Arts and Entertainment

Trendsetters and the Rise of Film Photography

Art & Entertainment writer Zifei Zhao explores why film photography is trending again and the effects of this apparent fad.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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By Emily Chen

From the disposables sold in trendy stores like Urban Outfitters to the film cameras Instagram photographers use, one thing’s for sure: film photography is back.

Film photography, otherwise known as 35mm film photography, is the art of taking photos using strips of plastic called, well, film. When an image is exposed onto the film through the lens, a latent image is imprinted onto the strip. The latent image can then be developed into a negative (an image in which lighter areas appear dark and darker areas appear light) and eventually onto light-sensitive photo paper to create a photograph. This process can be incredibly long and expensive. So why, in a world of digital cameras and smartphones, are we turning back to the arduous process of film photography?

The answer seems to lie in the same reasoning for revived fashion trends: a seemingly global fetish for nostalgia. Characteristics of film photography are its grainy resolution, light leaks, and muted colors. This creates a vintage aesthetic both visually appealing and trendy. Apart from the aesthetics, the process of film acts as a sanctuary for many photographers in a fast-paced world. Unlike digital photography, there is a set number of photographs that can be taken per roll, thus driving photographers to be more thoughtful with their shots. The photograph itself can’t be seen until it is developed, which adds an element of surprise and contrasts with the near-instant gratification of snapping a photo on a smartphone. The development process can be tiresome, but it allows artists to immerse themselves in their artmaking. The hard work put into taking and developing the perfect photo makes the end result that much more gratifying.

Though there are many creative advantages of film photography, there are downsides. As the trend grows, film camera prices rise. Since few can afford or invest in cameras, many are turning to disposable film cameras as cheaper and lower-commitment alternatives. But as is clear in their name, these cameras were made to be used only once. With the current growing emphasis on sustainability, the return to film photography feels hypocritical, and it’s frustrating to see influencers and celebrities who advocate for sustainability also promote the use of disposable cameras. The film development process is very wasteful as well, using large amounts of water, chemicals, and plastic to create photos. While a small community of film photographers may have a negligible effect on the environment, the trend will become increasingly unsustainable as it grows more popular.

In our modern era, film photography can be a creative outlet that serves as a refuge for many artists to embrace the creative process. But this attempt to recreate the past only slows the progress that many have made through the sustainability movement. While film photography is a wonderfully celebrated medium for art, a majority of users seem to only use it to recreate the “trendy vintage aesthetic.” Perhaps, instead of using an actual film camera, one can try either filters or editing tools to create that grainy, nostalgic effect. It may not be quite as authentic, but it’s a small price to pay for the future of our world.