Why shoot film? – Si Moore
“It’s the people who do all of the work, all of the time, who eventually ‘catch on’ to things.” – Sister Corita Kent
Why Film? If there’s one question I get asked time and again it’s why bother shooting film. Usually followed by a myriad of questions about the ins-and-outs of how to get started.
Firstly, shooting film isn’t magic, it isn’t hipster, it isn’t counter-culture or an ‘analogue rebellion’ or anything. It’s just film. It’s chemistry. I mean, we could debate the ‘look’ side of things all day long, but the bigger picture is that it changes the way you work because there’s no screen – clearly. It’s like writing a letter versus Skype, or planting a garden versus going to the supermarket, or reading a book versus watching a film. It’s a form of delayed gratification that isn’t better or worse than any other way of doing things, but it pushes your mind and heart into a different space of making.
For a large part of my life I’ve been a recording musician working on records with some extremely talented people. All digital because it’s cheap and it’s efficient, but very occasionally we’d make a record on tape, and while the result probably sounded the same to most people, the WAY we worked changed dramatically. Better planning, more rehearsal, more thinking through the entire picture we were trying to make, limited takes, more live music-making together to save tracks… so the difference you heard wasn’t the sonic quality but it was the commitment to making music in a different kind of way. When I listen to old soul records, or the Stones, or Johnny Cash albums, THAT’S what I hear – a commitment to the process. And when I look at the work of iconic photographers shooting in the pre-digital world – from the Farm Security Administration stuff through to the messy joy of 60’s and 70s music photography – I see the same thing. A different way of working. More Stax Records than Katie Perry (actually, that’s a terrible analogy, but let it stand).
Before you go getting all ‘Film vs Digital’ on me, let me spell it out clearly: EVERYTHING’S VALID. There is no ‘better’ way. I mean, we shoot weddings most of the time, and while it’s a joy to shoot an entire wedding day on 35mm tri-x, the reality is that, for moment-capturing story-telling, digital is amazing. It’s a dream. Technology is wild and wonderful and affords us all kinds of crazy advantages.
But there’s still something about… film.
So yes, in 2017, I shoot film for the sheer joy of it. To be forced into working in a different way with a tricky medium that can defy the rules. And it makes me feel calm and engaged and thinking about what I’m trying to do. And the result never ceases to amaze me, even if I’m miles off. Think of it as making a fact, not a file. A fact sits there and bugs you, even when you think it’s a failure, until you go back to it and consider it on it’s own terms. It’s a defining moment on a roll of only a few defining moments, and it’s wonderful to look deeper, to try and find something in there that you love, because you’ve only got 12, or 36 frames to consider. It also means that, when I’m shooting someone I spend all my time WITH them, not looking at a screen. It means that it’s all about them, and both of us finding our flow, and talking and looking at each other, and looking at the light. being shot by someone who’s constantly referencing their camera screen is a lot like hanging out with a friend who’s constantly texting other people about how great it is to hang out with you.
It’s kinda broken.
But when you stop looking at what you’re making every two seconds you’ll find there’s just as much joy from the process as there is from the result – sometimes it’s more about the photographing than the photograph. And THAT’S the feeling I get when I look at iconic work by people like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, Stephen Shore and Saul Leiter, Dianne Arbus and Leibovitz (the Rolling Stone era stuff)… I mean, these are people who found joy in the task, and it shines through in the same way that a classic album does. Did Keith Richards know that he was making something for all time when he hooked into Exile On Main Street, or is it a classic because he got so much joy out of making it?
What am I even talking about? Who knows. Whatever, this is all just my opinion. Forge your own path, try out your own things, and at all costs just keep going and you’ll eventually strike your own flavour of gold.