At Photokina 1988, the premier photography trade fair held in Europe for photographic and imaging industry, the first fully digital camera was introduced. The camera could hold up to ten photographs. In 1989, Fujifilm released the first commercial digital camera. In June of 2000, the first cell phone with a built-in camera was manufactured and released by Samsung in South Korea. Since then, digital cameras market share has exploded exponentially, eclipsed analog photography processes, and became one of life’s essential device in a modern world.
However, analog photography refused to go gently into that good night and has been surging back into popular culture. Especially among the younger generations who are finding ways to express themselves, the aesthetic of film is a popular rite of passage. It is now common to see vintage cameras on the street, which, for some, would remind them of old photographs with a particular Kodak golden hue in a coveted family box or album. For others, those cameras are an indicator of the cool: an alternative, more edgy approach to photography. At this moment, analog photography is both of the above: a resurgence of old values and the embrace of new-old alternatives.
The renewed interest in analog photography can firstly be attributed to a resurgence of old experiences and values which are part of a wilder effort to live slower and to enjoy what life has to offer. As technology boomed, gadgets went through massive development that improved them quickly year after year, making the gadgets vastly better and more convenient. Likewise, camera manufacturers entered a technological arms race for the market share, driving photographers to what insiders jokingly call gear acquisition syndrome. While the advanced technology makes the process of shooting much more efficient, it also generally decreases the amount of effort a photographer has to invest in their photographs, either subconsciously or consciously. Inadvertently, that reduction in effort made the process a little too quick and too easy, resulting in little emotional attachment in the process of taking pictures, which is critical to both the photographer and the photographs. In contrast, an analog photographer is forced to slow down and take their time with a collection of physical steps that the process entails: load the film, advance the film after each frame, focus manually with their hands. In that case, the photographer, the photographed and the camera share an intimate process which later becomes evident in the final photographs. It is this intimacy that is also attractive to others exploring different analog processes, be it vinyl as opposed to digital MP3, or paperback as opposed to digital readers.
In addition to the intimacy of the manual process, the cost of shooting film is also a factor in slowing the photographer down. As the film camera requires consumable films, each shot one take is final, and costs money, the precise amount depends on the film itself. A roll of film with 36 frames usually sells for $4 to $20, the cost of development and scanning goes between $10 to $50 depending on the desired resolution. When shooting film, everything costs (and counts). Because of that, there is an instinctive pressure on the part of the photographer to be more careful, to pay attention, and to make sure that they are making all the right decisions. In comparison, a digital photographer has the choice to shoot, see the picture, and shoot again, and repeat the process until they are content. While the end result might be similar, each digital photograph is not as valuable in the process in comparison. Usually, this is evident in the product, with analog photograph showing a more careful, accomplished aesthetic.
Not everyone is ready to ready to give up the ease of use of digital cameras. Even in that case, many of them still prefer an automatic film camera rather than a fully digital one simply because of the look of film. While digital sensors get exponentially better through time and more able to record the scene in stunning details and accuracy, films have largely stayed the same. Despite that fact, there is something beautiful in the imperfection of a film picture that attracts people who are tired of the hyperreal. The film photograph is often softer, the colours still vibrant but not to the point of the digital image, the grains are often more pronounced. All those characteristics, while in a digital photography discussion would be grave flaws, are instead endearing charms in the analog circle. If digital images are the crystallization of perfection and control, the analog images and their process are the crystallization of a lovely imperfection and charming loss of control.
It seems that faced with the drive to model ourselves to the images of the machines, many are pushing back and opt for alternative processes that allow them to live slower and be more in touch with the world around them, its people and scenery. As these photographers contribute to the pool of photographs that we see every day, their pictures are also influencing other photographers as well, analog and digital alike. In that way, photography comes circle to its origin, reexamine its values and continue to transform in the digital age. In the same way, we photographers or photography enthusiasts can opt for analog photography at least in some instances to give ourselves the chance to connect to the world once again.