Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why Old Film Cameras?

When I'm out and about with one of my old cameras people often comment on them and ask if I use them because they make superior photographs. The answer is no. For me it is just a rather arbitrary choice to stick with a set of tools and traditions, much as a painter would choose to work with oils or watercolors rather than acrylics. There is a great body of work by past and present film photographers which I can easily access in the process of perfecting my own art, and I am happy also to admit a bias toward the accomplishments of photography's distant past.
   Photo aesthetics aside, I am entranced with artifacts of the mechanical age, which happens to overlap a considerable portion of my own life span. Evidence of this will be found in the photos I share on line, many of which are of old cars, planes and trains.   It is no coincidence that I get around Albuquerque on a twenty-five-year-old motorcycle.
   While there are formidable economic constraints on the the number of old vehicles I can personally own, there is much less a deterrent to the acquisition of old photographic equipment. One of the benefits of the dawning of the digital age was that it left stranded a great quantity of precision cameras which one could pick up for a small fraction of their original value. Of course, that is a situation which is changing over time much as was the case with the old cars which I bought and discarded with abandon in my youth. Bargains in on line auctions seem to me to be less frequently encountered as old cameras flow into the hands of collectors and the dealers who cater to them.
   One of the benefits of film camera technology that persists is the access it provides for the individual to the entire photographic process.  It remains possible today to build your own camera, to create your own photo-sensitive materials, and to process them into images which you can show to the world.  To put this in simple, concrete terms,  a light-tight box with a pinhole can be put together by anyone, and applying some commonly available chemical substances to a paper or glass surface will make it ready for image recording.
   With somewhat more commitment to craftsmanship it is also possible to construct rather sophisticated medium- and large-format cameras.  I cannot think of anyone offhand that goes to the extreme of grinding their own photographic lenses, but the knowledge and materials to do so are certainly out there.  Such endeavors will hold little attraction to those whose main focus is efficiently illustrating a story or earning a living at image making, but for the process-oriented photographer the barriers are surmountable and the results satisfying.
   So, those are some of my reasons for sticking to photography with film; I'm sure there are a great many more.

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Vitaly said...

Thanks for your blog, Mike!

A kindred spirit.

Best regards for the New Year!


Mike said...

Thanks for stopping by, Vitaly. I'm a long time fan of your site and your Flickr stream.