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In a Fast Moving World, We Could All Do with a Roll of 36 Exposures

Gizmodo friend and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Vincent Laforet recently swapped out his Canon 1D X for a Canon A2e—a film camera he hadn't touched in 14 years. Restrained by only a roll of 36 exposures, Laforet actually loved going back to shooting with film. He writes about his experience below.

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I've been thinking a lot lately. About everything. The business. Our "craft" and the economics and sustainability of what we do as creatives in this ever changing world. But that's for a later post perhaps, and I always tend to think too much anyway…

Sometimes the best things in life are simple. Trying to keep things simple or "basic" in our technology-driven times seems to be getting more difficult every year, if not by the minute.

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In this case it was a "Cheap Camera" challenge that lead me to shoot with a Canon A2E, a Lens Baby lens, and two rolls of film – the subject of the video below.

A chance meeting with Kai and the folks at DigitalRev was made possible by a tweet, during what was originally meant to be a short connection between flights in Hong Kong that I decided to turn into a 3 day visit on my way back home from a job in Bali.

I can tell you it was terribly refreshing to shoot film. We had no plan. No script, no storyboards or teams of folks working on a crew. We didn't even know where to go, nor have anything set up to shoot. This was my last day in Hong Kong and the only deadline was a flight at 11:45 p.m. that very evening. That gave us a healthy 4 hours to shoot 72 exposures on good old celluloid. No LCDs to "chimp" with (a term we use to describe the act of looking at a rear LCD and jumping up and down and showing your friends as you see a nice photo…)

I was somewhat nervous because I didn't have the cushion of being able to track my progress on a rear LCD, to delete and hide the "bad" and potentially embarrassing pictures and to gain false comfort in confirming that I had "good" ones and that I could move on to the next one. Having a camera crew follow your every move never tends to help you relax either.

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Yet I have to say this was one of the most relaxing shoots I've had in a long, long time. I frankly didn't care how the pictures turned out. Well my ego did a bit – I didn't want to embarrass myself too much. But stopping amidst the chaos of the city, and waiting for the shot, was therapeutic in a way digital photography generally isn't. For one of the shots, I actually stood in place for more than 10 minutes. I slowed my breathing, braced myself, and relaxed. And waited. For a picture that might never come. And it felt good.

It was just so refreshing to stop. To pause. To Wait. To not know the outcome of a shutter press. To NOT get that instant gratification. As scary as "not knowing" can be – there's something terribly peaceful about it, if you come to accept it. For me photography has always been that one discipline that I could take part in to escape for a few hours and somehow come to calmly embrace the uncertain. If only I could be more adept at doing that in life.

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Somehow, for the first time in awhile, the end result – the resulting "still photograph" was beautifully overshadowed by the pleasure I felt with the simple act of "taking my time." Being that I was halfway across the world, there were no phone calls, e-mails, tweets, or texts coming in to distract me either.

The immediacy of the LCD has changed the craft of photography. It's made it so much easier to learn quickly, to grow and to take much greater chances and push the envelope much further. Digital has in many ways replaced the word "craft" with "accessible" or perhaps the better word is "democratization." And that's both good and bad depending on what side of the coin you find yourself on (professional vs. enthusiast.)

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Yet so many of us have lost something too. A little bit of the "magic" of photography – has left us. There's nothing quite like seeing a print come to life in the developer tray in the darkroom. Also, a certain type of discipline is instilled in you when you are faced with a 36 exposure roll and the cost associated with it, not to mention the cost of getting it processed and printed. These days I more often that not read 999 on the still camera's LCD when a large CF Card is in place. Where's the challenge in that?

