Film Project Challenge

“Me & M3” – Fargo, ND

As the end of this year’s challenge approaches, I feel that it is time to reflect on it and attempt to analyze how it has gone, and try to determine if it has been productive.  First, for anyone who wasn’t following the blog when I started, or who has forgotten, I set out with the loose idea of documenting my 30th year of life (starting on my 29th birthday in January 2012, running to my 30th birthday in January 2013) with a roll of film per week.  The idea was that I’d continue to shoot digital and film together, and use whatever camera or format of film I felt like.  I would then post regular updates on the project, but with no set guidelines on when, or how many.

  1. Why did I decide to embark on this project?  Well, honestly, because I had gotten away from film a bit.  I shot film for several years since being introduced through a film class I took during my last semester as an undergraduate, but got away from it and shot more and more digital images until I realized that in late 2011, I was 100% digital and hadn’t shot film in a few months at least.  I got a great deal on a film rangefinder on Craigslist and picked it up; I won’t detail the specifics on my journey with particular cameras, since I recently posted on that (read it here).  The aim then, was to use this equipment and get back to shooting analog photography, which I greatly enjoy.  In fact, I think I enjoy it a good deal more than digital, but we’ll get to that later.
  2. Was the project enjoyable?  Yes, very much so.  I got back to shooting film, which I find incredibly enjoyable, and I got back to using analog cameras, which, for the most part, I also find very satisfying.  Looking at film images is nice for the results, the process is fun, and I enjoy the greater degree of challenge (as I see it) with shooting film over shooting digital images.
  3. What were the challenges?  Well, there were a few.  First, the immediate cost of shooting film makes it seem more expensive (though it actually isn’t in reality); there is a cost in buying, processing, and scanning film.  I did have some problems with equipment that I picked up to use that needed repairing, CLA, or required me to learn how to use it properly to get consistently good results.  It took me a while to figure out a scanning/processing workflow, but I finally did settle on one that works for me.  The goal of the project was to shoot a roll a week, and I think I did that, but due to my not sending exposed films out often, I lost track of what was shot when, and the posts on the project in particular lost momentum and organization.
  4. Was it a success?  Well, that depends.  Over the course of the year, the project morphed–which was entirely reasonable, considering that it started with incredibly loose guidelines, and had no clear aim other than shooting film for the sake of it.  I didn’t have a clearly-defined set of rules or guidelines, and that is what ultimately made the project feel less like a project and more like…well, I’m not sure what it felt like.  I guess it just felt like I was shooting more film.  So I guess that is a success.  I experimented with a variety of films, formats, cameras, and lenses.  At the end of the day, it was fun.

When I look back at the images and posts from the year, I notice that the project started to develop along with my own interests in photography.  I stopped posting updates on the project, and sets of images that I had taken recently.  When I look at the early updates I did on the project, it felt like the images were thrown together, having nothing in common with each other beside the fact that they had been shot by me, on film.  The lack of clear direction for the project stifled my progress I think.  For future projects, this is good to keep in mind.

As I said earlier, I found that I like analog shooting more than digital.  Part of that is the cameras that I hold in my hand, which I find to be far more enjoyable than their digital counterparts (with few exceptions: the Fuji X100 is close for me).  I also enjoy waiting for my images–it helps me to detach myself emotionally from the images I have made and allows me to evaluate them more objectively and to be more critical of my own work.  Ultimately, having someone you trust give you honest critique is invaluable in your growth as a photographer and artist.

I have learned a lot from this project, and from using fully manual cameras.  I have learned to instinctively judge light, and calculate exposure before even lifting the viewfinder to my eye; as I walk around, I can generally guess within a stop what the light is of my subject.  This saves time, meaning that when the camera comes up to my face, I’m ready to shoot and can capture action much fast.  Manually focusing has also become much faster for me, and autofocus is no longer a crutch or a hindrance for me that I have to overcome in order to use analog cameras.  I now feel at home equally with manual and automatic cameras, and have even come to prefer manually setting focus and exposure for most situations.  I have also found that I prefer a rangefinder camera (or in the case of the Fuji X100, and “rangefinder-style camera”) over the more ubiquitous SLR.  In fact, my lovely D700 gathers dust now through no fault of its own; I simply don’t enjoy using a digital SLR at all anymore.  The act of using it is not at all enjoyable, and if it were my only camera I would surely shoot fewer images.

As I approach the end of this project, where do we go from here?  I have a few ideas for projects for the upcoming year.  I have been gathering ideas and chewing on them a little, and as the end draws closer, I will move ahead with one.  Stay tuned for that, and if you have any ideas or feedback on this post, I’d love to hear it.

As always, if you like my blog, feel free to check out my website for more of my images.

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