In A Fast Moving World, We Could All Do With A Roll Of 36 Exposures

In A Fast Moving World, We Could All Do With A Roll Of 36 Exposures

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. About everything. The business. Our “craft” and the economics and sustainability of what we do as creatives in this ever changing world. But that’s for a later post perhaps, and I always tend to think too much anyway…

Gizmodo friend and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Vincent Laforet recently swapped out his Canon 1D X for a Canon A2e — a film camera he hadn’t touched in 14 years. Restrained by only a roll of 36 exposures, Laforet actually loved going back to shooting with film. He writes about his experience in this post.

Sometimes the best things in life are simple. Trying to keep things simple or “basic” in our technology-driven times seems to be getting more difficult every year, if not by the minute.

In this case it was a “Cheap Camera” challenge that lead me to shoot with a Canon A2E, a Lens Baby lens and two rolls of film -— the subject of the video below.

A chance meeting with Kai and the folks at DigitalRev was made possible by a tweet, during what was originally meant to be a short connection between flights in Hong Kong that I decided to turn into a three-day visit on my way back home from a job in Bali.

I can tell you it was terribly refreshing to shoot film. We had no plan. No script, no storyboards or teams of folks working on a crew. We didn’t even know where to go, nor have anything set up to shoot. This was my last day in Hong Kong, and the only deadline was a flight at 11.45pm that very evening. That gave us a healthy four hours to shoot 72 exposures on good old celluloid. No LCDs to “chimp” with (a term we use to describe the act of looking at a rear LCD and jumping up and down and showing your friends as you see a nice photo…)

I was somewhat nervous because I didn’t have the cushion of being able to track my progress on a rear LCD, to delete and hide the “bad” and potentially embarrassing pictures and to gain false comfort in confirming that I had “good” ones and that I could move on to the next one. Having a camera crew follow your every move never tends to help you relax either.

Yet I have to say this was one of the most relaxing shoots I’ve had in a long, long time. I frankly didn’t care how the pictures turned out. Well my ego did a bit -— I didn’t want to embarrass myself too much. But stopping amidst the chaos of the city, and waiting for the shot, was therapeutic in a way digital photography generally isn’t. For one of the shots, I actually stood in place for more than 10 minutes. I slowed my breathing, braced myself, and relaxed. And waited. For a picture that might never come. And it felt good.

It was just so refreshing to stop. To pause. To Wait. To not know the outcome of a shutter press. To NOT get that instant gratification. As scary as “not knowing” can be — there’s something terribly peaceful about it, if you come to accept it. For me photography has always been that one discipline that I could take part in to escape for a few hours and somehow come to calmly embrace the uncertain. If only I could be more adept at doing that in life.

Somehow, for the first time in a while, the end result —- the resulting “still photograph” was beautifully overshadowed by the pleasure I felt with the simple act of “taking my time”. Being that I was halfway across the world, there were no phone calls, emails, tweets or texts coming in to distract me either.

The immediacy of the LCD has changed the craft of photography. It’s made it so much easier to learn quickly, to grow and to take much greater chances and push the envelope much further. Digital has in many ways replaced the word “craft” with “accessible” or perhaps the better word is “democratisation”. And that’s both good and bad depending on what side of the coin you find yourself on (professional vs enthusiast.)

Yet so many of us have lost something too. A little bit of the “magic” of photography -— has left us. There’s nothing quite like seeing a print come to life in the developer tray in the darkroom. Also, a certain type of discipline is instilled in you when you are faced with a 36-exposure roll and the cost associated with it, not to mention the cost of getting it processed and printed. These days I more often that not read 999 on the still camera’s LCD when a large CF Card is in place. Where’s the challenge in that?

There’s no “delete” button in film… no way to erase your mistakes… no “do over” button. Your masterpieces and more often than not their very opposites are a matter of record for all to see the moment you press that shutter. And that makes you take things a bit more seriously. If forces you to study the craft, as repeating mistakes is literally: expensive. Digital technology has somehow slightly cheapened the value of an image… hasn’t it? The marvel of technology has a bad tendency to lead to a bit of laziness, impatience, and a reticence to do “work for” something… generally speaking. And let’s not get started on what it’s done to our attention spans! I think rats on crack have greater attention spans than many of us do today, and that’s scary to say the least. It affects the length of what we write (how many of you made it this far?) how we converse with one another (texting vs calling,) and how we shoot and edit our film/tv shows etc. And generally (I’m sorry to say) not for the better.

As the world continues to move faster and faster, as processors, resolutions, dynamic ranges, and terabytes keep increasing at an exponential rate, sometimes I think we could all do with a roll of 36 exposures.

If you’re wondering where this diatribe started… the video below is to blame. I must say that like how they choose to make you wait until the end to see the final frames… just as I did. And if you’ve made it this far: thanks for indulging me!

Republished with permission from Vincent Laforet.