Film is not dead, and in the case of the Philippine film community, it's been evolving as an art form and hobby that is magnifying some of the country's defining cultural traits. An ever-growing medium for creative expression, to express advocacies, and to form and connect with communities—all of this converge in what we can say is the current state of film photography in the country.
In the first of series exploring film photography communities around the world, we got to meet various film photographers from the Philippines to take a look at the growing interest in the craft, especially among young people.
With a median age of 25 years old, and an average internet consumption rate of 10 hours per day, the Philippines no doubt has a strong youth culture quick to hop on trends and generate their own. Even before the pandemic (which has only intensified people's interest in analogue photography) a sub-culture characterized by their preference for analogue has kept film alive amidst the rise of digital photography in the 2010s.
Yes, film shops and dark rooms have inevitably dwindled to now only a handful. However demand from dedicated film photographers have paved the way for new film and development shops with a strong online presence. And physical stores, such as those that line Hidalgo Street in Quiapo, Manila, remain significant for enthusiasts on the hunt for a good old camera or are in need of equipment services.
In a 2021 article for Yahoo.com, Manila-based writer Juju Baluyot described very well the increasing demand for film cameras online, and ultimately the growing interest in film among millennials and the so-called Generation Z, quoting an observation by Manny Inumerable, the owner and curator of the camera museum Galleria Taal in Batangas, Philippines.
Local camera store film4ever, which has been run by couple Julia and Boyet since 2015, explains that growing demand has increased pre-pandemic prices not just for film stocks and film processing, but for film cameras as well, as they've personally experienced as camera sellers and collectors.
"[But] we think it’s wonderful that film photography is making a comeback especially here in the Philippines. More than being able to make a little profit out of buying and selling film equipment, the most important thing is that the medium is preserved and enjoyed by Filipinos. From the art of film photography to the art of collecting cameras, we are happy that there are now more of us who share this passion.
On the business side of things, while more interest or demand would mean more competition from newer film camera shops, we don't really look at it as a downside because we don’t really do this full time, and we also enjoy browsing and buying items from other stores to add more stuff in our personal collection. The biggest upside about this resurgence is getting to meet new people from different walks of life whom you have similar interests with. We love the ever growing film community in the country."
Julia thinks that with film's free market, someone curious about the hobby can easily find film cameras ranging from ₱500 to ₱30,000 (~$8 to $515), depending on the type of camera.
Cara Escleto, a -21-year-old film hobbyist from Davao in the southern part of the Philippines, said her interest in film started as a brief thought in 2021 about whether film usage has completely died down. It immediately became apparent to her that the hobby was very much still alive in the country, and after searching through several Japanese surplus shops in Davao in 2021, she scoured her first 35 mm film camera, a Nikon L35AD for only ₱750 (~$12.8).
“My inspiration or motivation for shooting film was creating memories through film photography and sharing my art with the people around me. The film outputs before the digital era are attractive to my eyes – how they looked, especially the colors, dynamic range, and grain. The thought of having a physical copy of developed film negatives still amazes me! Since getting into film photography, I've shot 11 rolls of film."
But as a student with a tight budget to work with, she admits that there have been struggles fully immersing herself in the hobby, specifically the rising prices of film equipment driven by scarcity and restrictions in film manufacturing. It's the same case for Gerald Frireen Estillero, who also got into film photography during the pandemic. He said film has helped him breathe in a fast-paced world, especially as he struggled with creative blocks.
“In film, you have a limited amount of shots and every shot costs you money. I consider manual controls/focus, the price, and the overall process of shooting film as the challenges I have encountered. Through these challenges, I have learned lessons along the way. Due to film's nature and limitations, I was able to slow down and be creative given the constraints of film. When I was shooting digitally, I simply aimed at basically anything and hoped that I had a good photo. Now that I have properly invested in film photography, I'm able to learn how to make every shot worth it. I may not be where I want to be creatively but this is one step towards the right direction.”
"The film resurgence opened up new avenues for people to appreciate the craft. Young adults have breathed new life into the old cameras of their parents. The new generation of photographers are starting to appreciate the analogue process. The old guard are rekindling their love for the analogue process and are also sharing what they learned with the younger generation. It’s a very nice time to shoot film," Ken Guevara notes.
A geologist by profession, Ken got into film photography through his friends who encouraged him to try it out. The dependable kuya (older brother) of many younger film enthusiasts, he generously answers film-related questions online and offline. Ken says seeing the beauty in everyday things, may it be in landscapes, or in the streets, fuels his motivation to shoot film.
