A Reason for Not Dumping Film?

This months copy of The RPS Journal (Vol 153, No. 5) has an article on the documentary photographer Jane Hilton. It discusses her love of travel and the American West, the fascinating subjects she met in Nevada’s legal brothels and why she is sticking to film in this increasingly digital age.

Whilst Jane reckons that in terms of quality you cannot beat film (a point that has been and will continue to be debated endlessly I suspect) she goes on to make, what I think, is a far more interesting point about why film is good and how it helped with the photography for her exhibition and book Precious (about prostitutes working at the brothels of Nevada).

“And it’s not just about the end result: it’s the process of achieving it. You have to be very precise with film. It’s a different way of working, which lends itself to a more intimate approach. With the time it took to set the camera up and talk to the girls, both they and I felt more comfortable.”

This is a point well made – film was, and is now even more, expensive. Digital photographs in their RAW form are to all intents and purposes free. The throw away, take plenty of images until I get the one I want, nature of digital tends to make us focus more on the act of taking the image rather than thinking of who or what we are photographing and instead making an image. It probably really is the case that “less is more”. As the photographer Edward Steichen said “a portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.” Sometimes (every time even) it helps to slow down, take time talking to your sitter, frame the picture carefully, move around posing him or her, chatting and only pressing the shutter when you have what you want in the viewfinder. Strangely enough I find this is one time when using the tilting monitor on my OM-D helps. It seems to make the whole process feel different for some reason, possibly more like that of using a medium format camera such as the old Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) cameras where you had to peer down into the viewfinder.

However you choose to make your images maybe it would help if occasionally you slowed down a little and rather than taking a hundred photographs, hoping to get five or eight good ones, just take five or eight, talk to your subject and ensure they are all good? That worked for me in this case anyway.


Jane Hilton’s exhibition Precious is on at the Nailya Alexander Gallery in New York until 13th July 2013.

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