2020 Through Film

Manifesting intentions with analog photography

I became obsessed with analog photography in 2020.

In a world where nearly anything can be instantly delivered to your door with just a click, spontaneous virality can be driven by an off-the-cuff 250 characters, and every pedestrian moment is tuned and airbrushed to perfection for our online highlight reels, I've found solace in shooting film as a way to slow down and be present.

Film is not a medium that accommodates our need-it-now mentality, nor does it entertain our grass-is-greener culture of chasing quick and predictable results. In a way, it encapsulates many of the intentions with which I'd like to live my life.

Curating deliberate choice

Digital photography often leads me on an indiscriminate point-and-shoot pursuit of photographic perfection, a mindset where if I squeeze in just one more shot, I can maximize the probability of finding that perfect picture. I subsequently spend hours sifting through hundreds of mediocre and nearly identical pictures, burrowing into a hole of analysis paralysis as I attempt to find the ideal shot that optimizes for minutia. And now that digital cameras and phones essentially have infinite storage, haphazard snapping easily emerges as the unconstrained path of least resistance.

Film photography rewards focus and intentionality. From thoughtfully selecting the correct film to evaluating composition, shutter speed, and lighting, I craft each frame intentionally and meticulously. Before each shot, I'm forced to think critically think about questions like "Is this something I actually want to shoot?" and "Why am I compelled to shoot this image?" Film is parameterized and finite by design, with every shutter release signaling one out of 36 irreversible impressions of light that render images through permanent chemical change.

The process of shooting film — think and shoot — is the inverse of the process of shooting digital — shoot and prune. The permanence of the medium motivates me to choose my moments, to truly understand before I act, and to double down on fundamentals rather than throwing spaghetti at a digital wall and hoping something will stick. I end up creating better photos with greater craftsmanship not in spite of film's constraints, but because of them. It forces me to capture the things that matter to me the most. It helps me curate intention rather than an image.

Leaving space for serendipity

Digital is inherently predictable and tunable to perfection. What I see on an LCD screen as I'm framing a shot is my ultimate end product — what I see is exactly what I get. Before and after I capture a photo, I can make adjustments to saturation, sharpness, and color curves with surgical precision. I have at my disposal a robust toolkit of digital bells and whistles that allows me to adjust an image exactly to my liking. There are few things that cannot be controlled, and there's little margin of error between how I view the world through my screen and the way bits and bytes arrange themselves into my final product.

Film introduces entropy into this closed, sterile system. I can never fully control for everything when shooting film — the most I can do is trust the process, taking my best guess at focus, shutter speed, and aperture before snapping a shot. Only over time, through a series of hits and misses, can I better calibrate these inputs for the outcome I seek. And while I’m focusing on the fundamental building blocks, there might be a serendipitous light leak or an accidental double exposure that ends up creating my favorite frame in the roll.

Film provides me a refreshing reminder of the line between what I can control and what you can merely influence. It reminds me to index on the process of creation rather than fixating on an outcome I don't have complete agency over, especially in a culture that directly yet incorrectly correlates hustle with success. And when I relinquish my pursuit for control over a perfect outcome, I'm able to create space for serendipitous surprises.

Resisting instant gratification

Digital comes with an expectation of immediacy in result and reward. After clicking a button, I can see how a photo turned out in real time. I can immediately see what I "got" — click reward, click reward, Pavlovian conditioning at its finest. Layering on the inextricable relationship between digital photography and social media doesn't help the case for instant gratification either. Out of FOMO, fleeting moments are not observed and cherished, but rather seized for the creation of ephemeral content that goes stale before I even have the chance to digest the present.

Film grounds me in a world of delayed gratification where longer feedback cycles are the norm and where I don't and shouldn't expect the seeds I sow to immediately bear fruit. It rewards patience and reflection. When I'm shooting film, I'm able to focus on the people and connections of the present while selectively freeze frames of time amidst this tapestry of moments. And while my film is developing, I'm able to spend time reflecting on the moments surrounding my shots, building anticipation for delightful rose-tinted nostalgia.

Shooting film reminds me that the important milestones of life don't materialize overnight, nor are they only validated when a public crowd bears witness. They take deliberate effort, patience, and a bit of luck to get right. Moreover, film enables me to soak in the present and search for what's memorable instead of passively absorbing the world through my screen and searching for what's shareable. A photo in itself is merely a snapshot in time void of meaning — pausing and waiting to review it creates significance by helping me appreciate the richness of life that happens in the moments surrounding the snapshot.

Some final thoughts …

I've created this space to manifest these intentions, to notice and capture the world through film and words. Each week, I'll be posting a photo along with a piece of writing that highlights a thought I've been marinating on.

And so, welcome to 35mmusings — analog photographs and pontifications amidst an increasingly digital world. Thanks for reading my inaugural post and joining me on this journey!