Film

winter

This most recent obsession with film has increased in intensity.

A part of me is happy to see that film is making a comeback. Gigi Hadid, of all people, made a disposable camera Instagram. Film has become vogue, stylish, fun. The disposable, once looked upon as child’s plastic, is the hipster adult’s party item. It’s great and all, but–

It’s pricey. Very pricey. After scrounging around the web, I’ve come to the conclusion that Wal Mart, at this moment, is the only affordable film place. But it’s also slow, unreliable, and offers shoddy photo quality. I never asked for a CD or prints; I do ask for timeliness and film that isn’t lost. I’m typing right now and checking the last time I gave them my film. Two weeks ago. A week later, I checked on it: it still hadn’t left the counter.

Some people send out their film to The Darkroom in California. Some rave about the place. Others abhor their lack of customer service. I am deeply skeptical of mail. (This is what happens growing up during my generation. Wow, I sound oddly old. I meant that to emphasize the fact that I am not old enough) There are also other mail-order film labs where you can send in your rolls of film, and they develop and scan for you. Those are upwards of $12, usually hovering around a solid $15 per roll. I’m on a budget here. Look at me–I’m Mr. Meseeks!– a film-obsessed girl on a budget.

In college, I took a film photography class, where we went old school. There was a downstairs darkroom, countless chemical baths, light flashers, and light-sensitive paper. (Looking back, I’m still surprised that I shaved a semester off college, having taken the fun, personal classes that I did. I tanked some plant-salad-squirrel biology test, dropped the class on a whim, and picked up this photography class. I’m really glad that I did: in the end, I made a friend, took a better science, and learned film.)

I am seriously contemplating developing and scanning my own color film. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, according to the many Youtube videos I’ve scrubbed. But it is a high starting cost. I’ll need the chemicals, chemical bottles, a developing tank, a developer kit, a thermometer, and a scanner. I lied in bed last night doing the math. I groggily tried to set up an algebra equation–when would processing film be cheaper by hand than via lab? Ultimately, I deduced, if I ended up developing 25 rolls of film by hand, it’d be ‘cheaper’ per photo than if I simply paid a lab to process it for me.

Going through these calculations makes me feel like I’m working with one of my students. The fixed costs at $150. One roll of film, with 24 images, costs $40. Chemical costs (added to fixed) occur every 40 rolls at $30. How much does each photograph cost for the first 10 rolls, 20 rolls, 30 rolls and 40 rolls?

If you’ve read this far and the thought of basic algebra makes you mildly tingle, then feel free to check my math. It’s 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning–not my best math mode, but a math mode nonetheless. Here are my conclusions:

If I developed 10 rolls, each photo would cost $0.80.

If I developed 20 rolls, each photo would cost be $0.50.

If I developed 30 rolls, each photo would cost me $0.37.

If I developed 40 rolls, each photo would cost me $0.35.

Basically, as long as I got through 30 rolls in life, I’d be paying less per film photo by developing at home than I would if I sent each roll to a film lab.

I suppose that settles things. I just need to ensure that the hobby does not disappear overnight. I doubt it. Every year, I become obsessed with film. It’s like migration for birds: regular, anticipated, and predictably periodic. Now I just have to get my film lab set up. I’m going to wait on the Wal Mart film images first, if those ever get back to me, because I don’t even know how that roll of film will turn out. I used an old film point-and-shoot that hasn’t been touched in a decade. The quality should be fine, but we’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll continue to flood Instagram with old film photos that I fall in love with again and again.

Why film? a little voice sometimes ask. Why not just digital? Because film is–and this seems shallow–beautiful and nostalgic. The color gradients, the shadows, the grainy imperfections, the delay of instant gratification–those are all part of the appeal. But mostly because film is beautiful. Digital tries to replicate; digital can’t.

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Something Uncanny

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There’s something called the uncanny valley, “the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit feelings of eeriness and revulsion.” It’s the intersection between realness and artificiality that unnerves and disturbs.  The Uncanny Valley’s always intrigued me–what’s it about creepy humanoid likeness that disgusts, fascinates, weirds us out?

35mm film. Processed and developed by hand. 

Reflections in the Water

sculpture garden

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results; Freud theorizes that we all harbor some childhood wound we’re all seeking to recreate. Mistake one, mistake two, mistake three, mistake four. But four wasn’t insanity. And four wasn’t an old wound. Four was, instead, ironically, cheesily, gradually then all at once, one of the best things to happen. A summery wish granted, a wintry curiosity piqued: reflections in the water (I did it again I did it again I did it again)

Disposable Diaries | Roll 1

God, I love shooting with disposable cameras. There’s an art to shooting film: getting perfect shots are a crapshoot, so experiment; humans are better photographed candid than posed; keep subjects far away so they won’t be blurred; there has to be just enough spontaneity to really make the photo.

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There’s an ineffable quality to disposables that I have difficulty putting into words. I can’t explain the beauty of it except that there just is.

For a while, I associated disposables with old school, low quality shit, elementary-school days. Times when phone cameras weren’t a thing, and real cameras were too valuable to let kids use. So they gave us these cheap hunks of plastic to take onto field trips and ruin. Fast forward ten years and now I love disposables; I drool over experimental film. And I don’t think I’m the only one enamored with film aesthetic. Polaroids, the high-end cool sister of disposables, are ‘in’. VSCO and Instagram, popular iPhone apps, emulate traditional film with filters, light leaks, etc. At some point, though, light leaks weren’t a deliberate digital effect on photos; they were film ‘mistakes’.

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Usually I find that the less planning, the better. Which, initially, might be counterintuitive. Unlike with digital cameras, you can’t photograph a hundred images and delete the worst. You have a limited number of shots, and you won’t know how they turn out until they’re developed. But meticulously planning photos, whether with iPhones or DSLRs, takes me out of the moment. I’m more concerned about the image than the scene, the post than the place. Film’s quick, immediate, doesn’t give me time to ruminate or edit or post. It’s more fun to keep an eye out for interesting places, odd angles, messy spaces, take the shot, and go.

Oftentimes, the photos turn out better than I’d have imagined. It’s a little hit-or-miss, but the best film photos are better than their digital counterparts.