Recently, I’ve discovered a struggle that millennials face. For some, this may seem like a trivial or petty thing to struggle with, but I assure you it’s very real and very important: Film photography. Almost nobody in my generation knows how to use a film camera. People sometimes recognize and appreciate it as a novelty and antique practice, but it’s almost never considered as the practical or worthwhile way of taking pictures.
I had never used a film camera until a month ago when I began my college photography class. Now, I would consider myself as someone who cares about photography in all its forms and appreciate its historicity, and yet I had never used a film camera until recently. Capturing pictures in film is entirely different from shooting on a digital camera, but learning how to develop and print said film is even weirder.
After two separate demonstration sessions with my professor on how to develop and print, I finally printed my first film photo. And let me tell you, when I first dropped my photo into the liquid Dektol and saw the image come to life upon its surface, I teared up a bit
My classmates didn’t seem to mind too much when I started squealing with joy at the birth of my very first film photo. They just sort of chuckled and smiled at me. I couldn’t contain myself. It was beautiful! Somehow, by the marriage of scientific discovery and artistic vision, I was able to capture a single image and reproduce it so I could look at it forever.
And here lies the point of this article:
Maybe it’s just me, but until printing this photo, my brain had actually never even computed the process of photography and how it’s physically possible to take light and harness it onto a piece of paper. Taking photos is one of those things that just always seemed like a natural right of mine – something I had never imagined living without. If I saw a thing with my eye and wanted to preserve the sight of that thing, I could always take a picture and have its visual information safe in my camera.
But here’s the thing: photos aren’t a given. It’s not a given that we should be able to take the light which we see and reproduce it onto paper. That’s not a natural thing. That, my friends, is the result of genius discovery and innovation.
So this, I propose, is why every single person should learn a bit of the science behind film photography. Until developing my first film photo, I never really understood or even considered the physicality behin
d photography. Now, though I may never fully understand the exact chemical process behind photography, I am more in awe of photography as an art than ever before.
Why? Because photography is a very scientific process that exists very tangibly in the world we live in. Art is not some entirely ethereal, abstract force of nature that exists only in our heads. Art very much exists in the world we inhabit. And the more we understand this earth, the more ways we can discover how to participate in and appreciate its beauty.
I cried while developing my first film photo because it was beautiful, and I am privileged to be able to create such beauty.