A Panoply of Perplexities – Film’s Comeback, Stronger than a 90s Trend?

By Edna Lim (22S03F), Hong Wan Jing (22S06F), Sonia Maya (22A01C)

Analog photography is particularly en vogue among JC students, even in Raffles now, with the burgeoning of a substantial film community in recent years. To the uninitiated, this pursuit and its enthusiasts may seem puzzling and almost…paradoxical? To find out more about the comeback of film, we took to the ‘streets’ to interview a few film enthusiasts among us. 

In with the Old, Out with the New

64mp telephoto (ƒ/2.0), 16mp wide (ƒ/2.4) lens, and a 12mm ultra-wide lens (ƒ/2.2). These are the specs of the rear camera for the newest Samsung phone, the S20+. On the other hand, disposable cameras incorporate 30mm ƒ/10 plastic lenses.

When phone cameras capture high-quality photos in a matter of mere milliseconds, why has our generation come to prefer – even love – photos taken with film cameras, despite the typical 2-3 day wait for them to be processed?

Ashley Poh, from 22S07B, speaks on the matter: “Film gives a very ‘captured in the moment’ feel, and there’s something a lot more raw and candid to film pics than our more modernised HD photos now”. She also elaborates that “the moments you capture on film, you don’t remember any more, which is just so exciting and fun. It’s like opening a surprise box!”

“Film allows us to live a little more in the moment, instead of constantly checking if we look good in photos, we can easily capture memories without thinking about how we look – a carefree attitude we used to have as kids”. 

Sarah Chan, 22SO3F

The first paradox of film is evident: while film photography may be an inconvenient venture, it is able to capture the attention of youths, so esteemed for their desire for instant gratification. Do the grainier, lower-definition photos that can’t be seen immediately after being taken have a part to play?

Many may find the motivations elusive, but the 35mm film renaissance perhaps signifies Gen Z’s latent feelings that the conveniences modern technology brings are more of banes than boons. Another reason could be that since social media reduces each of us into two-dimensional brandings, we compete for the most aesthetic self-portraits and the wittiest captions. We are left craving for a more intentional, genuine and unfettered way of presenting our lives.

Perhaps, we have found that in analog photography.

The warm tones and grainy quality make moments on film especially nostalgic. (Photo Credit: Hong Wan Jing, 22S06F) *Photo taken in 2019, pre-Covid

Science Progresses, Art Regresses?

The longstanding dichotomy between science and art has gripped both factions since the advent of the former in 3000 BC. 

Juxtaposing aspirations of space travel in cold metal containers with romanticized lenses gazing into the past, there exists an unspoken rift among the two disciplines. Science on one hand, is resolute on progress and moving forward, while art on the other, prefers to take things slow and appreciate the past. 

Take a look around you and you’ll see the resurgence of 90’s fashion, art and music trends in the 21st century: Knee socks and bucket hats, rustic-style cafés and industrial lamps, and pertinent to this article, film photos in fifty shades of grain. This brings us to the second paradox of film: what is the rationale behind art’s choice to progress in a more cyclical fashion? 

Film is a great way to capture simple moments from our daily lives. (Photo Credit: Sarah Chan, 22S03F, @unproperpictures)

A Financial and Emotional Investment

One would think the high prices of development, film rolls and cameras would steer enthusiasts away. Yet, film has etched itself on the hearts of its buffs, evident from the increasing number of Rafflesians we see frequenting Whampoa Colour Centre on Friday afternoons. Before us now is the third paradox of film: why do we spend so much money on film when the more cost-friendly option of digital photography is just at our fingertips?

Perhaps smartphones today have made digital photography seem mundane and meaningless, since the act of snapping photos on our iPhones is one so facile to us. Film however, in its retro and exorbitant nature, appears as a foreign indulgence to the average 17-year-old, making us all the more invested – emotionally and literally – in the art.

As Rae Tan from 22A01C puts it, “you can’t imitate the process that is film – the tactile feel, the ASMR clicky sounds and the soothing sounds when you wind your camera”. Clearly, the tangible fulfillments film has to offer can never be replicated by modern photography, and for that, Rafflesians are willing to invest. 

Yvette Teo from 22S06H put forth the fascinating perspective that “the limited number of pictures you can take forces you to photograph only moments you truly cherish”. The costly nature of film might just be what makes it so widely adored in the first place, since it forces us to only indulge in the most treasured moments. (Way to keep prices up, Gen Z!)

Film is handy in capturing memorable events, a necessity at birthday celebrations. (Photo Credit: Hong Wan Jing, 22S06F) *Photo taken in 2019, pre-Covid

The Bottom Wind

Film’s comeback – though definitely a puzzling one – has allowed us to go back in time to a period of simplicity and euphoria, a seeming respite from the complexities of modern technology. Though we cannot tell if it is here to stay for good, one thing is for sure: the mementos captured on our disposables today will leave a lasting impression on us for many years to come. Contained in tiny stills, perhaps it is only a mere sliver of our cherished moments that can remain preserved against the currents of time. But for now, that will do.

Our Lovable Writer Poses With a Beloved Family Member (Photo Credit: Sarah Chan, 22S03F, @unproperpictures)

Special Thanks to our Interviewees:

Ashley Poh, 22S07B (@pashsnaps)

Cheyenne Mah, 22S03N (@cheyspares

Rae Tan, 22A01C (@ra3scameraroll)

Sarah Chan, 22S03F (@unproperpictures)

Yvette Teo, 22S06H (@yvettesfilms)

*Cover photo was taken in 2019, pre-Covid

394510cookie-checkA Panoply of Perplexities – Film’s Comeback, Stronger than a 90s Trend?

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