I think that the current trend to going back to objectively worse methods of media consumption and production is about compromise, not because something is better, even subjectively.
Of course, by definition, what I said is necessarily true, since I stacked the deck as things being objectively worse, but let’s ignore that right now. Let’s take a look at an example or two or three. I have included here a few photos it would have been almost impossible to take on film, or at least very difficult. The first, above this photo, I took in a mine lit only by headlamp. This was ISO 3200 at F 1.7 at 20mm on a 4/3rds sensor, so about normal, and I pushed it about a stop. Technically possible on a fast 50 at 1.4 or so with a moderately normal 800 ASA film if pushed two stops, it would be pretty difficult to have exposed correctly. It would also have been grainy as hell but that would have been okay in this image.
This is a not great photo, but one I took in 2008 when I was experimenting with digital cameras (they were still new to me at this time) and photo manipulation. It isn’t actually one photo. It’s five. I did some exposure bracketing and my dad and I were not in this photo at the same time. With the exposure bracketing and some shooping though, I was able to do what I intended too do. Now tell me which one of us is shooped into the image (answer: it’s both of us, easy to tell if you look.) Again, this is doable with a film camera, but it requires hours of work.
This is a JPG photo since I lost all my RAW files in a hard disk crash between backups. Even in this situation, where I cannot truly go back and fix the raw image data, I had options. I did a bit of color-grading and some noise reduction, and it looks like I might have pushed the JPG a little bit. This is like only having a print, and not the original negative. Usable, but only for certain things, and you’re never going to really be able to blow it up or do the amount of things you could do with a jpg.
Anyway, I’m saying this because I bought a film camera. As you may know, film cameras are dumb. While they’re cheap, a decent film SLR can be often had for free, or indeed essentially mint for $150, film is expensive. Film used to be $5 a roll or less fairly recently. Ain’t that no more. $15 maybe for some shit-tier Kodak Gold or something. That’s fucking Ektar prices, or if you’re cool, Velvia. The film camera Igot is a plastic toy camera for all intents and purposes beyond the $50 price tag. It’s a half frame camera. Yes, like a pen. Or like a movie camera. Each frame is only half the available film, meaning you get more like 72 shots per roll as opposed to 36, and, considering the camera is shit anyway, it doesn’t really matter about the small frame size. These’ll be fine blown up to 8×10 if you want to, but you shouldn’t want to.
So what am I talking about here? Why did I get it? Well, film has a certain look to it, sure, but that can easily be replicated digitally, and the look is the look of imperfection. Crucially, film, even at half frame, is still good enough. Good enough is what we’re going for here. Taking that into consideration, then as long as the aim isn’t to produce the highest quality photos, and the shit half frame camera does good enough, then if it achieves other goals, this is a tolerable choice.
My goal for this is fun with my friend Jackie, on a trip we’re going to take. I want the photos to be largely a documentary of the fun we’re going to be having, and much less about being good photos, which is what I typically do. Therefore, to ensure I keep the photos as a documentary of fun, I’m making them deliberately unusable as any kind of art, but be good enough for my purposes so that I have fun first and take the photo second.
One of the other things I’m wasting time on is cassette tapes and postcards. I have thousands of each, and they’re worse than digital music and digital communication…but that isn’t the point, is it? The point is not to have amazing music, but good enough music where I really listen to it and listen to the whole album. Tapes do this. Records typically do as well, but I have recently discovered that tapes achieve this effect as well but are half the price, sound pretty good, and I also have the ability to use them with digital-only music more than with a vinyl album. Example: Same Old Brand New Me by Cassadee Pope.
I was able to put that whole digital only album on a tape to make sure I listen to the record and let it sink in the way it should.
Postcards aren’t about communicating. They’re shit at that. They’re something to look at and something to write on that gets to its intended recipient cheap enough and quickly enough that it doesn’t bog down your life. It keeps you social and considerate and you hear short anecdotes and see cool pictures if you’re otherwise anti-social. Is it as good as an email? No. Of course it isn’t. It’s worse in every conceivable way. But, I’m not going out and emailing people. I’m not listening to whole albums as much as I’d like. I’m not talking to as many people as I think I should.
The resurgence of analog media has been less about people thinking it’s better, even if they claim it cause they’re liars, but a matter of making the act the media promotes, like writing, taking photos, listening to music, a purpose in itself, as greater solutions to these problems have been created and widely implemented. The solutions are frequently so good that the act one looks to achieve, such as photos documenting fun, or communications with one’s friends, or listening to one’s favourite artists, are outweighed and outshone by the convenience of the solution to the point that the solution drowns out the purpose.
What I mean by that is, if you are a person who takes selfies, you’re just taking selfies. You put them up so your friends can see them. That’s the shit you do. Sometimes you have a friend there at an event, but it’s just like “heres us at this event,” and you have a thousand pictures and you pick the ones you look good in. You are missing the point, which is to capture memories.
If you commune with your friends through this same method, sure you know they have kids and got married or whatever, but you’re not usually really talking to them. You’re saying a line at a time as a public comment. The point is to talk to your friends, not achieve information about them.
Anyway, yeah. I think that that’s what we need to really be looking at right now. Has technology become so good that we forgot the problem we were trying to solve? Is there a way to intentionally solve the problem without inducing negative side effects the most modern solutions have? Yes, even if they’re actually worse as solutions. Modern anologists are doing it. The guys shooting film and digitizing it. The guys making tapes. The people who’re writing letters.
I wrote this blog post on my Android phone using a bluetooth keyboard with LEDs and optical switches and shit, before you claim I’m a luddite.