Words by Maggie Zhou Art by Maggie Zhou
Some spend their time pondering about the immensity of the universe, of the heart-thumping mystique of death, of the possibility of mythical creatures and faraway lands. I spend my time thinking about photography.
Think about it – it’s almost like having the superpower of freezing time. We get to capture a moment at the click of a shutter, just like that.
This thing we call photography dates back centuries ago. Before smartphones and digital cameras, there were experiments with glass, silver chloride and lavender oil. Instead of being able to literally take hundreds of photos at the tap of a screen, the earliest surviving photograph from the late 1820s took about eight hours to develop.
Now, we are spoilt with much choice when it comes to photography. We can capture images underwater, in the dark, in space – things that even the eye can’t see.
So why are so many of us choosing to shoot on film? It’s arguable more expensive, time-consuming, hefty to lug around and (potentially) lesser quality than digital. But, at the crux of photography lies one of its main purposes: to document and to tell stories.
We’re young – we go on spontaneous road trips, Macca’s runs and festivals we can’t afford. We go dancing at 2am and sing at the top of our lungs on the sides of roads. We make stupid decisions which turn into great stories. What’s more – we capture these moments. These moments are etched into Polaroids, 35mm film and disposable photos.
There are even apps which mimic the grittiness of film. Photos can now be completed with light leaks, a retro filter and a time stamp. Heck, some even have exposure times where you have to wait for your photos to ‘develop’.
Why do we choose Polaroids and 35mm film over the convenience of our smartphones? Is it more quintessentially authentic somehow? Maybe it is, in a way. Unlike a photo taken on a phone, which is possibly one of 30, which has possibly been filtered and edited, film has an unaltered realness to it.
Unlike a perfectly staged and posed photo showing off your pearly whites and your Sunday best, the candidness of film makes it seem all the more genuine. It attracts curiosity and interest because it’s so human – we’re naturally drawn to honesty and vulnerability. People want to get a look behind the scenes, when everything isn’t so perfect. Where there may be flaws, light leaks and grain. Details make memories.
We’re allowed to screw up a bit; it’s allowed to get messy. Like the moments we live in, it can be spontaneous, imperfect and a tad silly. That’s what I like documenting. My goofy friends when they don’t notice I’m watching, concerts and festivals where I’m bursting with happiness and moments that plainly make me feel so alive.
In such a digitalised world where we demand things instantly, film goes against the grain. It tells us to slow down, to step back, to take a breath and to take a moment. It teaches us the value of a single second.
And it just feels a bit like magic. The careful procedure of manually loading film into the back of a camera. The slow winding up of film before taking a shot. The giddy excitement of not knowing how the photographs will turn out. The ability to relive moments by flicking through six by four inch photographs. The weight of tangible memories right in the palm of your hands.