(July 23) My real-film Canon camera died last weekend, and with it died my quest to practice some pre-digital, pre-smartphone virtues.

Yes, they were minor expressions of virtues, but virtues nonetheless. The modern world’s abandonment of film is curiously emblematic of a larger societal abandonment of those virtues in everyday life.

First, lest anyone doubt, the use of old-fashioned film is moribund, surviving mainly in the redoubts of professional photographers and talented hobbyists. Even before the iPhone’s 2007 release ushered in near-universal use of phones for photographs, digital camera sales outpaced film cameras in 2000, and longtime industry leader Kodak stopped producing film cameras in 2004 and stopped producing 35 mm color film in the United States in 2009. Overall, 35 mm color film sales fell from nearly a billion rolls in 2001 to below 100 million rolls in 2015 and further declined until a trendy 2019 uptick among millennials. Film camera sales dropped to near zero a full decade ago.

With most people using phones for photos, what they miss is the romance of the old process. Because film rolls allowed only so many shots (usually 12, 24, or 36) and because erstwhile photographers had to wait to use a whole roll, take it to a store to develop, wait to see the results, and pay for each developed photo whether good or bad, people took more care with each picture. More thought went into most photos — the framing, the lighting, the expressions on the subjects’ faces. Even “candid” pictures had to be well-chosen because poor ones wasted film and cost money.

Now, with no real limit on the number of photos a smartphone can hold, people mindlessly click away, heedless of cost and composition. Once, each snap of the camera had a preciousness about it; now, it’s just mass-produced functionality.

As the virtue of carefulness is lost, so is the virtue of patience in waiting to see the developed film after hours or days of mystery as to how it will turn out….

(The rest of this mini-essay is here.]


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