Updated: Mar 21, 2022
It's been a long time since I shared my thoughts consistently; too long. A few years ago I started sharing images and writing with no particular direction. If fit a larger pattern of searching that many people experience when military service is over. For twenty-two years with a flag clinging to my left sleeve, I was blissfully ignorant of the raison d'etre it provided. Service wasn't so much of a weight on my shoulders as it was an anchor for my ship. It moored me in safe harbor, insulating from the perils of self reflection and consideration of my role in the world outside of fatherhood and national security. When the anchor was raised I needed to pick a direction and get underway. In that regard, writing was therapeutic; a creative outlet to channel thoughts and corral my subconscious during the transition. But as my new career ramped up the writing ebbed. Then Covid-19 washed over the world and the words disappeared. But the thoughts were still there. And the images never stopped. When you live where I do it's easy to take a pretty picture; I've made plenty of those. But what I've pondered much more since then is the reward in thinking slower and going deeper than a pretty picture; things that go hand in hand with leaning analog. I've learned some lessons from photography that I think I can apply to other areas of my lift, including writing.
About the time Covid-19 reached the US I started shooting film cameras. While researching more robust digital formats I was enticed by the siren song of film. Yes, film cameras still exist and a growing number of hobbyists enjoy them. In some cases you can coax detail and unique colors from film cameras that far exceeds that of more expensive digital gear. But that extra performance comes with a huge caveat. You have to think more before you press the shutter button. With a film camera each time you press the shutter release to make an image it will cost between $0.75 and $2.50 to see that image. Film costs about $10 - $14 per roll and then you'll need an additional $14 per roll to get it developed. Depending on what type of camera you are using (35mm or Medium Format) you'll get between 10 and 36 photos. Contrast that with digital (including iPhone) photography where you can put hundred or thousands of images into digital memory that can be wiped and used ad infinitum. With digital photography you can spray and pray: the process of squeezing the shutter button and rapidly making many photos. You can shoot fast and sloppy because there's little cost for taking poor images and adjusting your settings on the fly. I'm speaking of hobbyists in this case; wedding and professional shoots are an entirely different animal where one needs to nail the images quickly and in some cases the first time. But when shooting for fun, the tendency is to take as many pictures as you like until you get the look that you want and delete the flops later. Film isn't like that; at least not for me and other money mortals. When shooting film cameras you need to work to understand the fundamentals of photography at a deeper level because there is an economic imperative. Factors like film sensitivity, available light, and composition need to be considered because each time you squeeze the shutter button if you listen closely you'll hear the faint sound of a cash register. And you don't even get to see the results for a week or so as you wait for the film to return from the developer. So why would anyone shoot film if digital is cheaper and more forgiving? One reason is because shooting film forces you to build your expertise, plan ahead, and capture the world more deliberately. In short, mastering film can make you a much better digital photographer.
For all the advantages that digital photography offers (cost, accessibility, speed, etc.) there are some things it doesn't require of the hobbyist. It won't force you to slow down and think ahead. Due to its inherent flexibility and some amazing technology it won't require you to consider the amount of sunlight available before you leave your house. It won't penalize you for not contemplating the "decisive moment" before triggering the shutter (see caption above). Digital photography is akin to social media. It has the potential to do lot of good in the world, but many times it's left to dumb chance and more often than not there's a bunch of garbage you need to sift through to find the good stuff. Shooting film trains you to think about shooting the good stuff the first time because you are more careful. There's a very real (expensive) consequence for spraying and praying if you are shooting film. Discovering the value in an analog mindset is something that's grown from my experience with film photography. Carpenters share a similar approach: measure twice and cut once unless you want to buy a lot more wood. Deliberate planning and thinking is sometimes less gratifying than just letting it rip, but the rewards and gained efficiency accrues with time. Not surprisingly, I also think that should be the mindset for sharing one's thoughts online; at least on things outside of family and pretty pictures. Think twice (or thrice); post once. It's a mindset that I'm working towards with my photography and writing. I don't want to create a bunch of garbage posts that I'll weed through later to discover the "keepers." I want to write deeper because that's where you find the keepers...the good stuff; the stuff that you have to think about a lot before you press the shutter button or hit publish. I want to treat my words like I'm shooting film, not filling a memory card with throw away images that'll be erased and shot again tomorrow.
What truly matters to you? Do you think you'll find it at surface level on an iPhone (or Android...insert eye roll) swiping away the day? Or will you pursue creative endeavors more meaningful that require you to think. Your daily dose of digital is discrete; ones and zeros...black and white...red states and blue states...winners and losers; easily deleted and shot again at low to no cost. Analog costs more. There's a price every time you pull the trigger so you think before you shoot. There are colors, tones, and feelings that digital struggles reproduce. There's a richness, depth, and reward deeper than a screen guaranteed impervious to scratches and outdated in a year. That's what I'm pursuing; bringing the analog mindset to my writing and other things in my life. Slow down and ask questions. Listen to stories. Be willing to pay the price for a photo that no one else will see but makes you a better photographer because you learn from it and think twice before pressing the shutter button the next time. Digital photography is far from bad,...it's an amazing tool (that I use often), but adding some analog in your life can make it better. So every now and then consider slowing down and diving deeper; you might find something more rewarding.