Traditionally, Filmsesh has been a celebration of shooting film, its process, and the gear that does it. Whether it’s revisiting older cameras we loved using when we were younger, or trying something new to experience with fresh eyes, I could encapsulate Filmsesh into two words: experience and nostalgia.
Shooting film is very different from shooting digitally. Rather than a 128GB card that holds thousands of images alleviating the worry about how many images you have left, a single roll of 35mm film will give you at most - thirty-six frames. Because of this, it’s worth it to slow down; the difference between a good photo and a great photo could be a matter of a few extra seconds to think about your shot.
Another great thing about shooting film is simply how tactile the experience is. There are enough buttons, knobs, dials, and levers to make a Fidget Cube blush. There’s something satisfying about every function and setting having its own mechanical component. I like being able to look down at my camera to very clearly see that my lens is set to f/8 and my camera’s shutter speed is 1/320th of a second, and every time I adjust either there is an audible and physical click. This is something you rarely get with digital cameras and it’s part of the reason why I love Fujifilm mirrorless cameras. The dedicated dials may be niche to some, but I like it.
One can’t discount the nostalgia factor either. My grandpa shot film and my dad continued the tradition in his Navy days. It’s hard to not project some sort of rite of passage onto shooting film. I have distinct memories of taking disposable one-time use cameras on school trips and being eager to see them developed when I got home. I wasn’t a Robert Frank or Avedon but the gratification from making photographs was enough to spark nostalgia when I look back.
Before cell phone photography or digital cameras, film was the only way to take pictures. If a moment wasn’t photographed or videotaped, it was up to your memory to recall it. In the digital age, I hardly get prints made. While I don’t caputre a lot of images with my phone, I’ve taken more snapshots with that than I have shot frames of 35mm film. Those images are available in my pocket at any time, but some memories are worth being materialised.
Here is a story of film, touch and the memories it can create.
When my girlfriend and I first got together I was surprised to find out her birthday was just around the corner (exactly a week after.) I panicked, unsure of what to get her. She’d mentioned once that she had a Fujifilm Instax camera, so I got her a pack of Instax Mini film. Some may argue that a modern Instax Mini camera lacks the charm and nostalgia factor of an old Polaroid camera, whether or not you agree, the end result is the same: another way of producing those tactile memories.
Years later, and I ran myself in circles thinking of the best way to propose. I did not need something grand or public (we aren’t terribly fond of large crowds.) Instead, I wanted something meaningful. And as long as my wacky idea would work, I wanted this to be something tactile:
I wanted to expose a roll of film by filling it with old photos of us that I loved, and the last frame would have the words: ‘Will You Marry Me?’ I wanted to leave the roll uncut, so that I could then “reload” the film back into an empty canister. This Way each frame could be touched and seen one by one.
The ideal way to accomplish this would be with a roll of slide film. Unfortunately, I did not have any available at the time; however, I did have some black and white rolls. Theoretically speaking, if I inverted the digital images I selected (essentially turning them into negatives) and shot it on a standard roll of film, my strip of negatives would instead be filled with positive images.
Providing this was all possible, I was able to simplify it to the following steps:
If there were thirty-six frames on the roll, my first order of business was to pick out thirty-six images to use. I took a trip down memory lane by starting from the very beginning and focused on some of my favorites memories with her. I curated images from camera rolls, screenshots, and images off of social media. Choosing the photos was lots of fun, and sequencing was just a matter of going in chronological order. Looking back through all of the pictures we’d taken together was a great way to reminisce and reflect on how much things have changed since our first year together.
First, I adjusted the exposure, and contrast. Then, I converted the image to black and white. Lastly, I inverted the images and prepared the sequence.
Expose the Roll
Once all my images were in order, I turned off all of the lights and did some test shots on a Nikon D800E (I used a full-frame camera to make sure the field of view would be the same).
While an inverted image isn’t flattering for anyone, if you look closer, you’ll see a uniform array of dots stemming from the fact that we are taking a digital picture of a screen. Regarding the projected final product, I wasn’t terribly worried considering each image would be on a 36mm by 24mm frame, and to see imperfections like this you would really need to pixel--err--grain peep (with a loupe.)
Alternatively, if you had a projector handy, you could probably project the images on the wall, and you wouldn’t have to deal with any extraneous textures as long as the wall was relatively smooth.
Once I was satisfied with how the images came out, I swapped the D800E for my Nikon N80, used the same lens and used the same settings (aperture, ISO, shutter speed.) I then took each image one at a time, keeping the order in mind, until the roll was finished.
Obviously the roll has to get developed before anything else can happen, but I don’t usually develop my own film, so I sent it out to my local photo lab.
“Reload” the Exposed Roll
I bought a reloadable film cassette on B&H, a simple item made up of only three components:
From left to right, we have the cap, spool, and cannister.
I cut off any excess film, since I didn't need to to let it out past the last frame.
I taped the end of the strip to the spool.
After putting the spool into the canister and twisting on a cap, I rolled the film back (but not all the way!)
If you’re lazy like me, a flathead screwdriver is nicer on the wrist.
For maximum stealth, I also cut a fake leader into the film.
Photography has many uses in the modern age, but the most universal one is the ability to document. Scrolling through the seemingly-endless camera roll or flipping through albums both have the same sentiment of nostalgia and reflection.
I have personally never humored the argument between digital and analogue; I think both processes have their own merits. Rather than futilely compare the two mediums, we should embrace the differences they have. Users choose what they resonate with, but they also choose the tools that best help them achieve the results they’re looking for. This strange project was a fusion of digital imagery and a physical medium, but I don’t think I could have accomplished the same results if I didn’t use both in conjunction. Happy shooting everyone. Filmsesh out.
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