Light flooded the frame, the kind of light you only find at sunrise and sunset. She was standing, barefoot, wearing the twirliest floral skirt in the Jardin des Tuileries. In her hands was the most curious camera: Rectangular and boxy in a Range Rover sort of way, two lenses, and she was peering down into the viewfinder.
For me, film began with an Instagram photo of a stranger holding a Rolleicord. Because she was (and is) a photographer I very much admire, I decided I, too, needed one, and found Cecil on eBay from a nice lady in Chicago for $160.
That was summer 2016, so we’re coming up on year four. I have acquired other film cameras, principally Norman, a 35mm Nikon. (Cecil is medium format 120.) Over the years, I have come to almost completely abandon digital in favour of an archaic process.
Why I Still Shoot Film
I love film because it’s got texture. It’s a little grainy, but repeat after me: GRAINY DOES NOT MEAN BLURRY! Although, on film, I love strategic blur to capture motion. The colours are also superb and require very little adjustments. A friend of mine thrives in Photoshop. For me, I’d rather be out making more photographs (and that’s personal preference).
Film is also about the slow, intentional, intimate process. No 2,000 clicks for the one good shot. I want to be decisive and thoughtful. I want connection between me and my subject.
Why I Shoot 35mm and Not 120
As I mentioned before, Cecil and Norman are different formats, meaning the size of their negative is different. Cecil is my personal work camera, and I use Norman for both personal and client projects. There are different opinions whether the bigger negative is better. I say, not always. Different scenarios, different tools. Do you always need the largest whisk in the kitchen? Not if you’re only beating one egg.
As Norman is also a Nikon, he is compatible with my digital lenses. With film, the camera body is not as important, because the film you choose and your lens (but really the film and how you shoot) have the most say in the outcome. The camera body essentially serves as a black box to prevent light leaks.
My two lenses are a 50mm prime and a 24-70 mid-telephoto. I prefer primes because they’re lightweight, but telephotos offer flexibility when space is a challenge.
The Personal Case for 35mm
I do not like being encumbered by gear. Having two heavy cameras hanging from my arms does not inspire me to create. It makes me want to go take a nap. Norman brings me joy because he’s simple. I can make almost 40 images before loading more film. He’s a little more nimble. When I’ve got him, I want to get out and explore, discover, and create.
And who knows? I’ll incorporate medium and large format into my work eventually. One of my goals this year is to actually learn large format photography — the negative is 4×5 inches!