What Am I Leaving Behind?

I got my first digital camera in the year 2001, when I was 25. Until then I had been a shutter-bug also, but I had been shooting film. No fancy cameras, just a point and shoot, but enough to record the memories of my younger years. Now, at 42, I have started playing around with film again, this time not only with a more complex camera than the one that I used back in the days, but also with an actual knowledge of the craft. And somehow now I feel like I am finally understanding my profession.

Getting used to shooting with a film camera again was not a big deal for me in the sense that I had already used film cameras early in my life. Loading the film, advancing the film before each shot, even not being able to see the result of what I had shot for the lack of an LCD screen on the back of the camera were things that just felt natural to me. The real impact came when I took the film to the lab to have it developed and I heard those dreadful words: "come back in a week." A week?!?! I almost had a panic attack thinking that I was not going to be able to see the result of my work until after a whole week! But then, I decided to embrace the magical feeling of the experience full of expectations that lead to the moment when you finally get to see your creations for the first time. And my mind was blown away! This is how it felt! Before the 1-hour or the 24-hour developing services, we had to wait a week or two before we got to see the photos from our trip, our party or our family gatherings. And it was perfectly OK. Nobody died of impatience waiting for their photos to come back from the lab.

We live in a different world now. Everything is so immediate these days that we no longer have a sense of patience. If I click the shutter, I want to see my photo now. If I send an email promo, I want clients calling me as soon as I hit send. If I start my business today, I want to be successful tomorrow. If I meet someone and I like them, I want us to be best friends right away. We have lost our ability for waiting, it seems like nothing is worth looking forward to anymore. But film has reminded me of how beautiful the anticipation to see your work for the first time can be.

Another thing that shooting film has done for me is that it has gotten me into thinking about my work and what I'm leaving behind. Today, only a very small percentage of my work exists in print. The vast majority is stored in the form of digital files inside hard drives that backup to the cloud and create a copy that resides somewhere in the cyberspace. In other words, they don't actually exist in a physical form. Which means that in 500 years from now, if someone finds these hard drives and doesn't have access to our obsolete technology to be able to read what is inside of them they will never know of my existence or my work. We might not know who posed for Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, but at least we still have the painting. It's funny how we feel that we are so technologically advanced because we have managed to store millions of bytes of information in very small hard drives but if we expose them to time, to the elements or to obsolescence all this data is lost. However, after so many centuries we can still learn so much from fossils and from rudimentary tools that were left behind by the people who were here before us.

And all of this got me into thinking that maybe a return to film is a return to contaminating the environment. We accumulate our printed images, we kill trees for the paper, and we leave behind chemical residue from all the processing involved. But, all the digital technology that we use today needs a lot of power to function which has a massive impact on the planet, and it also leaves a greater footprint with the speed at which devices are discarded when they become obsolete. So, what do I prefer to leave behind? In all honesty, I prefer to leave behind art than just a piece of metal.

Rediscovering film has made me re-evaluate my career as a photographer: I feel more like a craftsman, like an artist. It is as if, by exploring the past, I am also exploring a different version of myself in the present. Quoting Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist: "Sometimes we have to travel a long way to find what is near."

Below you will find some of the images that I have shot on film over the last month. Photo credits:

  • Photo 1: George Robbins
  • Photo 2: Tana Benavides
  • Photo 3: Tim Godfrey
  • Photo 4: Arnau Siches
  • Photo 5: Mooeo Munkhtulga

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