Film (and analog stuff) nostalgia as seen from a Gen-X'er

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 15, 2021, 11:49 PM | comments: 0

Destin from Smarter Every Day posted a video about a boutique film processing business. He gushes a lot about film, about how the physics and chemistry of it all, the mystery about what you got, make it interesting. He's not wrong about the interesting qualify of film, and the founder of the lab talks a bit about how a lot of analog things like vinyl records and such are "coming back."

The resurgence of various forms of analog media in the last decade or so has been interesting to see, and it seems like it's largely driven by millennials and younger. As a Gen-X person, I have kind of a mixed reaction to this. The younger folks aren't acting on nostalgia, because these were things that they didn't have in the first place. I wouldn't really write it off as hipster thing either. There's an inverse digital experience thing at play here, though some people, probably late 30's, are kind of in the middle. If you're old enough to remember, you probably don't miss it, but if you grew up with the Internet, there's something novel about life before smart phones.

Analog things have a certain tangible and physical quality to them that I admittedly miss. You can actually collect them. I had vinyl as a kid, but when teenage music obsession kicked in, I was all about the cassette tapes. They didn't have the huge album art, but they did have fold out liners. CD's (while technically digital) were even better, because the liner notes were far larger. And with things like Columbia House, we were able to get new CD's by mail, and everyone loves mail when you're in college. Well, we did, at least. These days, not only are few people buying digital music in a permanent way, buying MP3's, but they're using subscription services. They aren't really collecting anything, so I get why there's an appeal to collect vinyl.

Film based photography certainly has a similar appeal. The physical process of capturing an image on film gives you a tangible thing, both the negative developed film and the prints that you can hold. I get the print part more than anything. It took me a long time to stop getting prints of digital photos, and I didn't really stop until Facebook was generally available beyond college students. When the iPhone came out a year later, that really ended the prints for me. I haven't abandoned the technology of serious cameras though. Even in the "mirrorless" world, which is to say digital cameras that don't use the single-lens reflex mechanism, having a mechanical shutter and precisely manufactured glass leads to really amazing photos. Over the last 20 years, I've spent thousands of dollars on that kind of glass.

But while I appreciate the appreciation for the old tech, especially in photography, I can't say that I'm nostalgic for it at all. In high school I had virtually unlimited access to film for yearbook, as long as it was for the book. But in college, when I had my dad's classic Nikon F, every frame was like gold because the film and processing was crazy expensive and I had no money. Even as an adult, I'd rattle off a hundred shots on a vacation, and it would cost $50 by the time I was done, and I wasn't even sure if any of it was worth it until I got the prints back. That took a lot of the joy out of it. But when digital hit, all the things I wanted to experiment with became easy. I figured out how to shoot fireworks, use a flash effectively, use a flash off-camera... and it was all "free" without film. I'm often one to embrace constraints as they force creativity, but this was one I was happy to be free from.

Video cameras had a more subtle consumer impact, but even Super 8 film was expensive to shoot on and process. It doesn't seem like there's as much nostalgia for that, and the remarkable thing is that I actually own a 4K video camera that's good enough quality that Netflix says it's OK to shoot content on it. These are amazing times, as that kind of equipment used to cost tens of thousands of dollars! Going the other direction in age, there are a lot of directors who won't shoot movies digitally, a grumpy curmudgeon sentiment I don't get at all, especially since they're not going to edit on film.

It's all fascinating to me that people hang on to this stuff. I'm not mocking them, but I suppose that having lived in the era that these were state-of-the-art technologies, I definitely find the modern convenience of the new stuff to be superior. I loved my typewriter in middle school, but once you use word processing software, you don't want to go back. Like I said, I do miss the collection aspect of it, and I've got hundreds of CD's in boxes still that have moved 6,000 miles with me. I'm not even sure they still work!


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