I have been working on getting closer, that is how can I get the pictures to feel more intimate, be more of a participant in a moment rather than observer. How do I remove the distance the camera puts between me and my subjects. How can I make the images more human? Believe it or not, I have been shooting film for a lot with this work. I was finding that after eons of looking at digital pictures on monitors, the super hi res flat images were starting to creep me out. There is something about the anolgue chemical processes of film that is absolutely charming. I don’t think the workflow would be practical for a commercial job, but I am loving it for making a final product that is a physical print.
This idea started with a conversation I had about a year ago with my friend Chris Buck. We were discussing how we both aimed to make our digital files feel more like film. That got me thinking. Why not shoot film? Well there are about 1000 reasons not to: its expensive, the work flow is tedious, you are left with a pile of negatives that you then have to securely file and store, the cameras are old, on and on. There are a lot of great movies being shot on film, even with all the wondrous digital cameras out there. Why? Why would someone chose to shoot super 16 like The Hurt Locker or Beasts of the Southern Wild? Why would Spielberg only shoot film on his movies? Why does Nan Goldin shoot transparancy film of all things? There are reasons, lots of them, but it comes down to a feeling.
I called my friend Marilyn Minter. She told me for her its all about Fuji 400 film and a Contax 645. I love that camera, but for my purpose of getting close, it was not the right choice. I tested Fuji, not bad, but I settled on Kodak Portra 400, Tri X, and for fun of it, Fuji 1600. The camera I use is a Contax G2, with 35, 45, and 90mm lenses. It is a lovely instrument.
It is nonesense to say that the type of camera doesn’t matter. It does. It is the thing that interfaces between you eye and your photograph. It sits in your hand. It needs to feel good to you, it needs to make a pleasing sound, or at least to me it does.
Digital cameras are precise, they are designed to have linear color rendition. Film is analogue, it is a chemical process that renders colors with uneven sensitivity. It has grain, not video noise. It has a look that I can approximate in a computer, but not match. The camera I use is wonderful to hold, it makes a delightful shutter noise. It is light and simple. The lenses are far sharper than the Canon EOS lenses. The combination of the super sharp lens with a softer organic film media is awesome. The first time I had the lab make an actual print my jaw dropped. It was amazing. Which is another issue. Digital images are great for digital transmittion to a retoucher and for magazine repro, but they suck for actual physical prints when compared to neg based C prints. I don’t care how much procesing and grain filters you throw onto a digital image, it is not going to look as good. Sorry.
I would really really like to find an alternative to film. I have tried lots of cameras. The Fuji Xpro1 is like working a video game. Far too complicated, but handling wise, its a step in the right direction. There is the Lumix, which if shot in BW at 3200 ASA is not a bad alternative, but it is still nowhere near how I feel about my Contax G2 is. But then again, there is every possibility that I will wake up tomorrow and decide that this whole film mania is a Luddite’s delusion.