Nearly two and a half years have passed since I dived into the world of film photography and photography as a whole. It’s been a subtly wild journey of self-expression, self-discovery, and in a sense, a therapeutic outlet.
Despite changing so much as a person in the last two years, I can still relate to my motivation at the beginning. The longevity of this pursuit, longer than any other artistic pursuit I’ve embarked on, attests to its specialness.
I wrote in the Prologue page:
I never thought photography would be something I’d pick up either, mostly because of the daunting DSLR’s that seemed to be a must-have for any serious photography. I didn’t like the way they looked: boring, chunky, awkward, and full of cheap plastics and distastefully confusing buttons. It felt like technical work to translate ideas into photos. So for years, my iPhone was my photographic tool of choice, if you could even call it that.
Then, I saw a friend’s retro-looking camera at a picnic in 2019. I distinctly remember being drawn to its unique look: unlike any DSLRs, it looked simple, functional, and minimal. When my friend explained to me that it was a film camera, I was simultaneously awestruck and skeptical. People still shoot film? Why film? Where do you get it developed? How do you know if the shot turned out well? How do you use it?
As if rediscovering a long lost part of myself, I was driven to find out what it meant to me. Perhaps so strongly that she might’ve thought I was being annoyingly persistent and judgmental. I obsessively researched into it and fell in love with the simplicity of film photography. ISO, aperture, and shutter speed—two knobs, one button, that’s it! I didn’t know photography was possible without operating a quantum computer. As I practiced the basics, I became enamored with the idea of shooting on film. Photography all of a sudden seemed within my reach. It finally clicked with me.
The simplicity of film cameras remains a core appeal to me. Of course, the aesthetics of the “film look” plays a big part too. But perhaps, while those two things drew me into photography at first, what kept it going was the process.
Creative endeavors bring me tremendous energy and joy, but I’ve always struggled to find a creative outlet.
In the last two years, the reason behind that struggle became very clear to me: any creative endeavors are consisted with two parts: the process, and the result. And I was confusing the two.
While I loved the sound of piano, 3 years of practice as an adult taught me that I dreaded the process of practicing the same two measures over and over again. I loved watercolor paintings, but didn’t look forward to the process of layering and waiting for paint to dry. I picked up and stopped playing the guitar no fewer than 4 times. I tried and failed to love woodshop, drawing, or plant-caring.
I knew that perseverance wasn’t the problem. I could spend hours and hours working on engineering problems or design projects. It was film photography that made me realize: it was the process of finding, composing, and making a photo out of something I see that I love, independent of the result.
At some point, I asked myself this question: if I could never show the photos I took to anyone else, and only to myself, would I still take photos? A rather extreme question perhaps, but my answer is still yes.
Things really started to become clear when I shot through a whole “roll” of film without realizing that I’d forgotten to actually load camera. In other words, I was shooting onto nothing. And yet, strangely, I loved it as much as any other roll.
For the first time, I felt what “loving the process” truly means. It was disconcerting first. How could I be spending so much time on something without a goal of making something out of it? Is that a useful way to spend my time?
The toxic voice of productivity was a gnarly one. In a way, film photography, a way of art-making that divorces you from your results by nature, was unintentionally the perfect medium to reflect the conflict. What is the point of spending my time on anything? Why do I have to produce something out of it?
The slow unraveling of these beliefs did not come easy. But I’m thankful that I wasn’t alone in this process. Creativity means something completely different to me now. The results are wonderful, but they are not required to be creative. Such a simple lesson, but it took me so long to learn. Or rather, it took me so long to find my way back to that childlike quality of just playing without productization.
In the span of two and half years of film photography, I’ve amassed two thick binders of negatives. Yet it’s not the inverted frames that I look at in satisfaction, but the world that I experience through the viewfinder.