technology and culture

I’ve been studying technology use and the effects of technology on culture for a while now. Because of this (or because I’m just weird, either one could be the reason) I have an affinity, a love, an obsession with vintage, antique, and analogue technologies. I have a really nice digital camera, but I choose to use multiple film cameras; I have CDs and MP3s, but I choose to listen to vinyl records on occasion; I have a very new computer, but I like to write on a typewriter (or two or three) when I’m out of ideas; and I could send email for free, but instead I write or type a letter and send it in the mail (with an envelope and stamp).

There’s something about “obsolete” technology that I enjoy quite a lot. When I use it, it seems so much less obsolete. It even seems relevant.

That’s why I found this article very interesting. Instead of looking at what had happened in the previous year with film photography (it’s slowly being phased out by many companies… Kodak going so far as to file for bankruptcy), author (and photographer) Clark Patrick decided to write about what would come in the next year for film photography.

According to Patrick, film photography will most likely increase in popularity and viability. He expects more people to use and look for film photography professionally.

I’m very happy about his positive outlook for film. I love using it. I love the effects produced by different cameras. I love having to wait and see what the photos I took look like. For me, and apparently many other photographers, it’s more than just a fad.

Film photography has a culture. There are many, many people who are dedicated to using film at least some of the time (if not all of the time) in their photography. In fact, there are many sub-cultures associated with film photography, and sub-sub-cultures for each of those.

You have film-using professionals, artists using toy cameras, amateurs learning the basics, students trying something new, people new to photography looking for an economical way into experimenting with the art, collectors keeping their collections in good, working condition, and those who, through experience, decided that they just simply like using film better than digital.

This is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of types. It is simply a means to explain the variation in reason why so many people are interested in doing the same thing.

Looking at photography from an anthropological point of view, we can see that no single way of doing photography or reason for using that method or medium is any better than another. Each is a different means to the same end: a photograph.

Loosely (and simply) applied, Marshall Sahlins’ “The Original Affluent Society” can be used to explain why there is no reason to believe film is better than digital or digital is better than film in any intrinsic way: In hunter-gatherer societies, subsistence requires only as much labor as is needed in order to collect and process the food and resources that the group needs to survive; in industrialized societies, there is generally a minimum amount of labor required from each person (about 40 hours per week) in order to be compensated well enough to provide for a person’s family, though there are more “advanced” technologies to aid work in the industrialized society*. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle is no better or worse than the industrialized lifestyle, they are both a means to the end of “subsistence”.

What is really important here is what the individual or group prefers. This can apply to just about any technology issue. As long as hunter-gatherer societies fulfill the needs of those practicing the hinter-gatherer lifestyle, it will continue as a viable means of subsistence. As long as film and film cameras still produce artistic, documentary, and any other kind of photograph for those who use film, it will continue as a viable means for photography.<

So long as there is a culture around film photography, there will be film photography.

*I am well aware that this is not a “complete” or detailed summary of Marshall Sahlins’ ideas. It is simply a way to express the idea in a way that can be readily understood as part of my argument within the confines of a blog post.

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