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News & Insight

Shooting Film Is The Last Word In Meditation | ‘The Sound Of Film’

By Kishore Sawh on November 23rd 2015

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Rumor Has it’ with Kevin Costner, Shirley MacLaine, and Jennifer Aniston isn’t some riveting transformational biopic, but it’s clever. Its premise is that the story of Charles Webb’s ‘The Graduate’ was based on real events (which was a real rumor), and essentially brings back together that group of people on whom the book/film was based.

Kevin Costner’s Beau Burroughs is meant to be the real-life Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman’s character) whose sense of propriety and charming naiveté led Anne Bancroft to drop her guard and her garter.  Costner’s version is no longer the naive 21-year-old, but a wildly successful businessman. He says at one point that the big transformation in his life came when someone told him two incredibly powerful words, “Be present,” and this stuck with me because it’s almost exactly something I’d been told years before, and see the value in. It’s also something I’m not always great at and noticed many photographers are complete rubbish at it also.

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Being a photographer and making your living as one requires both sides of the brain to work, and harmoniously so. However, I’ve found the creative facility to be one that continues to run even when you’re otherwise engaged or shutting down, and this doesn’t always allow for mindful reflection or allow you to be fully present in any given situation. So how does a photographer achieve that even for a moment? Well, you may have your own vices to indulge in, from Islay single malts, sex, driving, flying, sitting on the sofa watching television for hours, exercising…but might I suggest shooting film and developing it yourself. That’s a type of escapism for me, and one I know many photographers get behind.

Sure, you may think a massage is better, but it never works out that way for me because despite there being a pair of tidy brunettes on the brochure, inevitably I’m disappointed to learn I’m only ever assigned one masseuse, and then further dismayed to learn her name is Victor. So my mind never relaxes because I’m either in pain and counting down the minutes, or in pleasure and doing the same.

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There’s nothing quite like unboxing a roll of film, loading it up, then taking every care with each frame. You must be present much more so with film than digital just due to the frivolity that’s the nature of how disposable digital images can be. You must think about it all, and usually that means you can’t think about much else, which helps you to be present.

Then the solitude of the darkroom, the methodical practice that developing requires, also requires enough of your attention so your mind isn’t all over the place – it’s there, translating the tactile feel of unloading film into the develop canister in total darkness, checking temperatures, agitating, washing and so forth. It’s not enough to swamp you, but just enough to keep your mind in an almost meditative focused state.

[REWIND: PHOTOGRAPHY GIFTS FROM $500 YOU’LL BE LOVED FOR GIVING OR LOVE TO RECEIVE]

When you’re finished, you can stand back with your hands behind your head, admiring the sheer artistic perfection of what you’ve laboriously but peacefully created. You’ve taken blank sheets, and using naught but light and an alchemist’s delicatessen, ‘manually’ saved a moment in time. Yes, I’m romanticizing, but for those of you who know what I’m on about, the little short film below by Robert Marshall will probably conjure up some of these feelings.

Maybe set aside some time this holiday season to spend in the dark, because like the Cartesian duality of mind and body, when the mind relaxes, the body can be too.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joshua parker

    One of the best videos for photos ever made.

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  2. Ralph Hightower

    Second time I’ve seen the video (first time at Petapixel). One of these days, I’ll record loading film into my Canon A-1 and Canon F-1N, and fire off a few frames. My A-1 has the MA Motor Drive mounted for auto advance; I need to remount the AE Motor Drive FN on my F-1N for the video (I removed it to save weight for a golf tournament). I have the A-1 loaded with B&W and the F-1N loaded with color.

    Maybe I’ll shoot the video with my 5D Mk III…

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  3. Colin Woods

    Nice. I have just bought a Nikon F100 and have been given a more or less complete darkroom to go back into B&W. I love my D750 (usable 12800ISO, 14 stops of dynamic range and it tracks my son running perfectly – what’s not to like) but its a bit of a sterile, soulless procedure. Not by a long way does it replace the magic of seeing the picture emerge in the chemical bath.

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