Analog

Analog formats are seeing a resurgence in popularity. Why is that? Some quick thoughts on the tactile benefits, and results of my recent foray into film photography.

Analog

Quarantine has been a parade of new hobbies for me: gardening of course, also indoor hydroponic gardening, woodworking, building a PC, bicycling, designing and building audio gear, restoring old audio equipment. Definitely trying to stave off the isolation and loneliness with things.

One of the most satisfying hobbies recently has been getting into film photography. I've always had photography in general as a hobby, and I've really enjoyed it as an artistic outlet. I really enjoy its ability to capture moments of natural beauty, emotion, and history and make the viewer feel connected to that moment. It's a powerful medium for sure.

I had never really gotten into film (except for a short try when my dad taught us how to use his old Nikon SLR and develop the results), but I love analog stuff in general: I have a large (and expanding) vinyl record collection, my main audio system is vacuum-tube only, my watch is mechanical, one of my bicycles is fixed gear.

There's something really meaningful about being directly connected to the things you're experiencing in a way our mind can truly comprehend:

  • The recordings on a vinyl record are grooves with actual sound waves on them, causing a needle to vibrate and create the exact electrical signal that represents that audio.
  • A vacuum tube heats up and a valve controls the flow of electrons from one side to the other based on the signal voltage you connect to a plate of metal in the middle (they're quite simple and fascinating).
  • A pendulum pushed by a spring and perfectly balanced on the tips of ruby gemstones with almost no friction creates an oscillating motion that powers the hands of a watch; gearing keeps the time. The motion of the hand moves a weight back and forth that ratchets a spring and winds the watch automatically.
  • A film camera opens a shutter for just the right amount of time to show a focused image on a strip of plastic covered with a light-sensitive silver halide layer, with little grains that react differently and precisely to the varying levels of light on each micron of the area. Later, you bathe it in chemicals that make it permanent.

I just love that I can know exactly how these things work, and that they work so well. There are so many things in the world that we don't have the capability to understand and fit in our heads—or that are kept behind a curtain in the name of simplicity that hide an often incomprehensible level of complexity. We see some of the social consequences of those systems playing out in our current world situation. Unintended consequences abound.

Listening to records or taking film photographs isn't going to turn back the clock and put the genie back in the bottle on our technologically advancing world, but I think they're surging in popularity exactly because people recognize that we're becoming more disconnected from the real world than ever before in history.

There is something meaningful about connecting to the tactile and understandable—putting your hands on your music, powering your own transportation, seeing friends in person, capturing light on a piece of film. I think it's delightful that people are beginning to react in a positive way and seek out the real.

There is a funny side effect, though, in that quarantine has absolutely pushed me further into hipster territory than ever before in my life.

Without further ado, here are the highlights from my first roll of film, Ilford HP5 shot on my Olympus OM-2N & 50mm f/1.8 lens, developed in my bathroom with  Cinestill df96 monobath. Enjoy.


The first three above were actually shot with an Olympus OM-20, a consumer model I started out with. It ended up having shutter sticking and film advancing issues (as you can see in the above photo where the top has light leaks), so I upgraded to the OM-2N, which has been an incredible and reliable camera.

And some contact sheets:

This camera has rekindled my love for photography, and has been a real inspiration. The process of photographing on film is totally different: you are always aware of a very real constraint on the number of shots in your roll, the light conditions, the film speed, and more. Those constraints really add to the thoughtfulness, judgement, and creativity that you're forced into.

I've never met a creative process where constraints didn't multiply the quality, and photography is no different.