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Traditional photography comes back into focus

Film photography is enjoying a revitalization


For Samantha Koch, film photography is a portal to the past.

“You blur time with photography and film photography, especially,” said Koch, 23, who prefers to shoot with her 35 mm Minolta X-700 over her Nikon digital SLR camera.

“It makes it feel more like an art form... with negatives, it’s a true photograph from the moment you press the shutter button,” Koch said of her preference for film.

Koch said that moment in the darkroom of watching negatives turn into positives is magic.

“You’re literally watching the paper slowly change and your image appear,” Koch said. “It’s the coolest thing.”

Koch isn’t the only 20-something who is drawn to the world of film photography.

Englewood Camera in Littleton has seen a resurgence in the interest in film. This year the shop, located on Broadway, had sold 3,000 more rolls of film year-to-date than last year.

“It seems like the last couple years there’s been a renewed interest (in film), especially people in their 20s and 30s,” said Bryce Cole, manager and co-owner of Englewood Camera. “I think people like putting their hands onto a roll of film and pulling it through the camera. That and the aesthetics of it.”

Film gives a different look than digital, Cole said, adding that many film shooters are buying expired film to experiment with the unpredictability of the outcome.

Englewood Camera sells expired film for $3 a roll, which is cheaper than regular film sold on average for $8 — a price that is rising each year.

The organic look that film brings is one quality that draws Koch to the medium.

“The images you get out of film, it’s like they have a hidden story to them,” Koch said. “It’s an aesthetic you don’t really get anymore. With digital, everything is so crisp, it’s like we’re seeing it with our own eyes. With film, you get this otherworldly feel to it like you’ve truly captured a moment in time. That’s why I like taking pictures with film.”

Koch alternates 50-50 between her film and digital cameras. Her favorite subject when shooting with film are street scenes.

“Street photography is very much a film photography thing for me,” she said. “Anything like urban decay, urban life, street life … I love taking film with that because it feels more real to me.”

Mechanical artistry is another aspect Koch likes about film.

“You have to know what you’re doing,” she said, spouting of the mechanics of a manual camera such as the light meter, the film speed and the patience involved. “Film is your basis to build on your technique.”

That technical basis is what is taught to beginning photographers at area high schools.

In Suzi Melly’s photography classes at Horizon High School in Thornton, she teaches students the fundamentals of how light interacts with the camera before elements of design.

“I think it’s important not to negate film just because digital is here,” Melly said. “It’s holistic and I do think that it gives them an understanding of how photographic images are made.”

Melly teaches about 150 students throughout the school year. Her darkroom has 17 enlargers, which allow students to process and develop their film at school. Because of class time constraints and the sharing of equipment, it takes about two weeks for a student to complete the process of one image.

“The process takes such a long time and some students didn’t know it was going to be so hard and time-consuming,” Melly said, adding that this is a challenge because students are used to instant gratification.

Melly describes the typical photography student as someone with a sequential mind and interested in science, math and writing.

In her class, students not only learn how light interacts with the camera to create an image and how to develop and process an image, but they also have to think creatively about composition and execution of an image.

“I think imagining what you hope it will be like before you take the shot is something that digital loses,” Melly said. “So that’s a gap filler. They have to adjust controls in the camera and they have to imagine what it looks like. The manual camera is often completely foreign to them. I try to bridge the gap.”

The darkroom, Melly said, gives students a rich knowledge of how a photograph is made, in a way that digital doesn’t.

It’s these fundamentals that are taught to high school and college photographers with film and in the darkroom that give Koch hope that film is going to stick around.

“People think it’s gonna die,” Koch said. “But I think film is an art that won’t ever go away.”


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