Magazine reporter Tamara Kaňuchová celebrates the recent renaissance of film photography. Her conversation with photographer Samira Kafala inspires a longer think about the beauty of the analog method.
I’ve always enjoyed going through pictures of my parents and grandparents taken on their old analog cameras. They had a special atmosphere to them, and even though they were blurry sometimes, the colors and light would show very nicely. They were always quite spontaneous. Unlike our current photo habits, they couldn’t immediately see the picture and just retake it if they didn’t like the way they looked.
A few decades later, in 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. The “death” of the largest producer of film should have meant the end of analog photography, right? Why store negatives when you have SD cards and cloud storage?
I see the renaissance of shooting on film as a way of escaping the “perfect”, sharp, and instant pictures from digital cameras. I feel there has been a reverse phenomenon: when photography was invented, artists didn’t have to paint so realistically anymore and new avant-garde movements emerged. Now that we have advanced photography to its technical peaks, we can return to the more impressionist & avant-garde style film cameras allow.
To look into the newfound fame of film cameras, I interviewed Amsterdam-based English photographer Samira Kafala. Samira thinks analog cameras are here to stay as long as film gets produced.
“The images you get from film look and feel different to the images you can make digitally. You can always make digital images look like film images, but why not just shoot them on film in the first place. Also, and this is a hot debate, but for me, the image quality on 120 film is still better than any digital camera on the market that most people can afford.”
Samira’s work has been featured in Vogue Netherlands, de Volkskrant, and Het Parool. I was thus interested in whether nowadays pictures shot on film are particularly desired for commercial purposes, such as editorials or cover pictures for stories.
“People choose you to work for them because of the pictures you make, not how you make them. My clients like my work because of the way it looks and the atmosphere it creates. Some people get nervous when you say you work on film because they worry it will be expensive or something will go wrong, but I shoot everything on film and I try to get everything on camera, meaning there is very little retouching. The money I save on paying for a skilled retoucher is instead spent on film and developing (I scan everything myself) so it works out about the same. Digital photographers might spend time and money retouching images but because I shoot on film, the colors, tones, texture and sharpness are already there.”
Light or color? Samira’s favorite time of day is golden hour, even though quickly-changing light makes it necessary to work fast.
“I’ve set myself the challenge of being able to make good pictures on film, in any light. If the light is gray and dull, that can also be beautiful. I love color and only shoot in color, but I do find myself avoiding really bright or artificial colors or fluorescents. It’s less about the colors and more about the light.”
Amsterdam many photographers’ dream: it has beautiful architecture, canals reflecting water, but also ever-changing weather conditions. What is something that is great to shoot in Amsterdam?
“Again, it’s the light. The longer I live here the better I get to know it. You learn where the sun will be at a given time of day or a certain time of the year, and you learn how to shoot in low light. With all the water here, the reflections and the light bouncing off it are amazing. Also, I love all the big open windows and clean glass, especially in winter.”
Samira has been developing her own film for the last 3 years now. It gives her a better understanding of the materials and a certain control of all the steps in the process. A lot of photographers can have different views on the preparation of the compositions before even shooting the film.
“[It] is very satisfying because you become completely self-sufficient, and you learn how to tweak different parts of the process to get different results. I am always thinking about photographs; I dream about them. I rework compositions in my mind and I’m constantly looking at other people’s work trying to understand what it is about their images that work well. But when you are shooting, you often forget all that and respond intuitively to what’s around you.”
Lastly, I was interested in what Samira notices as the first thing about a photograph. For me, it’s the composition: what got into the frame and how is it organized within it. I will close this article with Samira’s answer, and a little encouragement for everyone to go through those old boxes of photographs at home and look for inspiration.
“The first thing I think about when I look at a photograph is if it intrigues me enough to want to look at it longer. I want something that makes me work a little at understanding it. I like photographs that reveal themselves slowly.”