I’ve been ruminating over the last few days on the benefits to me of social media. The turmoil at Twitter has led to a stampede for the exit from a large number of the #believeinfilm community, some seemingly completely ditching the platform. Whilst it seems to some of us that this is perhaps rather hasty the reality is that the community is the poorer for the exodus. Which is a real shame as in the couple of years I’ve been active within the community I’ve learnt so much from its members.
One of the great differences between when I first used film (early 1970s) and nowadays is the wide availability of information to inform decisions on film choice, developers etc. When I started it was the local camera club or camera shop who provided knowledge and expertise to newcomers to the hobby. If you had a club whose members were welcoming and open to encouraging newcomers then you learnt a lot in a very short time. Likewise an interested and informed retailer would make recommendations and pass on experiences from other customers etc.
We had no internet, no instant connections with film photographers around the world and therefore if the local community was not welcoming and encouraging then you were somewhat on your own. Such, sadly, was my experience in the 1970s. I can honestly say I’ve learnt more in the last few years through the worldwide online community than I did during my first decade of the hobby.
My lack of consistent guidance during those early years however didn’t deter me; indeed I was largely unaware of the paucity of my education. In the last few years though I’ve come to recognise this and through the online community have set about filling in the gaps in my knowledge. I knew a lot of the “hows” for example but not the “whys” nor the many alternatives. Folk like John Finch (Pictorial Planet) on YouTube have shared much information that I would have benefitted from knowing fifty years ago for example.
To my mind this type of online community is important if film photography is to survive longer term and not just as a passing trend. Whilst I believe I had a less-than perfect introduction to the hobby I’ve stuck at it for almost fifty years. But, not everyone would have done so and that’s why the existence of communities such as this are so important. Film photography is not simply a case of point, shoot and an app or AI does the rest. It’s both an art and a craft. Artistic vision is of course important whether you are a digital or analogue devotee but for the latter there is also the craft of processing your films that once learnt can be used to support your artistic vision. True, you could simply send the film to a lab and ask them to scan it too but to my mind that hands over part of the artistic process to chance.
To digress slightly. It important to be discerning when choosing your online sources however. One of my hobby-horses is the number of YouTube “influencer/experts” who use one roll of a new-to-them film, send it to a lab to dev & scan then pronounce on its veracity. Really? John M and I have discussed this privately many times, but long story short, I do wonder if these, no doubt well-intentioned, “experts” do more harm than good. Take Ilford HP5+ for example. Choice of film developer makes a big difference to the resultant negatives as does the speed at which the film is exposed as I’ve discussed here more than once. A single roll, developed by a lab cannot hope to do justice to any film. To provide useful guidance you need to put in the work and test various configurations. Alex Luyckz for example uses multiple rolls in a film test and develops in several different developers before publishing a review which clearly discusses the results from each combination. John Finch, mentioned above, produces detailed, well-researched videos from which his vast experience simply oozes.
So, the vast amount of online information does need to be used with discernment and discretion but the fact remains that there is a huge repository of knowledge to be tapped into. This is important as if we are not careful newcomers to the hobby will not appreciate the vast potential that film photography has for personal expression. There is a tendency to look for the shortcut in todays ever-connected world where “there’s an app for that”.
Social communities such as the #believeinfilm folk are an important part of promoting and developing film photography as a hobby to my mind. The old-style forum is slowly disappearing to be replaced by the likes of Twitter where informed discussion has been the order of the day over the last couple of years but that too is starting to wane in favour of the instant hit of dopamine from post, click, like, heart-emoji style social media. Sadly, the fragmentation of well-established and knowledgeable online communities won’t help in the long term to nurture this hobby that we all enjoy so much.