests include: Lomography Redscale XR 50-200, black and white film, and street photography.