It's probably not news to you that I am a film shooter. I am 100% film and although I have a digital camera, I tend to use it for illustrating compositions while running workshops, only.
What some of you may not know is that I am a Hybrid-Photographer. I shoot film but I scan my images and then edit them in the Digital-Darkroom. So you could say that I'm half analog and half digital. My reasons for this workflow are purely personal as I love the look and feel of film and what it produces, and I also enjoy the creative freedom that the Digital domain gives me to further edit my work.
A few days ago, I was sent an email about a new kickstarter project to bring a new kind of film to the market. Apart from being very pleased to hear that a new film may be coming out, it gave me a chance to reconsider the future of film and more broadly, the future of photography.
When I looked into what the current state of play with the film market is, I was surprised to discover that many film manufacturers have noted a rise in film sales each year for the past five years and although the market is very small compared to what it once was, film manufacturers believe the decline in film sales has stabilised.
Looking into this a little more, the answer to why this has happened is complex, but at the same time, encouraging.
Firstly, Digital capture is no longer new, it is an established and mature market now. We perhaps live in a 'post-digital-capture' age where Digital is just one of many mediums that we can play with. This is very exciting as I don't think we've ever had so many different mediums with which to do photography with.
Secondly, because the initial rush for Digital is now over, I think many photographers can't help but experiment; there's nothing better to invite inspiration than to give something different a go. I think that's why sites like Lomography and iPhoneography have risen in interest.
From my own personal experiences of running workshops, I have certainly seen a very small rise in the interest in film and other mediums, and I've had some participants tell me they now have their own analog darkroom at home, or that they have been experimenting with collodion wet plate processes. All this alongside being digital-shooters.
So rather than this being a case of a resurgence in film only, I think there has been a mind-shift for many photographers. We're far too interested to be stuck with one way of creating imagery, and that is just such a fantastic thing to witness, because about a decade ago, it felt that the mind-set was very much about whether you were digital or film, and in some cases sometimes I was asked 'when' rather than 'if' I was going to move to digital photography.
Photography has always been the act of self-expression. So if a photographer wishes to use a Collodion wet plate process to convey their work, or print in an analog darkroom, or use digital-sensors, the choice of medium is often a personal one. For some it's all about how the process feels and for others it's about how the final images look and sometimes it's a matter of both.
We are now in the age of the Multi-Medium Photographer.
As part of my current thoughts about how we're all changing as photographers, I decided to look into the viability of film remaining with us in the future. It seems that my ideas about film becoming end-of-life were unwarranted. Despite a small resurgence in it, I had believed until now that film manufacture could not continue to be a profitable exercise as time goes on. It seems I am partly right and also partly wrong about this.
Many existing film manufacturing sites are optimised for large-scale production. Apparently retooling them to produce smaller production runs is not a viable option for some of the large film manufacturers, and from what I understand, because of the chemical processes involved, would also require a redesign in the films so they could be optimised for smaller scale production runs. I don't see how some of the big film manufacturers are going to be interested in investing the time and money in developing and retooling. It's just not a viable thing for them to do.
But there has been an increase in new films coming out from small companies. From reading into this, it appears that it's much easier to optimise a small-scale production facility from scratch rather than trying to down-scale, so in this respect, I think if film is to continue to be around for the future, it is going to be in the form of small scale production and that means new films released by new start up businesses rather than the films we know and love now.
This is perhaps no bad thing, because film technology still has a lot of potential for further development and it may mean we see more exciting films coming out. Companies such as CineStill have just announced a new film stock that can be exposed anywhere between ISO 200 and 1250. That alone gives an indication of how film technology is developing.
I think the world of photography has never been more exciting and interesting than it is now. Rather than throwing one medium out for another (switching), some of us have begun a process of incorporating multiple mediums and many formats into our photography. The general mindset or attitude towards film & digital has changed over the past few years and this is proving to be liberating.
The future is a multi-medium, multi-format one where photographers work in analog or digital and sometimes (as in my case), both.