Fashion film photographers. Seems an oxymoron. After all, fashion guys are the vanguard of ‘the new’. There are some pretty big, young, (or fairly young), fashion photographers using film. This includes photographers who basically grew up in the digital age. While I applaud the whole resurgence, there is an encampment out there proclaiming,…”Whatever, dude.” So, let’s put that to rest right now. Yes, I’m aware that most commercial jobs and magazine work is digital. And this is not an anti-digital tirade. I have my reasons for using film. As does a big time fashion photographer for using a Pentax 67. (like a Tim Walker) Although he will use digital when it’s required. I haven’t met a film photographer who is afraid of digital. In fact, I haven’t even met a film ‘fanboy’ yet. Most just shrug and say if digital is required or it just makes sense, they’re fine with it. (Cover Photo: © Harley Weir)
Fashion Film Photographers in the 21st Century
There is a bevy of such fashion film photographers on a seemingly reactionary film path. They include the late Ren Hang, Harley Weir, Jamie Hawkesworth, Colin Dodgson and Zoe Ghertner. Just an anomaly in fashion photography, or a trend? Since 80% of all photographs are made with an iPhone anyway, I doubt you can say it’s a Digital versus Film phenomenon.
One of the fashion editorial proponents of film comes from a strange source; Purple Magazine’s editor-in-chief Olivier Zahm. He’s really almost been a spearhead of influence. He likens it to the resurgence of vinyl in music. Yeah, yeah, I know. CD’s are better by every measurable criteria. Except emotion. And how does one quantify human emotion? Basically, pixels are perfect squares,… all uniform and combined in a digital soup that can make any color from the primary colors. Film is round, organic, and far from perfect. This is an oversimplified explanation. But, without getting into the weeds, that’s the skinny. Anyway, who cares. They are different.
Art and Pragmatism
Even Jaime Perlman, of British Vogue fame, refers to the film renaissance as a ‘backlash’ to an over sanitized digitally savvy culture. Aesthetically speaking, the rise of film photography is in conjunction with the almost DIY retro lines that are discounting the cold minimalism of past fashion lines. Led by high end fashion houses like Gucci, Celine and even DKNY. It’s a ‘from the gut’ decision. Factually, any creative director or photographer will tell you, the ‘film effect’ can be easily faked digitally. However, I think the operative word is “faked”. And sometimes it’s just photographers being mesmerized by the magic of analog photography,…the alchemy that is almost more in line with an artistic personality, as opposed to being a pragmatist. (most people)
Toiling for hours over hand-printed objects is in a way going back to the ‘craft’ of film photography. It’s an emotional purity that has attracted people that seem to have an affinity for studying every aspect of a medium. From the delicate lighting setups to the pure romanticism of following in the footsteps of the icons of the 80’s and 90’s; Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, David Sims, Corrine Day, etc.. There is actually one very big downside to digital. And it’s a ‘downside’ that most consider an ‘upside’. Shooting film is a way to keep a client/art director from looking over your shoulder at a monitor or your LCD. But that requires a client who doesn’t view you as a “technician”. Both you and any creative director are required a confidence level beyond what most have. Cajones. Otherwise, it’s just an art director’s point of view. The photographer almost becomes incidental.
My Perfect Girlfriend…
Surprisingly, just a few of the young analog shooters started with digital. Most learned their craft with film from the get go.Yet, I don’t think using film makes someone ‘special’, in and of itself. It still comes down to the human sensibility that separates a good image from a great image. And it’s never been a motivation to this new group of photographers. Or as Olivier Zahm once said, film is “seeing through the eyes of a human, not a machine”. Well, maybe that’s a bit over the top,…but, maybe not. However, editors and clients opting to work with film in a pervasively digital world can only be a good thing. Like vinyl, film is a very emotional thing. Yeah, digital has more info and is cleaner,…but curiously cold. Like the physically perfect girlfriend with no personality. So, do you want perfection or humanity? (Hint: There’s no “correct” answer.)