If Mister Darcy were alive today, he would be a film photographer. I’m sure of it. Noble, deliberate, long suffering, and a hopeless romantic, these words perfectly describe both Darcy and film. The two are practically synonymous. The film vs. digital photography argument has been made thousands of times. Proponents in each camp have long since sounded their trumpeting challenges, and the drums of war beat us further and further into polarized positions on the subject.
I’m not the first to do so, but let me here and now nod to the reality that film and digital photography have their own respective places in the world. SO, first and foremost, we all need to take a chill pill. They are the same, but different. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, both fruit, but not an equal substitute in any recipe. Apple pie and baseball are a hallmark of the American summer. Replacing apple pie for Orange pie is a non-starter. So, I’m not going to argue one way or the other. I want to offer a fresh perspective on the issue.
Film photography is terribly romantic if you really think about it, it all comes down to chemistry. Basic chemical mechanics: light enters the camera through a lens and collides with the film. Silver atoms on the film chemically react with the light...and change. In a fraction of a second, light bounces off a scene, travels into the camera, and changes the film.
As a result, a film photograph more than documents a time and place, it’s a literal chemical reaction to a singular moment. The same light that exposed the film, for a brief moment, rested on the subject of that image. So the film reacts and interacts with that moment, and becomes a sort of time capsule for the memory and the light that was present. The same light that warmed my newborn son’s face on the day he was blessed is captured, and now lives on a little piece of film. The day you closed on your first house, and a baby's first faltering steps, these moments and thousands more captured on film, more than a history are moments that change film while they change a person. Light and silver, particles on emulsion (the light sensitive part of film), individually valuable and precious, but together they form something new, infinitely unique, and ultimately timeless. Famed photographer Aaron Siskind once said, “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
Digital photography, while following the same basic principles, employs different mechanics to capture an image. Again, light travels down the lens, but this time, hits a sensor. On the sensor are pixels (around 150,000 on a full frame 35mm sensor) that measures the light, turning that information into a binary code of 1s and 0s. All the information for all the pixels is stored on a single file -- giving you a digital photograph.
I’d be the first to admit, this technology is amazing and has grown and developed at astonishing rates over the years. In this aspect, the resolution and ability to edit and correct these images makes digital, hands down, superior to film. Digital gives you the flexibility to manipulate images in mind blowing ways. Recent split pixel technology, captures two images in one photo, allowing you the ability to edit and manipulate your image in ways, that seem almost science fiction.
Professional photographers around the world are finding the advantages of digital irresistible and understandably so. Even layman photographers, such as mommy-bloggers, the momtographer, and your average weekend photo-warrior are using digital photography to great effect. Students of photography find the ability to take thousands of photographs, without the inherent costs of buying film, liberating. The craft of photography is more and more accessible with the advent of digital. As a result, the standard of professional excellence raised, creating a digital renaissance of sorts.
Embedded in all it’s inherent advantages, lays the cruxes of the digital versus film arguement. As powerful and as versatile as a digital photograph might be, It will only ever be a collection of 1s and 0s. A proverbial post card from that moment in time: A simple record that it was there. The digital sensor is not changed. Nothing is altered. You can’t hold in digital file in your hands. It’s a cold, albeit complicated and advanced, glove used in the creative handshake between a photographer and the world around him.
Film photography is the temporal personification of eternity. It’s limitations of expansion and enlargement are at the atomic level. Silver atoms that were changed by light stand alone, yet are part in a tapestry of variation and diversity. Light itself, has been used in countless cultures and theologies as the supreme symbol of truth, knowledge, and life.
We connect with film photography, in the face of digital’s overwhelming advantages, because we can relate to film. We are touched and changed by the light in our world. The light of life and love I see in my family and the world around me, as I look through the viewfinder of my camera, stands mirrored on that small piece of film when the shutter clicks. The film is changed forever, and I am changed forever. Photo to photo, roll to roll, and day to day, we too are changed by the light of the world.
The inherent beauty of film’s process, is enough to send any romantic imagination into a headspin. I recently took the opportunity to reread Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and was struck by this passage, “Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report [of him] was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance…”. Notice, Darcy did not walk in, stand in the middle of the room, and yell, “HERE I AM!” Without any pomp or theatrics, his very presence gravitated the consciousness of the room. In my mind, film is the same way. It commands your attention, demands respect, and invites admiration, and we can’t help but give it. Not because of what it does, but because of what it is. So yeah, Darcy would be a total film junky.