There's no "delete" button in film… no way to erase your mistakes… no "do over" button. Your masterpieces and more often than not their very opposites are a matter of record for all to see the moment you press that shutter. And that makes you take things a bit more seriously. If forces you to study the craft, as repeating mistakes is literally: expensive. Digital technology has somehow slightly cheapened the value of an image… hasn't it? The marvel of technology has a bad tendency to lead to a bit of laziness, impatience, and a reticence to do "work for" something… generally speaking. And let's not get started on what it's done to our attention spans! I think rats on crack have greater attention spans than many of us do today, and that's scary to say the least. It affects the length of what we write (how many of you made it this far?) how we converse with one another (texting vs calling,) and how we shoot and edit our film/tv shows etc. And generally (I'm sorry to say) not for the better.

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As the world continues to move faster and faster, as processors, resolutions, dynamic ranges, and terabytes keep increasing at an exponential rate, sometimes I think we could all do with a roll of 36 exposures.

If you're wondering where this diatribe started… the video below is to blame. I must say that like how they choose to make you wait until the end to see the final frames… just as I did. And if you've made it this far: thanks for indulging me!

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Republished with permission from Vincent Laforet

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DISCUSSION

Love this guys photos, always glad Gizmodo has posts about photography.

I think this issue answers the question, can you see the difference between film and digital just based on the ideas in the shots and how they are executed. I say yes, as I have been repeatedly saying on Gizmodo film is deliberate digital is happenstance.

Film needs something different from a photographer, it needs craft and mastery of the tools, film is a tool. I cant count the times when shooting film I would spend time trying to set up a shot but then never took it, the editorial eye was always on and it would shut me down if I did not have it. With digital you take ten of it and move on. Digital is so experimental, so easy so welcoming to every click of the shutter you often never reach the level of analyses that film REQUIRES. While film is expensive, 36 shots goes by very fast, you don’t want down time you want quality up time, each shot counts. 36 shots feeds into our natural instincts to ration, nothing seems to spark imagination like rationing, its a freaky thing.

With digital the experimental side is awesome, but you often take a photo that is not all there, you give your editorial eye a rest and just shoot. And what happens on the other end of all the pix that were almost there? Photoshop.

Our relationship with photography has dramatically changed because of photoshop. Not so long ago I let all the photos that had great visual stories past my censor, not any more. Photos where once about truth, photoshop has made the vast majority about lying to the public. I simply can not believe any photo I see, digital is linked with an umbilical cord to photoshop and there alone photography is now born. You want to choose the sex of your yet to be child, do it in photoshop, how about the eye color and mental capacity, photoshop. I understand the covers of magazines being all photoshop, and all of fashion, I just don’t get why everyone must use photoshop for any picture they make public. At some point a photo is a photo of the real world and stands one its own based on the photographers imagination and skill. This notion seems to be endangered. Digital is a creative compromise which photoshop will make good, 90% good with the photo the next 10% is photoshop bringing it home. Or is it 20% 80%?

I am talking about quality, Apple does not try to save half a penny on the material that makes up any part of the things they make, this has a powerful effect on the experience of touching and using their stuff. You can feel and see that smart people were thinking at every turn what would be a better way. Photography is no different, if you put your imagination to work, develop your skills, ask good questions and answer them with a well considered photo, digital or film, people will notice. Digital is so easy it fucks you up.

As an exercise I take a few rolls of film every two or three years. The creative approach is so dramatically different I know that it directly effects my work. To stand and think about each and every shot is a radical difference experience, film is hard and you get more out of it in the end. Everyone should shoot a few rolls a year just to get that feeling of deliberate determination as you explore each chance at a photo.

What is brightest in the shot, what is darkest, how can I work with that, maybe wait a little longer. Is there anything that is in the foreground I would otherwise not pay attention to but as I inspect things I see I cant take the photo I wanted because of that foreground, or is it in the background? Does the photo make sense, if not maybe its an abstraction of an idea, go with that. Is there something commenting on something else in the photo. And on and on. All these things are relevant to digital but because you can shoot endless amounts of pix, its harder to ask such questions. Maybe thats were the real benefits of having shot film would show up, treat it like film, don’t look at the LCD, shot as you would as if each picture counts.

Thats hard to do. Cant wait for my next film outing, I hate how heavy the F4 is, but, it still works perfectly.