I’ve covered the many reasons I enjoy shooting film, from the desire for more creative control to an enthusiasm for a more tangible working process to the unique aesthetic. Though I sing film’s praises every chance I get, I never attempt to make the case that film is better than digital — it’s not. It’s something that works for me and may not work for someone else.
But there is one area where I feel film photographers have a distinct advantage over digital photographers: community.
A Community Is…
A community, whether real or virtual, should be a place where one goes to find support, instruction and encouragement, among other things.
Communities exist for both digital and film photographers but, as so many have called attention to in recent years, there’s a toxicity associated with the digital photography community not seen in the film community. Or at least not to the same extent.
When speaking about online communities in general, the same tendencies apply across the board — no one is ever truly safe from useless, snarky, self-aggrandizing and hateful comments. That’s just the internet for you.
But when considering the overall tone of the film photography community in comparison to the digital community, I think there’s an obvious winner.
Photographer Manny Ortiz recently uploaded a YouTube video in which he addresses the toxicity of the photography community and asks, perhaps rhetorically, whether this toxicity is due to jealousy, insecurity or ego.
Digital imaging technology is ever-evolving, becoming astoundingly sophisticated and intelligent. Much of this gear comes with an appropriately hefty price tag. Having the latest, great and priciest things is, as has always been the case, used as an indicator of status.
So it’s not a stretch to conclude that Manny Ortiz’s hypothesis is correct on all three points. Some who have top flight gear flaunt it and assign far too much prestige to it; some of those who don’t have such gear end up feeling inadequate; and no one is really willing to help their fellow photographer with much of anything because everyone is being unnecessarily competitive.
I’m not suggesting film photographers can’t be mean spirited and obsessed with gear — I’ve met a few insufferable Leica and Hasselblad owners. But all told, there’s just a different vibe that flows through the film community.
It’s not uncommon for film shooters of all skill levels to be using a camera and lens combo that cost them less than $200 — no bragging rights there. Conversations about creativity tend to take precedence over arguments about indistinguishable levels of dynamic range. Anecdotes about stuck shutters, accidental double exposures and developing disasters are exchanged shamelessly.
In the digital world it seems that brand loyalty is the order of the day and people are ready to go to war for whatever camera they use for no other reason than it’s the camera they use. Are Fujifilm cameras better than Sony cameras? Is that even a fair comparison, considering that Fujifilm’s most popular cameras are APS-C and Sony’s most popular cameras are full frame? They're different cameras with different sensors and I've seen fantastic work done with both.
Use what works for you and do something creative with it. That’s really all that matters and that’s the attitude I see much more of in the film community. Is Kodak Tri-X 400 better than Ilford HP5+? I don’t know. They’re different emulsions with different characteristics and I’ve seen fantastic work done with both. No venom spit, no threats made, no insults hurled. Just creative people doing creative things with their medium of choice.
This ideology is what keeps me so connected to and appreciative of the film community — not that it’s perfect or immune to some of the craziness that circulates through the digital realm, but the negativity is far less prevalent.
A Community To Shoot For
Given what I’ve experienced over the years in the film photography community, it makes me wish the digital photography community would abandon the pettiness and toxicity that has become an unfortunate hallmark of that group.
A community where one’s value isn’t determined by the brand name they buy into or the size of their gear bag is one worth striving for. A community of photographers — film or digital — that encourages creativity and cooperation is one we could all do a better job of fostering.
I’ve always tended to fall into the art side of photography- even when I was running my commercial studio, where technical excellence was not a luxury but a do or die necessity. When I come across photographers who are SO gear oriented, or who brag about their gear- I laugh out loud.
Kudos Jason. Intelligently written and timely article. Couldn’t agree with you more. Seems to me that people are generally more crass today than in the past. I’ve gotten a few strange looks and snide remarks when out shooting with my Pentax equipment. I usually just say “If it was good enough for John, Paul, George and Ringo it’s good enough for me.” Then smile and move on.
Thank you for this insightful writing! As a photographer who integrates my own approach to photography in a very artful manner I recently experienced the removal of my extensive site on 500px because my work was not considered photographic. I will continue to create and am sad this happened. I will continue to approach photography in my artful way and continue to create! I don’t know why communities do not accept and as I was there for over 4 years puzzled by them removing my entire body of work. There is nothing I can do about this. Sincerely, Susy The site moderators cited my work and stated that I was reported and they agreed, this actually happened several times and each time was resolved and they actually added on additional paid time to my account. I am searching for a site to bring my work and as I am also a writer of prose when other work inspires this I hope to find another place.