A colourful town on a hillside

Digital detox: how photographers find balance in a fast-moving world

A sudden, acute awareness of our world has seen everything speed up. If we want to know something, the answer is at our fingertips. Experiences and opportunities can be spontaneous in a way they never have been before. For many of us, the way we experience the world is rapid, relentless and driven by a desire to appear to be ‘more’ than we actually are. But amidst the mayhem there are pockets of mindful communities, actively in pursuit of authenticity, individualism and those elusive human connections.

Among them are the photographers and would-be photographers who are turning to the analogue world as a way to slow down and learn a mindfulness to their practise, using the pace of film photography as a way to reconnect with their art and subjects. Jawad Maakor is one such photographer. He relies heavily on a digital workflow for his commercial assignments, but seeking the perfect image is not just his livelihood – it’s his passion. He initially turned to analogue photography for its colour rendering, but quickly realised that film shooting could teach him so much more.

“If you shoot analogue you have the restriction of only 36 exposures, so you shoot strategically,” he says. “And you’re also always focused and on your guard. If I shoot a portrait of a person, I feel very engaged with them. I pay attention to that person, to the micro interactions – micro expressions – because I want the best photo. It’s a different mindset.” On a street photography shoot he tried both analogue and digital alternately and found himself “shooting from the hip, in burst mode” with his EOS R, becoming a completely different kind of photographer, almost instantaneously.

One of the aspects Jawad also likes about hisCanon AV-1 and AE-1 Program is the sense of independence. “When you look through the viewfinder of an analogue camera, there’s no interface there’s only your exposure and that’s it. You have to do it on your own.”

A portrait of a woman from the side. She stretches the skin on her left eye with her fingers.
“I shoot a lot of portraits with my old Canon and it may be a very crazy thing to say, but when I look at a negative of a portrait, you can see through the soul of a person.” © Jawad Maakor

“It doesn’t take much time anymore”

The ‘analogue’ look has become quite fashionable online, but while many people are happy to get the look through editing, Jawad actually finds editing to be the worst part of the job “I don’t like editing at all. I don’t like to get on my computer for hours and there’s nothing left of the photo. I only edit the curves a little to put more black – minimal editing.”

He embraces the flaws of film with nostalgia, as he considers the outcome of his film shoots to be more “organic”. For a time, his local photo shop to develop his film, but Jawad has since taken the leap to invest in a darkroom and his own equipment, including a Canon 9000F Scanner, which speeds up the process from shoot to screen. “To develop the film, you need thirty to sixty minutes, then you have to clean the images up – the negative – and then put the negative in the scanner. When you scan the photo, you can see the image straight on your computer. It doesn’t take much time anymore. The way you shoot has more impact than post production.”

A bald man with a beard looks directly at the camera
When I shoot digital, I think ‘I can correct the light there’, you can do that with analogue, but there are more restrictions.” © Jawad Maakor
A bearded man in a checked shirt, shot in profile.
“I shoot a lot of portraits with my old Canon and I feel very much engaged. It’s a very playful way to shoot and get into photography.” © Jawad Maakor

Digital for business, film for art

However, in Jawad’s experience, only a few high fashion brands are keen to embrace film today. Photographers are limited by the client’s desire to actively participate in the shoot, standing alongside the camera, checking the screen for a ‘what you see is what you get’ experience and giving their input. And although the processing speed for analogue has improved exponentially, it’s still not as fast as business demands. “I shoot it this week and deliver it next week, fully edited. In my honest opinion, there’s no room for analogue in the commercial business.”

I feel very much engaged, I make conversation, I’m more interested in their story

Living the analogue lifestyle

Despite this, analogue doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for now. For many, it’s more of a commitment to the ‘film life’, than just the images being shot. It’s the image the photographer wants others to see when they shoot. Classic cameras have become a fashion statement, with owners going as far as to customise the body of the camera to suit their personal aesthetic. Online, you can learn how to do it yourself or head to marketplaces like Etsy, where customised products are the heart and soul of the site.

“In Amsterdam there’s a guy that paints old cameras and makes them like fashion items. He sprays the body and other parts and does requests. Because they are not expensive cameras, you can do anything you want with them and make them like a fashion item.”

The photographer’s favourite platform, Instagram, is jam-packed with film devotees, with millions of posts hashtagged #filmphotography, #filmisnotdead , #ishootfilm and other, less serious ones, like #deathbeforedigital and #ishootfilmoratleastitry. Some are taking their film art to experimental levels, developing with different types of chemicals or using broken cameras and lenses to create unusual light leak effects. Organisations like Camera Rescue has a mission to rescue and repair 100,000 analogue cameras by 2020. Jawad doesn’t see analogue going away any time soon. “It’s really popular here in the Netherlands and other places in Europe and there are new developers making new types of film stock every year. It’s coming back big.”

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard

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