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“To go digital would involve buying a new camera and spurning my perfectly functioning and previously loyal film cameras. That would feel like abandoning old friends”

A Guide to Analog Photography: Part one

Interviews by Gail O’Hara & Joanna Han Photographs by James Fitzgerald III Styling by Joanna Han

Here at Kinfolk we appreciate many time-tested traditions and film photography is one of them. We know a lot of our readers are photographers and so are most of us around the office. We wanted to share some insight into why we like film, why we try to use it in the magazine and why certain people wouldn’t dream of going digital, so we asked some of our favorite photographers to weigh in on how and why they use film and (mostly) not digital photography.

Why do you use film?

Tec Petaja: I started shooting with film and when I switched to digital in college I realized I was never going to get the look and feel I wanted. After spending hours behind the computer trying to get that “film” look I knew I had to make the transition back to it or I would never be happy with what I was producing. When most people see an image that was shot on film they know it looks different and they love it but they don’t know why and most of the time it’s because it was shot on film. The last few years have been fun building my brand on film and I’ll probably never go back to shooting digital.

Carissa Gallo: I am not exceptionally technologically savvy, so perhaps it just makes more sense in my mind. I find that the outcome I can achieve on film is usually the most on par with what I’m hoping for and envisioning. I love the extra dose of thought that goes into composing and capturing an image—especially when you know you are paying for each frame!

James Fitzgerald: I love the emotion that film captures and the hard-to-reproduce tonal qualities that are created by silver reacting to light. There’s also the added benefit of having 70+ years of camera equipment to choose from.

Geoff Jensen: I use film because it has good texture, and because one is required to contemplate and compose a portrait or landscape more thoroughly due to the limited amount of shots left in the camera. It is more therapeutic to me to shoot one or two just right than 17 maybe okay and then not even worry because I can use Photoshop later.

Travis Elborough: I remain wedded to film by habit, age and probably stubbornness, really. The rituals of film can be easy to fetishize. Or, perhaps more accurately, I have found them easy to fetishize. The whole fiddly business of loading the film into the back of the camera, spooling it on and shooting—and the winder and shutter on my main camera, an old Olympus OM1, are so substantial, metallic and heavy, that you can be forgiven for occasionally thinking you are using some ancient Smith & Wesson pistol or something—and then eventually rewinding the finished roll and getting it out of the camera without exposing the thing…all of that…what can I say? It’s just so pleasingly ceremonial, somehow. Each roll becomes practically a rite. I also happen to think that constraints or limitations, perversely, can be quite creatively liberating. With film you will only have 24 or 36 shots per roll. I feel, perhaps completely erroneously, that this makes you think a bit more about what you decide to shoot. You don’t want to waste too many frames unnecessarily. But perhaps most of all, film can be almost willfully mercurial stuff—and accordingly can add to life’s score of joys and shattering disappointments. Until it’s developed you have no idea whether what you’ve taken is going to come out, let alone be any good. As such it remains mysterious and rather magical stuff. And since a roll can take time to finish and always takes a certain amount of time to get developed, I find it a perfect antidote to immediacy expected of almost everything else these days.

Where did you get your first camera?

Tec Petaja: My parents gave me my first 35 mm film camera in high school for graduation that I still have but don’t shoot.

Carissa Gallo: I kinda just adopted one from my parents at some point in my childhood. I don’t really remember when.

James Fitzgerald: The first camera I could call my own was actually a gift from my brother Parker. It was a Canon F-1 and it was by my side everywhere I went for at least a year.

Geoff Jensen: I got my Canon A-1 from my cousin via our uncle.

Travis Elborough: My first ever camera was a hand-me-down—an ancient Kodak Brownie 127—from my mother when I was about seven. It looked like an old art deco valve radio, with a slightly curvy black Bakelite body and a cream shutter button. I still have it. It was very basic, just point and shoot and there was no scope for flash or focusing or anything else. The 127 films only gave you 12 exposures but produced lovely tactile square prints with white borders. As the shutter didn’t lock after you had taken each shot, I was forever double—and even triple—exposing my photos. It usually improved whatever I had taken.

