FILM: THE ULTIMATE ALTERNATIVE PROCESS
In photography, there have always been “alternative processes”, ways to create pictures using different technologies from the mainstream. This was true even in the 1840s, when the choice was between Daguerreotypes and Fox Talbot's new-fangled negative-positive process. Since then, the choice has been dizzying. For capturing the image we've had (among others) wet plate; dry plate; cut film; roll film; 35mm; sub-miniature; Polaroid; and digital. For showing the pictures we've had (among others) salt prints; cyanotype; collodion prints; albumen prints; silver gelatin prints; bromoils; photomechanical reproduction; ink-jets; dye-subs; and the now all but ubiquitous computer screen.
Sunlit wall, Arles. Frances shot this with a Leica MP and 16-18-21mm Tri-Elmar, both of which are still available new. The film was Kodak Tri-X, developed in Ilford DD-X and printed on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.
Today, there's no doubt: digital is the mainstream. But film still exists. Why? There are all sorts of reasons. First, artistically, it gives a different look – or rather, a whole range of different looks.
Second, it's inexpensive: you can buy incredible cameras at very low prices, or sometimes get them for nothing, and you can achieve results that would cost you tens of thousands if you tried to do the same with digital. If you want to try the traditional wet darkroom, the chances are that someone will give you all the equipment you need, just to see it go to a good home
Third, it's a craft, akin to woodwork or engineering, and there's always a pleasure in mastering a craft. Never mind “You press the button, we do the rest”: you can take control at every stage of the process, even coating your own sensitive materials if you want to.
Fourth, it's easy, at least since 1876 when they introduced factory-coated dry plates: Kodak roll-film made it even easier in 1888. Some people worry that 35mm cameras are complicated, but they aren't.
Fifth, it's historically fascinating.
Sixth, some people actually enjoy the delayed gratification: the anticipation of seeing what the pictures look like, instead of seeing them immediately on the back of the camera (I have to admit this does not appeal to me).
Seventh, a film is a real, physical, very durable object: you can't just accidentally wipe it off your hard drive.
Eighth – here's the clincher – it's fun.