His fascination for his natural surroundings understandably spilled over from geology into photography, as he has discovered an interest in astrophotography. For Ken and many others, film photography has become more than a way to keep memories.
Pushing the boundaries of film
Just a quarter of an hour after it opened its doors to visitors on 28 May 2022, Shutterspace Studios in Quezon City was already full to the brim with photography professionals, hobbyists and merchants. Understandably so, it was day one of the Fotobaryo Marketplace & Swapmeet, the first major film photography event in the community since the Philippines imposed lockdown measures in 2020.
In the rush of the lively afternoon, we got to meet Kyle Alyson Villaflor (a.k.a. KARV.films) and her group of friends whom she met through film. It was her first time attending an event such as the Fotobaryo swapmeet. Aside from film prices (she told me how she used to buy Fujicolor C200 rolls for ₱280, about $4, in 2019—they now cost twice as much), we talked about how she started shooting in this format.
"My mom gave me her film camera, it was a Canon Sure Shot AF-10 (Prima AF-10). It was still working, no fungus. That was my first experience with film, and after that I did my research. I tried a rangefinder, then a point-and-shoot, then I stuck with an SLR. I still had no idea about FilmFolk and other stores then, so I first went to Quiapo because I heard that's where the famous film shops were, and that's where I bought my rolls and had my first roll developed. That was in 2019," she told us.
Film in pop culture
Anything analogue plays a significant role in Philippine pop culture today. Perhaps one of the many roots of this can be traced in the impact brought by the surge to stardom of Filipino rock band IV of Spades in the mid to late 2010s, which with their disco-style aesthetics and songs incorporating pop rock, indie and funk rock, helped bring nostalgia and vintage appreciation prominently to the fore of the local pop culture.
Makshi Nachor is a photographer for Blaster Silonga (one of the members of IV of Spades) and The Celestial Klowns. Staying true to analogue, Makshi is also gearing up for a music video for the artist which will make use of a Super 8 Camera.
"I really want to be experimental with film, I like photos that make you feel something and I want to widen my creativity with film. I find the whole process enjoyable. I feel like there will be more film photographers in the Philippines because anything analogue is making a comeback – as well as digital cameras, camcorders, tape recorders. I have big trust in film photography in the Philippines."
Perhaps it's this candid, carefree and artistically open take on photography that also keeps film alive. To make the most out of film photography, there's little room for rigidity or conformity, and because some results with film can turn out unexpectedly, the photographer is often forced to accept the outcome for how it is, and even grow an appreciation for it.
Long-time LomoAmigo Ennuh Tiu is one of the many artists out there who embody this free-spirited take on film. She admitted that her first experience with the film process during a college class made her think at first that the craft was a bit too rigid for her taste.
"I didn't enjoy it that time because I felt limited to the rule, and then when I discovered Lomography I saw hard flashes, super colorful (photos), off framing—I connected with that deeply, I felt that my personality was reflected in those shots," Ennuh said.
"This is who I am, I like taking photos that are not perfect, very colorful, there’s something off about it but it works somehow...There came a time where every photo I kept seeing was so perfectly composed, the color was so perfectly nice, it didn’t make me feel anything. I try to avoid that and it's also why I love shooting film, you can't do anything if there turns out to be a light leak somewhere, no way to fix that unless you crop it. I really love that element of surprise," she added.
A sense of community through film
Aislinn Chuahiock, who runs local film store FilmFolk, summarizes the growing attraction to film:
"The great thing about film and the community is it's not hard to get people to come out and interact with each other. Because the Filipino youth, especially – it's not just with the film community – we’re very social people. Film photography is still a hobby, I don't wanna call it niche but a specialized hobby that kind of attracts the same kinds of people, so if there’s a chance to get together to learn and share our mistakes, we take it."
Being a hands-on medium, film thrives through the interest and dedication of individuals who feel empowered to express themselves through the craft, and in doing so, find like-minded people to learn and grow with.
Sometimes they're the old souls and the misfits, but mostly they're the ones who feel that in a fast-paced and often isolating modern environment, a person can stay grounded by appreciating the little simplicities they can capture in the analogue way, as well as by looking outside the viewfinder to see the community that surrounds and supports them.
We dedicate this article to prolific Filipino Lomographers lakandula and boredbone who embraced and helped redefine the Lomographic movement in the Philippines. Also to the LomoManila group which can be much credited for the growth of the film movement in the country.
Through this series we seek to explore how film continues to thrive through communities that keep it alive in various ways all over the world. What's the state of film where you're from? Help us share your community's story by taking part in this survey.