Where did you learn to shoot film?

Tec Petaja: I traveled to Ireland in high school and brought a little film for fun. Not knowing what I was doing, I mainly shot landscapes which was easy because I was in a beautiful location. I then took a trip to India and Nepal for three months after high school and that’s where I really fell in love with photography. I taught myself how to use the camera and thankfully 35mm film was extremely easy to load.

Carissa Gallo: My grandpa taught me to use film when he gave me all his old film cameras he had collected in his life. I also just read some books and asked people for help along the way!

James Fitzgerald: Besides being a photographer on my high school yearbook team way back in 2003 (talk about experience), most of my knowledge of professional film photography was taught to me by my brother Parker. We’ve been working together since mid 2011 in Portland and my knowledge of the craft has increased ever since.

Geoff Jensen: I learned to shoot film [properly] in Florence, Italy.

Travis Elborough: I’m still learning, really. I have never had any formal lessons, as such. But I have a few books and websites I consult from time to time and friends with rather more expertise than me whose brains I pick from time to time.

Why don’t you use digital? (Or do you? Explain.)

Tec Petaja: The main reason for not shooting digital is because I hate the post process! I’ve also never been able to get digital to look like film.

Carissa Gallo: I do use digital at times, when for certain projects it just makes more sense for me to—both digital and film can be used as tools to accomplish the desired concept of a shoot, and they have to be used in conjunction or at differing times. I’m grateful to have access to both.

James FitzgeraldI’m definitely not opposed to digital photography, though I definitely prefer film as a medium. I enjoy the idea of creating something tactile with every photo I take. 

Geoff Jensen: Film can capture elements that digital cannot, and I feel like digital is cheating (depending on who’s using the camera).

Travis Elborough: After receiving an especially dismal batch of prints back from the developer, that is certainly a question I invariably find I am asking myself. The simple answer would be… because I have several film cameras that I love using. To go digital would involve buying a new camera and spurning my perfectly functioning and previously loyal film cameras. That would feel like abandoning old friends. I do have a digital camera on my phone which I use now and then, but I can’t see myself buying “a proper” DSLR any time soon. Having droned on about the rituals of film for so many years… I probably couldn’t show my face in certain bars if I did now. People would probably assume I’d had some kind of mid-life crisis, like suddenly buying a Porsche, if I appeared with digital one in tow.

Tec Petaja is a Nashville-based photographer who shoots with a Contax 645 and Canon 1V. 

Carissa Gallo is a photographer and co-owner of Sea Chant, a storytelling outfit which uses video and photography to partner with like-minded artisans. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and  uses a Contax T2, 645 and Canons.

James Fitzgerald III is a photographer based in Portland, Oregon. 

Geoffrey Jensen is a baker from Carpinteria, California. He uses a Canon A-1 and various Polaroid cameras.

Travis Elborough is a freelance writer, author and cultural commentator based in London. He uses an Olympus OM1. 

This series was brought to you by KODAK. The above photographs were taken by James Fitzgerald III with a Canon 1V using Kodak Professional Portra 160 Film.

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  • October 5, 2013
    3:52
    Nice piece ! I have tried to do something a bit extreme : being a "street style photographer" with black & white film. (It's the second Paris fashion week I cover, but it could be a long-term project) You can see the result here : http://thisisnotatie.tumblr.com I cannot say if this is better, or "with a soul", but slowing the process and trying something different is very pleasant.
    Posted by
  • October 5, 2013
    3:52
    Nice piece ! I have tried to do something a bit extreme : being a "street style photographer" with black & white film. (It's the second Paris fashion week I cover, but it could be a long-term project) You can see the result here : http://thisisnotatie.tumblr.com I cannot say if this is better, or "with a soul", but slowing the process and trying something different is very pleasant.
    Posted by
  • September 28, 2013
    18:47
    Coming from someone who learned 20 years ago on film, went to college for photography using film, this is a nice retrospect on the medium. One thing though, is being trendy always the best route?
    Posted by
  • September 23, 2013
    11:48
    Great piece. Can anyone recommend film photographers in the NY area who photograph events?
    Posted by