Take a look at the beta version of dw.com. We’re not done yet! Your opinion can help us make it better.
Long considered obsolete, film photography is experiencing a renaissance, especially among young people. And #filmisnotdead is also a social media trend.
One of the most popular analog cameras: a Leica from the traditional German company of the same name
When Kodak, the largest producer of photographic film, filed for bankruptcy in 2012, it seemed as if analog photography was history.
Up until then, the US company had dominated the world of photography for more than a century, much like how Google, Facebook and Amazon dominate the internet today.
But already with the first iPhone, most people had a high-resolution camera in their pocket with which they could easily capture thousands of photos, and analog photography quickly became obsolete.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, analog photography is experiencing a renaissance among photo enthusiasts. And the younger generation especially want to snap pictures like they did in the last century.
“When you shoot with film, you end up with a tangible photo on a negative, not just ones and zeros on a memory card,” Jason Kummerfeldt tells DW.
The 29-year-old US photographer talks about his love of analog photography with a lot of dry humor on his YouTube channel “grainydays,” where hundreds of thousands watch his videos. “I never had any interest in photography before I started using photographic films. But since then, I’ve been addicted, especially to that special look,” explains Kummerfeldt.
US photographer and Youtuber Jason Kummerfeldt
And he’s not alone. This wide and renewed interest in analog photography can be seen especially on social media. Within just a few years, a large community consisting millions of followers has been established on YouTube, Reddit, and Instagram. On the latter, more than 20 million photos are listed under the hashtag #filmisnotdead.
“Social media is very important for getting to know analog photography,” says Kummerfeldt. Particularly Instagram helps people get their bearings in analog photography and find inspiration, he explains.
Major film manufacturers like Kodak and Fujifilm are noting this trend. In a statement to DW, Kodak Alaris, which distributes Kodak’s photographic film since its parent company’s insolvency, said they are “excited and optimistic about the future of film.”
Although digital photography still leads the market, “since 2016, Kodak Alaris has seen an increase in demand for film products as interest in analog photography continues to grow and reach new generations of photographers,” the company said. It added that industry surveys show that about one-third of film consumers are younger than 35, it added.
Competitor Fujifilm relies primarily on its Polaroid cameras in addition to photographic film. Those, too, have seen a significant upswing in the last 10 years. In 2010, the company sold just under half a million of its “Instax” models worldwide; last year, it was 10 million.
The younger generation especially is turning to photographic film and Polaroid, Andy Ross of Fujifilm Europe told DW. “If you grow up in a digital world instant or photo film is ‘new,'” Ross said. For many young people, he added, “it’s a digital detox, of sorts.”
Digital cameras are rarely seen anymore — the smartphone camera is enough for most people
Unsurprisingly, prices for analog cameras and photographic film have spiked in recent years. Camera models like the Contax T2 also owe their sometimes-absurd price hikes to Hollywood icons and other social media influencers who have discovered analog photography for themselves and share their new passion with their followers.
Photographic film too has experienced consistent price hikes — with some manufacturers pointing to hefty raw material prices and freight costs.
Thus, buyers must dig deeper into their pockets for both entry-level models — and for cameras that are several decades old. Online marketplace eBay confirmed to DW that there has been a “high double-digit growth” in analog photography in recent years.
However, in forums on analog photography, fans seem unfazed by these price increases, seeing it as a sign that this form of photography has a future.
The price increase has also drawn new competitors into the market, for instance the German start-up Silbersalz.
For the past two years, the Stuttgart-based production company has been offering its own analog film based on Kodak cinema film under the name Silbersalz35 — and at comparatively low prices. The individual films are indeed more expensive than the entry-level models from the major manufacturers. However, they are also of better quality. Development and high-resolution scans are also included. After all, customers want to distribute the analog product digitally, mostly on social networks.
Relying on the future of film: Silbersalz managing director Thomas Bergmann
What began as a small side project is now a roaring success, with the company developing hundreds of rolls of film per week. “To date, our biggest challenge is to cope with the rush,” CEO Thomas Bergmann told DW.
That’s why the company recently invested a lot of money in its analog photography division. New machines are expected to make developing and scanning film more efficient.
“Film photography is experiencing an incredible trend right now,” Bergmann, adding that half of his customers are under 20. Besides the unique look, they have “a strong longing for the simple, the non-volatile,” he says. Furthermore, analog photography delivers high-quality results at relatively low entry-level prices compared to expensive digital cameras, Bergmann adds.
So, is this all just short-lived hype?
Thomas Bergmann is certain that film is here to stay — unlike digital cameras. In fact, that industry collapsed within a few years, since many people meanwhile prefer to use their smartphone camera. According to Japan’s Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA), digital camera sales plummeted nearly 90% between 2010 and 2019, with the COVID crisis worsening it.
Cameras and film are an expensive indulgence for analog enthusiasts today
In 2020, Cologne-based photokina, the world’s leading trade show for the photo and video industry to date, declared its intention to cease operations until further notice. It cited low demand for products and “massively declining” markets worldwide.
Perhaps photography’s future will see us using our smartphone cameras for everyday snapshots that we can quickly share with friends and family, while an analog camera with a maximum of 36 shots per roll of film is reserved for very special moments.
Tarantino has been fighting for years to preserve analog film in Hollywood. “Digital productions are the death of cinema as I know it,” he said a few years ago. So it’s no wonder that his latest film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” was also shot on film.
Nolan is another Hollywood heavyweight who produces all of his films using the traditional method. He is fascinated by the colors and resolution of cine film. But more important than aesthetics is “preserving this medium for future generations of filmmakers.”
The Dutch cinematographer, who has been nominated for an Oscar several times, describes himself as a “film fetishist.” So it’s no surprise that Nolan chose him as his favorite behind the lens. Hoytema shot Nolan’s last three big films, “Interstellar,” “Dunkirk” and “Tenet” — all in analog, of course.
Even some actors prefer the old ways. Tom Cruise regularly insists that the film he’s in be shot in analog. However, he also makes exceptions. His latest film, “Top Gun 2: Maverick,” a sequel to the 1980s cult film, was shot with digital cameras.
The world-famous look of Wes Anderson’s films would be hard to recreate without analog film. His warm, pastel colors always transport viewers to a seemingly dreamy, bygone era. “I’m one of the least digital people,” he says of himself.
Coppola also loves the warmth of film color. She has experimented with digital cameras, but describes her experience as a director with them as “more passive” than on an analog set. She has since returned to using film reels, including in her last two films, “The Seduced” and “On the Rocks.”
When digital cameras took Hollywood by storm about 10 years ago, star director Steven Spielberg also fought back. For him, analog film is part of “cinema magic.” Even though he made a foray into the digital age with his 3D film “The Adventures of Tintin,” he wants to remain true to classic film “until the last lab closes.”
“Star Wars” creator George Lucas was one of the first to experiment with digital cinema. His successor, however, is an analog fan. J.J. Abrams rejects the clinical look of digital cameras. To give the new “Star Wars” films that organic look of the first episodes from the 1970s and 80s, they were shot in analog.
In addition to big names like Tarantino and Nolan, many other directors and cinematographers are also relying again on film reels. In fact, at the 2020 Oscars, half of all nominees in the best film category were shot in analog, including “Marriage Story” and “The Lighthouse.” In 2021, there will be more analog blockbuster productions, such as the latest James Bond film, “No Time to Die.”
Author: Felix Schlagwein
This article was translated from German.