The Role of Film: Is It Still Relevant Today?

2015-07-08 10

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.

Credit: hans-koepsell

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.”

Credit: hans-koepsell

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.”

Credit: hans-koepsell

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

Credit: hans-koepsell

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.

written by Hans Koepsell (@hans-koepsell) on 2015-07-08 #lifestyle

10 Comments

  1. brimfullofasha
    brimfullofasha ·

    agreed, "Not that it’s dead, but it’s using the wrong tool in that application." this goes for everything. it's a great reminder that we all should be mindful about what we are trying to accomplish. then we choose the tool(s) to help us get their. there is no right/wrong only trade-offs.

    lovely piece and photographs. thanks for sharing.
    -mark

  2. stratski
    stratski ·

    Great article. Just the kind of thing I'd like to read more often here.

  3. trad69
    trad69 ·

    Interesting point on horse for courses, commercial vs art. If you need the shots right away digital is the way, if you think for posterity then film will never die.

  4. herbert-4
    herbert-4 ·

    Excellent article! I love Tri-X. Film will always be made for reasons of Art. Permanence matters, and silver lasts longer than bits...

  5. lostinthought68
    lostinthought68 ·

    Same as why some people use pencil, ink, pastels or oil paints. It is what suits you and what you like to work with and that is what really matters.

  6. b2377
    b2377 ·

    It's also why one would listen to an album on vinyl rather than compact disc or mp3, or drive a car with a manual transmission instead of an automatic. In the age-old Analog vs. Digital debate, one is not necessarily better than the other, they're just two different formats representing the same data. The only question is: do you want your data represented with the smooth, round curves of sine waves? Or do you want the hard 90 degree corners and sharp edges; the highs and lows, offs and ons, zeros and ones of square waves? To settle the debate with yourself, take two cameras with you next time - one film and one digital - put them in the same spot, set them to the same settings, shoot the same subject, at the same time, and compare the resulting images side-by-side. If I had a D3 to go with my F3, I would use the same lens, too, swapped between cameras.

  7. steamtug1959
    steamtug1959 ·

    Sehr gut !!!!!

  8. cyberpunkrocker
    cyberpunkrocker ·

    For me, the digital camera is for documenting things. The film camera is for ART.

  9. zoomphoto
    zoomphoto ·

    Love the analogy of pliers to a socket wrench. Which one is assigned to the pliers.....digital?
    Personally, I would rather say...which tool is right for me....rather than "which tool is right for the job".

  10. cb1
    cb1 ·

    excellent article! well done! I love my film cameras more than my digital cameras. Film just has more "character" to me.

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