I clasped this rustic, mechanical device in my hand. A familiar, yet mysterious contraption. Although the concept of photography wasn’t new to me, the lack of buttons and instructions made the whole operating process rather intimidating.
The scarcity of instantaneity triggered frustration. I frequently found myself peering at the back of the camera, expecting to see a digital screen to examine my snap; except the waiting game continued until I took another 35 shots. Three weeks would pass with absolutely no idea what my photos looked like.
The absence of digitality took me out of my comfort zone. I guess it’s to do with being part of the tech-savvy, post-millennial Generation Z.
So, I became constantly paranoid. Was it exposed enough? Did I focus it right? Not forgetting that the camera always contradicted with the external light meter – which one do I trust?
I had three settings to control and just one factor to rely on: the light meter. After loading the film canister and setting the ISO to match it, it was then my job to determine the correct settings. Yeah, I understood how to use the shutter speed and aperture, but somehow that didn’t help my struggle. I then riskily put my entire trust into this camera over the following weeks, despite the dispute with the external light meter.
This manual process encouraged me to think twice, even ten times, about the composition before shooting. I had to consider a variety of elements before happily snapping away.
Squinting through the viewfinder for such long periods of time gave me crow’s feet (you know, those fine little crinkles in the corners of your eyes). A minor issue maybe, but it definitely hindered my confidence for this challenge.
Over these three weeks, I had an extremely difficult relationship with the film camera. Sometimes, it got to the point where I simply refused to use it, reverting to the reliable companion of a DSLR. Oh, how I missed technology, and boy was it a relief to hear the last clunk of that shutter. Only then did I know that the challenge was completed. Or was it? I would just have to wait and see…
The day that my film was developed was the most nerve-racking. For all I knew, every photo could have been incorrectly exposed – and to be honest, that was what I expected.
I was conscious to hand over my film, jokingly making the comment of “Don’t laugh if none of these images have worked”. An uncomforting response soon followed as I continued to explain how this was my first attempt at analogue photography, “Don’t get your hopes up then”. How reassuring.
Slightly disheartened with even lower expectations, I crossed my fingers in hope for success. Having heard horror stories about developers spoiling film, I also hoped that they didn’t rush the process and ruin any decent work that I had.
Thanks to a prioritised request, I returned an hour later to see the results.
Without peeking, I raced to find the machine that would reveal my photographs. The Flextight scanner was a peculiar piece of technology that made the digitisation process look impressive. Finally, after all this time, it was the moment of truth I’d been waiting for. Did I succeed? Look below and find out for yourself…
At long last, I could appreciate photography. Real photography. Photography that demands patience and concentration. I had previously taken technology for granted and let digital cameras do the hard work for me. With this new-found knowledge, I felt liberated. Analogue photography was no enemy after all – I just feared failure from doing something new.
In fact, by taking a moment to slow down, I learned to think with a film camera. I captured 36 photos over the course of 21 days, when I could take ten times that in just one day on a DSLR. Yes, the restriction added to the pressure of success, but in spite of everything, maybe this challenge wasn’t a bad idea.
So, what can I say? The results aren’t bad with that distinct film aesthetic, but I think I’ll take a break for now to rejuvenate my crow’s feet.
I have no shame in saying that I prefer digital photography, it’s easier, but that won’t stop me from taking on this challenge again. And let’s not forget that a film camera in this digital age will make a talking point for sure – so what’s the hitch?