2017 is a watershed year for film photography. From crowdfunded projects to social media campaigns, from hashtags to handbags, and from the groups to the individuals, this year marked an optimistic upsurge of film and analog photography. We saw the rebirth of familiar names, the hatching of new ones, and the return of familiar shapes and colors. Nevertheless, we also saw new problems – from economies of scale to the hyper-politicized interactions between community members.
Most of my thoughts have been written already here. Nevertheless I would like to add a few insights taken from my cooperative work with Cameraventures for the #FutureOfFilm and #SaveAnalogCameras projects, from my current work with Anhalt University as a photographer, and with my master thesis on the integration of graphic design principles in historical and contemporary documentary photography practice. Many of these were also taken from what I saw from others as they used film as a tool for further creative exploration, and what I heard from select members of the film community as they discussed, bantered, and ranted about the state of affairs within and towards the producers, consumers, and influencers – with an equal mixture of toxicity and wholesomeness.
A new face of film photography has emerged this year, one that acquires worth through the materiality of their practice and the abundance of themes and motifs that could be captured. This year, film photography has become the communal medium of a common message. As more younger people become nostalgic in their parents’ generation to understand their successes and mistakes as they write their own destiny in the process, many from the latter group have regained inspiration in using their trusted gear once more, safe in the fact that an audience exists to reciprocate their desire to communicate. Furthermore, the film photographer of 2017 is more likely someone from a developing country – despite lack of domestic large-scale producers, these photographers took to themselves the initiative to supply themselves and others with imported, recirculated, and homegrown emulsions, chemistry, gear, and know-how. Last but not the least, today’s production and circulation of photographic media has become heavily social than ever before, with both photographers and audiences enriching their visual vocabulary and grammar by the second through constant visual bombardment of mainstream, niche, and situational content. Not only that, but the Internet has made manufacturers and users closer with each other, through the latter still maintains a healthy distance in order not to be easily swayed upon by reactive pleas.
However, gone are the days of passive resistance to pressing logistical issues. Due to the social nature of contemporary film photography, cooperation and collaboration has become the theme for entrepreneurs this year. Driven by a grassroots-level desire to address common challenges, a collective effort from all sectors brought timely solutions, and information gained in the process has been shared between projects through an environment of open disclosure that the curated Internet delivers. A key feature though of this year’s projects were the physical and technical improvement of existing/retired equipment, rebranding of old emulsion formulae, and constant communication between project leaders and recipients.
Of note are the following undertakings this year:
- Ars Imago’s lab-box, inspired from the Agfa Rondinax daylight developing tank;
- Silberra Film’s vision of reintroducing fresh film and chemistry from age-old formulae;
- The visibility of the Reflex, Ihagee, PONF, and Solarcan camera projects;
- The Yashica-Cam project that polarized the global community’s response and changed (for better or for worse) perception of future crowdfunded projects;
- The return of the Polaroid brand as Polaroid Originals, made by the folks from The Impossible Project;
- The release of Film Ferrania’s P30 Alpha film, despite the un-enthusiasm of several funders;
- The establishment of several news websites, blogs, and vlogs as reliable sources of information such as Emulsive, Nico’s Photo News, Casual Photophile, Kosmo Foto, Negative Feedback, and One Year With Film Only
- The success of Cameraventures’ Save Analog Cameras campaign in investigating the current state of affairs;
- A positive socio-political response in strengthening the presence of female photographers in the community with magazines such as She Shoots Film;
- The economic reestablishment of film photography as a niche business possibility for photographers thanks to the central role that film labs like MeinFilmLab, Old School Photo Lab, The Darkroom, The FIND Lab, Lighthouse Film Lab, and Sunny16 Film Lab uphold as actual and virtual community centers where photographers can congregate to have their photos developed, receive comments and criticism on their work, socialize with their fellow photographers, and gain trust to themselves and to the artistic practice;
- The rise of hybrid „figital“ photographers who shoot film and digital for paid shoots thanks to community-developed products such as Kirk Mastin’s Mastin Labs ACR/Lr presets and Filmborn app, and Rebecca Patience’s Rebecca Lily ACR/Lr presets
The future of film is not limited to saving analog cameras or engineering new ones, or remanufacturing emulsion formulae with a fresh look, or socially-engineering the analog movement to a digital crowd, or even the resumption of film photographs used in mainstream media. The future of film photography lies in the philosophy that each and every one of us who uses it to communicate a message derived from captured experience. This philosophy needs to be studied, defined, collated, and hopefully, transcribed into a malleable „document“ that can be collaboratively analyzed, examined, and further presented into a new model of usage that should transcend form, material, gadget, and context.
The future of film photography, and indeed of photography itself, will not be a new camera or film emulsion or social movement. It will be a record of the zeitgeist that has started this year and will continue developing as we slowly convert the currency of human life from tools to experiences and go beyond making the medium the message.
With that, onward to 2018, fellow film-togs! To 36 frames and beyond!