01 02 03 Snapperific: The Beautiful Imperfection of Film 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

The Beautiful Imperfection of Film

We are getting too used to the idea of perfection. 

My iPhone spits out wonderfully exposed, sharp images. But then I interrupt the image and run it through Instagram and filter it, to give it more character. I watched a video with Brian Eno the other day and it really stuck with me. Watch it here. He spoke about arriving at the dawn of a technology and how that gave him freedom to create. He spoke about perfection and charter and phrased it beautifully: "Everything we call character is the deviation from perfection."

Digital is hard and clean. It is 1's and 0's. Yes or No. On or Off. Through cleverness there are in-betweens. But it isn't an organic process. And that's OK and sometimes preferable. I'd hate an OS that kinda works and sometimes fails.

But life is closer to art, perhaps an art in and of itself. And art is the pursuit of beautiful and pleasing imperfection. And perhaps this is why we prefer images that have been filtered and have added character; a layer that makes them less perfect and clinical.

Film has a softness and elegance that is different to digital. I say different, not better. Indeed digital is a lot better that film in measurable ways. But our subjective taste in what we see and what we enjoy is not so easily measurable. Take away all but the 'best' (if we could come to a consensus) Instagram filter and we'd have riots in major citied around the world in minutes. #bringbacksierra! 

I'm not for a minute suggesting that people are just fickle. I flirt with different looks to my images. I grunge them up in apps. I use Nik's superb software to make my digital images resemble film and simply cannot settle on one look. Maybe we are all fickle actually, in a good way. Discerning. Yeah. let's go with that...

But the thing I notice when I shoot film is that when I look at the pictures on my monitor I don't need to do anything to them. I mean I remove the annoying dust and hairs and scratches that incessantly find their way onto my scans. But aesthetically they are objects in and of themselves. They have a kind of finality and solidity. They don't need any help. Sure, some film shots are very imperfect indeed. Here's an image that came out completely differently to how I'd expected:

Canon AV1, Canon 20mm F2.8, Fuji Superia 400 expired in 2003
It does have a lot of character though.

Another thing about film that is distinctly different from digital is that is a physical medium, You can hold it and smell it and it is susceptible to age, degradation and ruin. This is the last shot from a recent roll of film:

Canon AV1, Canon 50mm F1.8, Fuji ProPlus100

I opened the back of the camera absentmindedly before finishing to roll the film up into the spool. Silly me. Luckily only 2 frames had any light-leaks. but you know what? I like this image the way it is, with the light-leaks. Part of the charm is that is was a mistake. I didn't scroll through a bunch of different light-leak effects and choose just the right one. It was completely random. And this is one of the joys of film. It is a controlled medium, capable of careful execution and accuracy but also has the potential to be unstable and fluid. Volatile even.

But contained within all of this is an elegant way of recording images. Look at this:

Canon AV1, Canon 28mm F3.5, Fuji ProPlus 100 @ 50 ASA
This image shows a lot of flare from the lens, a cheap prime. It is certainly not perfect. However, the softness and subtlety is just gorgeous and the mood is conveyed wonderfully.

Another wonderful thing with film is the colour palette, or tonal palette with B&W film. Indeed, the limitation these choices and decisions impose on us adds to the artistic results we can achieve. Look at the different colour palates in these:

Canon AV1, Canon 100mm F4 Macro, Fuji ProPlus 100 @ 50 ASA

Canon AV1, Canon 20mm F2.8, Fuji Superia 400 expired in 2003

Canon AV1, Canon 50mm F1.8, Fuji Superia 400 expired in 2003

Ricohflex VII, Lomo 800, Long exposure. It was really dark... about an hour after sunset.
These images have a sense of soul and I think that the colours have a lot to do with that.

Finally, film also seems to render lights (and especially flames) more organically and gently than digital. Perhaps there's a technical reason for this, or maybe it's due to my subjective perception. But look at the light-trails in this image:

Ricohflex VII, Lomo 800, Long exposure. It was really dark... about an hour after sunset.
And here's the softness I often talk about:

Canon AV1, Canon 100mm F2.8, ProPlus 100 @ 50 ASA

Just look at the out of focus areas and the bokeh. I feel like the film adds as much to the character of the defocused areas as the lens's character.

And there you have it, my thoughts on films beautiful imperfection. 

Ironically, I should add, I am actually very unhappy with the final images form the last 4 rolls I shot and am trying to decide which digital camera I will be buying next. Sometimes a bit of digital perfection is needed. Hell, I'm fickle and my subjective tastes are, to put it mildly, a moving target. But I do love film and my film cameras so...

Happy shooting. On whatever camera you have and like and who cares if it's film or digital.

Oh, and one more thing:

Canon AV1, Canon 50mm F1.8, Fuji ProPlus 100 @ 50 ASA


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