Don't panic (or rejoice, if that's your pleasure). It's not what you think.
A little less than a year ago I wrote "Transition State," the last installment in my chronicling of my steady migration from film to digital photography. I noted then that it had been nearly two years since I had made a film photograph, but I wasn't ready to decide I wouldn't make any more. As a friend concisely and eloquently put it, "You've stopped, but you haven't quit."
Last Wednesday a bit finally flipped in my subconscious. I went from indeterminacy to decision: I am done with film photography. In other words...I quit.
Why did the brainbit flip just now? I suspect something that entered into this was me thinking about what I'm going to be doing with my art and my work over the next year or so (between my Contributors and the recent print sale, I should be able to devote an awful lot of time to art). None of that thinking involved picking up a film camera. The decisive process isn't happening on the level of conscious thought, so this may be merely the highest brain function rationalizing what the rest of the brain has decided.
Here it is, Ctein's very last frame of film, file number 040807-C#12 (indicating it was exposed on April 8, 2007). Technical information for those who care—camera: Fujica GA645; film: Kodak Portra 800-2. Th'th'th'th'at's all, folks!
I've told a few people here that I'm close to, and, to my surprise, they've been startled by my decision. They've known that I've been doing nothing with film and that this rough beast has been slouching towards Bethlehem for years. I'm not sure why it should come as any surprise that it finally arrived.
There've been three questions I've been asked repeatedly:
Q: What if you change your mind?
A: Not very likely. There's a reason it took me three years to come to this decision. It's not one I forced; it's one that's arisen spontaneously. I know what I feel. More importantly, I have learned over the years how to pay proper attention to what I feel and what I really want. I want to move on, and so I am going to.
Q: What if you see a wonderful photograph that you need film for?
A: On the very rare occasions if/when that happens, it'll be the same as when I saw a wonderful potential photograph that I needed an 8x10 view or panoramic film camera for. Neither of which I've ever owned. Shrug, move on, and find a wonderful photograph that I could make. I've never lost sleep over the few percent that got away. I'm not about to start now. Honestly, I'm not even sure it's ever going to happen.
Q: Does this mean you're giving up your darkroom?
A: Well, if you're talking about conventional printing, I already have. I don't do Ektacolor printing any longer, and I have no interest in ever doing so again. I very rarely do black-and-white silver gelatin printing, for clients. The reason I keep the darkroom up and running is because dye transfer is still a substantial part of my business. I can print dye transfers from film or digital originals. Anyways, I've got three times as many unprinted portfolio-quality negatives in my files as I have dye transfer materials to print them on.
The decision is mostly of psychological significance; I haven't made any film photographs in now-approaching-three years. I'll clear a little room out of my deep freeze when I get rid of a couple of hundred rolls of film. I'll get some very modest amount of money for my 35mm and medium format equipment. A buyer from Columbus Camera Group is supposed to be in town the early part of March and I'll find out what they're willing to offer me. Coincidence, by the way; I found out about that the day after the bit flipped. Maybe the gods are telling me something.
If I sold the stuff on eBay I'd possibly get more moolah, but I sincerely doubt it's worth my energy and time to dispose of the gear. If I think CCG offer's way too low I'll take my chances on eBay. Now that I've made my decision, though, I would rather just be done with it. I'll probably hang onto my Pentax 67 lenses, on the off chance that Pentax finally comes out with a medium format digital body that I care about. (I'm not going to give them too much longer; I will only wait so long for vaporware to condense.)
So what's my next step?
I don't have a bloody clue. Isn't that fun!
Ctein's column appears on The Online Photographer every Thursday morning.