Down with Digitalization: A Chat with Adam Gordon

Down with Digitalization: A Chat with Adam Gordon

With each passing week, film photography is becoming increasingly present on the Queen’s campus. With so many options, more and more people– creatives and academics alike– are choosing to reignite the film photography industry that began over 100 years ago. It is reminiscent of the comeback of vinyl records, wherein people at large were intrigued by the authenticity of the sound and the appeal of a presumed simpler time. Specialty camera shops, those that develop and sell film, have seen an increase in customers in the past decade. Adam Gordon, film photographer for MUSE and student at Queen’s, has been using analog cameras for over five years now. His photographs demonstrate the artistry and delicate quality of his work. Film photography is more than your parents blurry pictures from decades ago or the disposables you take to the bar. The medium is continuing to strive in the professional arena, despite being pitted against the massive tech industry for the past 30 years.

Bronte at Sandbanks Provincial park on 120 Portra 160. Taken for a MUSE editorial shoot last year. Pentax 6-7

In contrast to analog cameras, cell phones and DSLR cameras comprise much of the digital photography that happens day to day. My phone has over 9,000 photos on my phone from the last two years alone, as does each previous phone I’ve owned. The majority of these photos are duplicates and many are just meaningless screenshots that I no longer can recall the significance of. These are photos that I’ll never need to see again, and the few of real memories are slipping away with them. Film photography moves away from the mass overhaul of photos we take and instead lets you pause in a moment and let go of the idea that the photograph will come out looking exactly how you wanted. The medium allows for imperfections, even going so far as embracing them. Our current world is so focussed on obtaining perfection, as editing apps are increasingly profiting off these unreachable desires. Film photographs are refreshing to both create and see; it is undeniably an altogether different experience than digital photography.

Still life in my dining room on 120 Fuji pro400H. Pentax 6-7

 Digitalization is so centred on new and expensive. Our cell phones are designed to break as they evolve in unnecessary ways, but a film camera made long before I was born works without a hitch. There’s an excess of apps and filters available to give you the look and feel of a film photograph for those taken digitally. Their quality varies, but nonetheless the apps don’t quite suffice. Whether you are lucky enough to have access to a dark room or pay for the service, the development of film in a dark room is what makes the photo unique. The apps available add the same set of light leaks and flares to each of your photos and while editing grain, saturation, and exposure may get the job done, Adam proves how the real deal is so much better. 

 

Digitalization is so centred on new and expensive. Our cell phones are designed to break as they evolve in unnecessary ways, but a film camera made long before I was born works without a hitch. There’s an excess of apps and filters available to give you the look and feel of a film photograph for those taken digitally. Their quality varies, but nonetheless the apps don’t quite suffice. Whether you are lucky enough to have access to a dark room or pay for the service, the development of film in a dark room is what makes the photo unique. The apps available add the same set of light leaks and flares to each of your photos and while editing grain, saturation, and exposure may get the job done, Adam proves how the real deal is so much better. 

When and why did you choose film over digital cameras? Was there anything specific about film that initially engaged you? 

About a year after I got my first digital camera, a mirrorless Fujifilm, I saw a guy at a museum winding his camera after every photo he took. Initially, it was just the winding action that caught my attention but found the limiting number of photos you’re able to take a good challenge. I bought my first film SLR, a Minolta, just before going into high school.




Fisherman on the Malibu pier taken on 35mm Ilford XP2. Minolta CLE

Talk a bit about your process, from taking the photographs to developing them. Are there any moments of the process that you particularly find joy in? 

I start by choosing a film format for the situation, either 120 or 35mm. For portraits or landscapes that I have planned in advance, like editorial shoots for MUSE, medium format produces detailed and pleasant images. 35mm is usually for informal circumstances like walking around town or parties. I think my style for photos is usually quite minimal with emphasis on symmetry, I spend a lot of time making sure the frame has a balanced composure. After shooting the rolls I develop them at home in my basement. You just need a windowless room to load the exposed film into a light proof tank which the chemicals are put into. My favorite part of the process is definitely looking at the negatives when they come out of the developing tank, mostly to be sure that I didn’t mess any of the photos up. 

 Do you purchase your cameras second hand? Have supplies and materials for this medium always been financially accessible for you? 

All of the cameras I own, except one, were bought second hand on eBay or from Value Village. In my second year at Queen’s I kept it my secret to get really cool point and shoot film cameras from Value Village for like 5 dollars, but it seems other people have stumbled across them as well. Supplies are always expensive, so I try to buy my film in bulk whenever I’m visiting my parents in the States and developing at home saves money if you plan on shooting a lot. I’ve definitely made a significant investment into gear though and if I’m completely honest, I should probably sell some of the cameras I’m not using frequently.

Cicely and Tea in front of Grant Hall on 120 Portra 400. Pentax 6-7

Are there any film photographers that you admire or have inspired you? 

My biggest inspiration was actually my buddy from Grade 8, Willem. He moved to London before high school and I didn’t see him for a while until he moved back to New York to go to school at Parsons for photography. He’s the one who showed me how to develop my own film and introduced me to medium format. He’s also got a YouTube channel that’s grown a lot recently: Willem Verbeeck. Looking at his portraiture helped me start to try new things and I definitely look at his work for inspiration from time to time. 




Maya and Justin in the ARC on 120 Fuji pro400H. Pentax 6-7

Today, film cameras are most often bought from second-hand stores and developed at local businesses, if not done by the photographer themselves. I can’t recall one film store chain, but there is a limitless supply of Best Buys and Walmarts selling electronics products at over-marked price points. When you buy a film camera second-hand, you’re moving money away from the massive electronic industry, riddled with environmental and human rights issues all throughout. Mining malpractice is rampant in the mass production of electronics. Conflict minerals and resources, extracted in the midst of a conflict zone and sold to perpetuate the fighting, are currently an essential part of creating mobile phones. Labour laws are often unjust and large electronic companies, specifically the electronic contract manufacturer Foxconn used by Apple and Sony among other technology companies, are known for outsourcing their production to such countries where an employee’s labour can be easily exploited for low pay in poor conditions. Natural resources are increasingly becoming more and more scarce. However, purchasing digital cameras second-hand is a hard opportunity to come by as their lifetimes hardly make it through a single generation. Purchasing a film camera second-hand negates your participation in the mass consumption of electronics, taking the plastics and metals in film cameras out of the landfills and back to good use. 

Lucas in Kingston on 35mm Ilford XP2. Minolta CLE
Nick in front of Theological Hall on 35mm Ilford XP2. Minolta CLE

Everyone has their reasons for picking up a film camera, whether they grew up with the medium, bought a disposable for the sake of convenience, or simply wanted to experience the authenticity of film photographs. It is a medium that’s sworn to by many; for some it’s the look that engages them and for others, like Adam, it’s the challenge of a limited amount of shots available in a roll. Whatever the reason may be for picking up a film camera, film photography has found itself safely in the hands of both professionals and amateurs at large. It’ll bring you into the moment when you take the photo, and pull you right back after the roll is developed. Film has proven its tenacity time and time again as it stands solid against the backdrop of countless forgotten digital images.

HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Adam Gordon– Hills in Southern California on 120 Portra 160. Pentax 6-7
No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.