Film photography is one of my favorite new hobbies. I hesitate to use the word “hobby” because I think claiming a hobby implies that you’re just an amateur or beginner at it. In its most traditional form, film photography consists of taking pictures with a camera by exposing frames on a roll of film. While I don’t consider myself a photography expert, I take my film camera with me everywhere because it reminds me to look for things to appreciate in the moment rather than waiting for a reason to take a picture to post online share. Shooting movies is a much more intentional and conscious process than shooting with my phone. Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and other popular camera-based apps have made taking photos on my phone a mindless process. It’s so easy for me to use my camera any time of day to check my looks or take a photo of a flyer for an event I saw on the diag (which I’ll look at later, but will just grab memory on my phone instead). In contrast, it’s far more conscious to pull my film camera out of the bottom of my bag, gesture to my friends, snuggle into the frame, and adjust the shutter and zoom to perfectly capture the surroundings. It could also be that using a “real” physical camera whose only function is to take pictures gives meaning to the photographing process, as opposed to my phone which also doubles as a calculator, notepad and main means of communication with friends and family . Capturing film images requires acknowledging the beauty of the moment, appreciating the openness of everyday life, and deciding to capture an image to add to your growing role.
Two summers ago I developed my first roll of film. I had just stopped using a disposable camera after deciding to join the recent film photography revival that has been circulating the internet for almost a year. I have developed sunset images from my last day of school, trips to the lake with my best friends, my sister’s visits at home and even moments when I was just by myself and felt like using my camera. I was reminded of countless memories I hadn’t even remembered when I started taking picnics almost every week, my burgeoning painting hobby, and a questionable amount of boba runs. As I flipped through the rest of the images, I felt a growing excitement as I was unsure of what other forgotten moments I had collected. At the same time, however, I wondered how I could live the same life I saw on the reel because I didn’t see the beauty of those moments until they were over. It’s easy to think that your life is mundane and boring when it doesn’t live up to the unrealistic standards we see on social media. I look at the pics of the influencers I follow and wonder how they manage to balance their work, social life, and “Keeping Instagram Casual” while all looking together. My film images gave me a new perspective as they presented memories that seemed incidental in the fleeting time but were incredibly meaningful to me in hindsight. Unlike my phone, my film camera robbed me of the ability to see my pictures as soon as I took them. At first I was impatient and anxious because I was losing control of the outcome of the photos, but the development process gave me time to move on with my life and absorb experiences more consciously. As I developed my character, I was able to relive those moments with a different mindset – I no longer worried or worried about how I looked or how the background was captured; all I was interested in was the memories and the story that accompanied each image. I could see that my picnic trips were my way of relaxing in nature, my painting hobby was a form of meditation for me, and my countless boba runs became my favorite way to meet up with hometown friends and try new drinks.
After my first experience with a film camera, I stayed true to my hobby and looked forward to collecting more souvenirs. I stopped waiting for moments that were “good enough” to do my role and just photographed what I liked. Alone moments like reading outside, waiting for the sunset or redecorating my room became more important. I used to be incredibly uncomfortable with the thought of being alone and spending time with myself because I felt like I was missing out on what was happening around me and I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. I attribute a lot of these feelings to social media and the pressure it puts on people to constantly attend to everyone’s business but their own. There always seems to be a category to put people in based on their social media presence, and I hate the looming stress of having to curate your feed to somehow perfectly capture who you are. However, I’ve learned that our Instagram feeds don’t reflect who we are, they reflect who we want to be. I have stored so many images with different “aesthetics” that I want to integrate and I find that with the sum of these images I lose my own sense of identity. I can’t go with the image of a “grunge,” “skater girl,” or “Y2k girl” aesthetic, but maybe I never should. These aesthetics and trends floating around on and off the internet are just a disguise for the identity crisis that has always been inflicted on me. I remember having to add “brown girl” to all my Pinterest searches for hairstyles, dresses, and prom dresses because I knew none of the trends I wanted to be a part of would consider women of color. The same applies to this new aesthetic in social media. Women of color are rarely, if ever, included in these trends (although they are pioneers), and regardless, I think it’s potentially harmful to impose another version of self that we can adapt to. That’s the way filming is when I’m alone and can’t find any reason to take a picture other than the fact that I just felt like it was a form of healing for me. The images are a testament to myself that self-reflection and learning to be comfortable in my own presence is worth celebrating — especially while the media is trying to reinforce that women of color are never good enough, like that as they are. While most of these memories will remain just between me and my film camera, I look back on each role and am reminded that I don’t have to copy and paste my life from the Internet – I just can be and that is enough.
After going through a few rolls, one of my friends gave me a reusable film camera. Not only was my camera a much more sustainable alternative to the disposables I had previously used, but it made filming even more personal than before. Unlike my previous single-use cameras—which I discarded after developing each of their rolls—my reusable film camera stays with me, and I seem to learn something new from it after every frame. I learned film types, zoom settings, and double exposure through trial and error, which was confusing but filled me with pride when I finally understood what all the buttons meant. I even had my camera with me when I first traveled to my boyfriend in California and it gave me all the memories I captured during my trip to remember afterwards. I’ve honored my whole role – even the double exposure pictures (when I shot the same reel twice on my film), pictures with my finger all over the frame and even the ones where I zoomed in all the way while I was still over it thought my new camera out. I’ve come a long way with the images I take, as well as my knowledge and appreciation of film photography.
While I often feel pressure to curate my social media presence to portray my life as eventful, cool, or even mysterious, my film camera reminds me that impromptu ice cream tours, alone reading in the park, and even the flowers I buy for bought myself are still possible to be honored. It’s nice to be reminded every once in a while that while I’m not able to live the same lifestyles I see online, I can embrace my own.
MiC columnist Sahana Nandigama can be reached at [email protected]