We played a little game on my LUCIMA Facebook Fashion Photography Workshop page yesterday.
The game goes like this: The following set of images come from 2 films and 1 digital source. Which is which? Could you tell what films I used?
Under full disclosure, I actually don't know the answer to the question. I have to reference my Lightroom catalog to tell you the answer. But therein lies the rub. Does it matter?
First let me play devil's advocate. Sure it matters. It certainly mattered enough to talk about it for the past 3 weeks. Last week I showed you guys which cameras I used and how they lend different perspectives and how those different perspectives have affected my own style. Two weeks ago I suggested that in order to develop your own style you have to be true to yourself. That means knowing yourself and not letting external influences pull you in the wrong direction but rather using your past, your philosophies, and your own skewed paradigms to color your photography/retouching.
So yes, the films, the cameras, the software, the hardware, etc. they all matter...
To a certain extent.
Because what I have discovered of myself is that when I look to a tool for a different perspective, I'm a passenger rather than the driver of my own adventure. I become a passive recipient of what is "given to me". I'm not looking for anything. I'm not asking for anything. I'm just open and willing and receiving. That's great for what it is. It let's me fly by the seat of my pants. It lets me experience new things in ways I couldn't have imagined before. But just like working with an amazing model that moves and delivers amazing looks without being asked, what it does not provide is a direct translation of what I want. The experience and the results speak to me, but it doesn't speak of me. Meaning that it does not reflect who I really am. Particularly as an artist.
At some point you need to reign in that amazing model and say, "Okay, I know you can do everything under the sun but there's something that I am looking for and it goes a little something like this..."
So at the end of the day, shooting film versus digital is a subtle difference. The films color my images but they only provide a different tint. Saturation. Contrast. Grain. But they do not change who I am. They can not change who I am because they aren't "drivers". They're just tools. So at the end of the day as I review my batch of digital and film images from the same shoot, they all look the same to me. Outside of subtle coloring differences, the angles/poses/looks/perspectives/etc. they're all the same. Because I am the same. I haven't changed. And while I'm temporarily distracted by the novelty of a new film/camera/location/model/etc. I'm ultimately disappointed that the images aren't terribly different from what I've done in the past.
So my journey with film has inexorably led me here. Right where I started. But with the full knowledge that I can no longer ignore the true problem that plagues my images. Which is that I am the problem. Not my tools. Not my models. Not my location. It is me. I need to design the shot in my head and execute that shot so I can create better images. I need to drive the shoot. While I have loved my little stint experimenting with different mediums, I now realize that in order to really push the boundaries I need my imagery to reflect more of "me" and less of the subtle differences in my tools.
Hence the game above. Which is not a game but rather a rhetorical question. I used Fuji Provia (color positive slide film) and Kodak Ektar (color negative) and a Sony NEX-7 to create the 4 pictures above. But ultimately they don't amount to any true difference other than the temporary relief of endless self-criticism that rages in my head on a daily basis. And now that the novelty is gone, I'm left with the same hangover and self-loathing that I had when before I started shooting film.
Harsh? Perhaps. But my goal has and always will be the "truth". To explore the truth even if it means hurting some feelings along the way. What is the truth? That the drivers lie within. Not without. And that these drivers can not surface without deep introspection and the realization that you already have the answers you seek. That you are "The One". The question is whether you can realize this and are then brave enough to express yourself honestly through your art. To reveal who you are as an artist without fear of reproach. To do what you want to do without worrying whether or not it will be accepted. To drive a shoot based upon what makes you tick even if no one likes it.
Great theories but what does this mean in actuality?
Put down the cameras. The films. Stop trolling the Internet looking for new techniques. Shut off social media. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and write down all the things that inspire you and figure out what it is that you want. It's the simplest and yet hardest question to answer, "What do you want?" because it forces you to take a good hard look at yourself. If you find that you can't answer the question it usually isn't because you don't know the answer but rather that you're not being honest with yourself. "What do you want your images to look like? What do you want to create?" Draw what you want to shoot on that piece of paper and regardless of how terrible you are at drawing, go out and do it.
Sound difficult? That's because it is. It's a journey seldom travelled and often ignored. Why? Because it's so much easier to play around with new films, new cameras, new techniques, than it is to discover who you truly are and then show that to the world and then subject yourself to judgement of your honesty, your inspirations, and your visions.
Because it's hard to live with courage.
For most people, reading this post will be a refreshing distraction that they'll forget the moment they click off this page. They might even agree and say, "Rah! Rah! Rah! Sis-boom-bah!" but never actually do anything about it.
For me, this is just the beginning of a new start to my internal processes.
No right answer. Different strokes for different folks. I'll keep my judgements to myself :)
For the record top left NEX-7, top right NEX-7, bottom left Ektar, bottom right Provia.