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“You don’t learn how to take and make photographs until you’ve done so the analog way”. This was one of the first things said to me when I enrolled in my photography studies a few years back. Analog? You mean with film? Does anyone even care about old cameras anymore? Where would I even find one right now? I thought it was already brave enough of me that I decided to study photography at a time when it’s all about taking pictures on your phone and posting them on Instagram, but this as well?

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And then, a revelation: my most successful class that semester was the darkroom. Sure I’ve seen and touched analog photographs before, at my grandmother’s house while looking at family pictures from last century, but to make one from scratch was a true experience of making art, and I loved every second of it. Many of my colleagues seem to agree that “going vintage” is as rewarding as it is fun; there is a resurgence of analog photographers out there as we speak, helping to prevent the death of film and keeping their creativity at a higher level. In an era when we are so used to getting everything instantly and effortlessly, they found the patience for a process which typically takes days and have signed up for the bigger costs of production that the analog entails compared to its digital peer. What do we mean as Fine Art Photography?

 

 

Let’s Get Technical! How Does the Film Work?

Although now it might seem impossible, analog photography was the only kind of photography available to a wider audience for more than one hundred years. With the appearance of computers and the development of the digital technologies in the 1980s and 90s, this type of photo-making lost momentum and was almost sent to oblivion with each new invention: the digital cameras that were getting smaller, faster and simply better, and then again when they were incorporated in mobile phones. 

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But what many claim, and what the author of this text solemnly agrees with, is that analog photography simply has more soul. The iconic images of the 20th century, whether black and white or in color, in my humble opinion cannot compare to their digital counterparts, with all due respect to their efforts. Furthermore, we shouldn’t not bear in mind the creative journey that the analog takes you on, instilling discipline and requiring more attention. 

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The first step towards creating your first analog pictures would be to get an appropriate camera, and a roll of film that fits it. Among the manufacturers of the two, there are some more than familiar names: Leica, Reflex, Yashica, Hasselblad, but also giants of the digital industry still very much active, such as Nikon, Canon and Polaroid. If you do not wish to try your luck and buy your camera off a friend or from online retailers, some of these companies still sell non-digital devices. Kodak or Fujifilm continue to produce high-quality film rolls as well (including the famous Ektachrome 100 by the former, which was re-introduced in 2017). 

 

 

I myself have an old Nikon which supports the traditional 36-shot films. In order for younger generations to understand what this means, it would be like having a smartphone with only 36 empty slots for images at a time. What does this prompt? Photographers are now to be more careful in picking their subject matter, their angle, their composition. They are bound to spend more time thinking about their vision, the image they want to achieve, because snapping hundreds of images is simply out of the question now - films cost money, and so does developing them. 

To be fair towards digital photographers, photographic elements related to exposure such as aperture, ISO and shutter speed is something they too are able to control on their new cameras, should they want to; what they can also do is see the result of their “click” right away - the image appears on the screen immediately, and they can spot possible betterments and apply them in the next shot. For analog artists, the moment of “truth” arrives quite a bit later, after the film has been developed, and the image(s) has been printed and washed. Indeed, one of the practical cons of analog photography is the expensive maintenance of the darkroom: between the space itself, the special apparati and the different emulsions, it can easily drive anyone away. Perhaps there is still someone developing the negatives somewhere where you live instead? 

On the other hand, if you are among the lucky ones and you can afford to develop and print your own negatives, I promise it’s an irreplaceable experience. This is also among the higher-placed items on the pro list of reasons why one should do analog photography - the feeling of giving life to an actual, physical work of art is simply priceless, once the image starts appearing underneath the developer in that wash dish, and you find yourself witnessing the magic happening right there and then. Inside a darkroom, you can also crop, edit, and enhance your photograph, almost just like you would using Instagram filters and tools - except this is real life, and you couldn’t go back if you made a mistake. 

Speaking of mistakes: last but not least, what could be considered both pro and con is the fact that analog films, cameras and the process itself can be complex to handle. Films need to be protected from light, as do the prints in the darkroom. What can happen is that your shots can get “ruined” even before you get to print them: they get double-exposed, or vignettes are created, or the color goes all wrong. If you are using analog for fun, these “mistakes” could turn into experiments and even style influencers that help you make a work of art. Some photographers, in fact, deliberately make these “happy accidents” in order to produce more original photos. Start building your own collection on Kooness...

The Revival 

Although the future of analog photography is an uncertain one, many younger photographers choose it as an additional, or the only, way of making images. Many of them started in their youth when film was the only thing around, or they picked up their parents’ passion. Others are simply tired of the instant, mass-produced imagery of food and sunsets one can typically find on Instagram. Shooting analog is different and unique each time, and if the filmstrip is not your style, you can always turn to lomography (an image style and a film camera) and making polaroids (another personal favorite of mine).

 

Ansel Adams's large format photograph The Tetons and the Snake River (1942). Courtesy Wikipedia

 

Collecting Analog Photographic Prints

As analog photography is inherently more “handmade” and “vintage” than the digital, it is logical that its value on the art market will be higher. If you are thinking about going into photography professionally, this could be a right foray into it. If we forget about Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II as the most expensive (digital) photography in the world for a second, we can talk about other greats of 20th-century photography - Robert Mapplethorpe, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, and many others. Their prints are still sought-after, much like Andy Warhol’s polaroids, for instance, which are now selling for thousands of dollars each.

Contemporary Analog Photographers

Among both older and younger generations of photographers working today, many are still using the filmstrip exclusively. On the list of the more famous ones, we have Nan Goldin with her legendary shots of the New York underground scene; Jeff Wall and his carefully planned scenes; the unforgettable portraiture of Ryan McGinley, Shirin Neshat and Cindy Sherman, of course. 

Rosie Matheson, Cassandra Klos, Teva Cosic and Benjamin MacMaster are the ones which have caught my attention among the 20-something artists. All of them I’ve found on Instagram, ironically. MacMaster’s black and white shots seem to be exploring black lives in quite a photojournalistic way; the dreamy portraiture and travel images belong to Cosic, while Klos is the one recreating Mars on Earth through intriguing 4x5 photographs of astronauts and landscape. Finally, Rosie Matheson’s portraiture could fool you into thinking that it’s coming straight from Instagram filters, but upon a closer look, we can clearly recognize that trademark film photography flare. 

Naturally, there are many more talented creatives out there, and here’s hoping that this article inspired you to become one yourself - the analog way! It is challenging, it’s time-consuming, but in the end, you will have a lot of fun and an actual photograph in your own hands, made with your own hands! 

 

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

 

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