Delayed Gratification

The Holga D [via Mefi] isn’t a real product, but even as a concept there’s something irksome about it. Oh, here it is—how it supposedly “brings back the joy and delayed gratification associated with good old analog photography”:

In the age of digital photography many photographers agree that the anticipation and delayed gratification of analog photography made the overall experience of photography even sweeter!

Do they, just. I remember the excitement of getting my photos back from the developers, but I don’t attribute that to some romantic idea of delayed gratification: I attribute it to getting my photos back. When that process went from taking weeks to seconds, I was still just as excited; actually, no, I was much more excited. Now I take it for granted, but haven’t forgotten what a pain that “delayed gratification” really was.

There were the inevitable disappointments when the shot you hoped you had taken turned out to be over- or under-exposed, with no opportunity to travel back in time (and, all too often, space) to try again. The disappointments of finding only one or two good frames in a roll, because it was too expensive to bracket shots or try different compositions. But the biggest disappointments involved entire rolls: the roll of 36 that didn’t wind on properly without my realising, which meant I had to redo a day-trip around Tongatapu and take similar photos because I never knew when I’d be back there (twenty years later I still haven’t been, so that was a good call); the three or four rolls of holiday photos from San Francisco and Vancouver that got chewed down the middle of the negatives by a processing machine before the operator noticed what was happening (the company sent me twenty rolls and free processing in compensation, but I’d still rather have had the photos). Oh yeah, and there was the 16mm movie my friends and I shot in high school which came back blank from the processor; there ended the budding movie-director career.

Then there was the constant paranoia about your rolls of undeveloped film while travelling. Every time they passed through an x-ray machine you risked them getting fogged. If you bought your film cheaply in bulk before the trip, they’d be x-rayed more, which you had to weigh against the cost and inconvenience of buying them on the road. Then when you’d shot them, you’d have a precious and unique object which you couldn’t back up and had to guard carefully until you got home, making the risk of lost luggage far more worrying.

Add to that the occasional light leaks in a camera or a roll; those horrible moments when someone (sometimes you) accidentally opened the back of your camera while a half-shot roll was still in it; not to mention how heavy 35mm cameras were, even the “compacts”...

How charming and romantic it all was.

In the first few years of this century, shooting on film still had one major advantage: resolution. I kept up my own film-based photography because of it, and because the lens on my inherited Nikkormat beat any other camera I’d used. But that changed when I bought a Panasonic DMC-FZ5, still my favourite camera that I’ve owned (but sadly had to replace after sand got into it). Since 2005, I think I’ve put exactly one roll into my old SLR, to use it up, and have failed to do even that; I took some photos of our son as a baby after we moved into this flat in 2008, and—I just checked—it’s still sitting on the sixth frame. I’d better do something with it, because among its other delights 35mm film goes out of date, like milk.

Ah, but the anticipation and delayed gratification of those six frames will surely make the experience even sweeter than the tens of thousands I’ve shot on digital cameras since.

9 March 2012 · Whatever