why film? part two

lomo lca+, 2013 
In part one of my investigation into my reasons for exclusively using film, I set up the questions surrounding my assumption that, generally speaking, film offers a closer representation of the real than digital technology. And there were a lot of questions, and a lot of contradictions. This surprised even me. It also led to a lot of introspective thought on my part, as I searched all the logic in my head to try to find answers. I've always known why I love film: its honesty. I just had to figure out why I so steadfastly believe that film and honesty are inextricably linked.

Before I go into my conclusions, I want to take a moment to explain why honesty in my photography is so important to me. Photography is, among other things, an art form. As such, creative people have long been pushing the medium - both with film and digital technologies - to produce wonderful, fantastical images that are very obviously not representations of reality. Some artists, such as Jeff Wall, employ meticulous staging and production techniques to challenge our very assumptions of truth in the image. All of these approaches to photography are valid. Many artists create brilliant, important work by presenting visual untruths.

In most of my work, however, I aim to capture actual truths. I mean this both in the journalistic sense, where my social and travel photography documents people and places as they exist at a moment in time, and in a more literal sense, where I aim to keep my (sometimes staged) portraits and press shots free of any post-production manipulation. It is the medium's ability to capture an image of reality, as Bazin discussed, that draws me to the camera again and again. And I think this implication of truth in the image, and particularly in photojournalism, is why we collectively feel so cheated when a journalistic image is exposed as a hoax, or even as a manipulated version of reality (such as the war photos of freelance photojournalist Adnan Hajj, which were revealed to be heavily doctored after being published globally via Reuters).

nikon f4, 2013 
But Greta, you might say, your multiple exposures don't represent truth! The world doesn't look like that! And you would be right in the sense that during the gig depicted in the above photo, for example, there were not two identical guitarists on the stage. However, in all my multiple exposures, each image within the frame is a representation of truth, and usually there is some 'real' connection between the exposures (for example, a person and the environment they're in, or, as above, the same person mere moments apart). Furthermore, the process of exposing such images - all within the camera, on film - is also keenly related to truth and authenticity. But more on that in part three.

Digital is just as capable of being honest with us as film is. There is no reason why a digital camera can't capture as much truth as a film camera can. And, as we have seen, film cameras (and film photos that have been digitally edited after the fact) are just as capable of telling untruths as digital cameras. So - back to the issue at hand - why do I (and others) more readily associate film with truth, and digital with deception? My reasoning can be separated into two distinct arguments: the psychological and the practical.

splitcam, 2013 
psychological factors

Most of us have grown up with scores of family photo albums. Those enormous tomes, with pages where the plastic sheets peel away to unleash faded prints laid over cut newspaper (lest they stick to the board), mapping out pieces of lives once lived. Some prints have rounded corners. Some are torn. Some have that strange textured surface, like a miniature grid. Maybe some are really old - cracked black and white wedding photos of great aunties, or baby portraits of Grandpa. There may be sepia, and dust marks or scratches. There may even be a few photos with strange multiple images because someone forgot to wind on the film. There will be dated fashions: long hair and crocheted bikinis of the seventies; smart hats and daytime gloves of the fifties; mullets and fluoro colours of the eighties. There are picnics, birthday parties (complete with Women's Weekly party cakes), camping trips, Christmas trees, grinning kids with missing teeth, dress-up days, first days of school, weddings, debutante balls, pregnant bellies, bassinets. All of these common events appear to create a distinct tapestry of life. Each family has a different history; each album is filled with an enormous array of stories unique to those lives.

But for all the myriad variations that exist from family to family and album to album, each of these exorbitantly heavy, dust-covered epics have something in common: when we look at the images within, we know that they are real. Mum did bake that swimming pool cake. Your sister did wear those fluoro leggings. Your grandpa was wearing a dress for his 1920s baby portrait. There was no Photoshopping when your parents got married in 1976. No-one airbrushed the pimples on your cousin's chin when he won that under-18s footy trophy in 1989. These photos show us life through the poor-quality lenses of our family's past.

diana, c. 2009 

holga, 2012 

holga, 2012 
It is for this reason that when we see the faded colours, the vignetting, the soft focus and/or the multiple exposures that are now synonymous with Lomography cameras and other analogue toy/plastic cameras, we feel that we can trust them more than, say, a glaringly flawless digital image. Whether it's conscious or not - and I suspect in most cases, it isn't - our attraction to analogue aesthetics is a rejection of the superficiality inherent in so much digital technology. We collectively crave a return to the real. I have no doubt that this accounts for the unprecedented popularity of Instagram - the retro aesthetic that the app employs combines with its primary function of taking 'instant' photos to present a modern-day version of the Polaroid; a real moment in time, captured in a few seconds and instantaneously broadcasted to the world, with no time for trickery (apart from the regimented filters, which in turn contribute to the psychological acceptance of truth in the image... get it?!).

nikon f4, 2013   

nikon f4, 2013 

nikon f4, cross-processed slide, 2011 

nikon f4, cross-processed slide, 2011 
To a lesser extent, the subtle analogue characteristics that are often present in 'professional' film cameras (such as high-end SLRs) function in the same way: the grain of a high-speed film, the complex saturation of a cross-processed slide film, the tiny specks of dust that attach to the negative during scanning, a carefully considered in-camera multiple exposure. Many of these things are sometimes considered to be imperfections, but to me, they are precisely the opposite; they are perfect because they denote the truth.

Coming up in part three: practical factors.

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