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Film is not dead

By Kirsten Cunningham, photography by Damien Ivers and Kirsten Cunningham

When Polaroid announced in February 2008 that it was shutting up shop and ceasing the production of Polaroid film, the international media sphere was flooded with articles and opinion pieces of why film is now dead.

“Cuba Libre: a Photographic Exploration of Cuba”
By Australian artist and photographer Kirsten Cunningham
Sat, Jul 12, 6-8pm
Bordello Galería
Casa de La Noche
Órganos 19

Not instant enough, Polaroid film disappeared for two years until a Dutch-based organization called The Impossible Project secured funding to continue the production of instant film. A serious event in the world of photography, the incident sparked debate about the value of film in a digital age. Interesting, it also started a film revival.

Born in 1827, photography has been used ever since to capture and record the world around us. The first real commercial photographic process was realized in 1839 when Louis Daguerre developed an effective method of creating an image called the daguerreotype. This process required a sheet of silver-plated copper, polished and coated in iodine to create a surface sensitive to light. The plate was then put in the camera, exposed to light for a few minutes, and finally bathed in a solution of silver chloride to fix the image to the plate.

Between 1839 and 1889, new photographic processes were developed including calotypes, tin types, collodion wet plate negatives, and dry plate gel emulsion. By the end of the 19th century, interest in photography was booming. However it wasn’t until the arrival of flexible roll film in 1889, that used emulsions coated on a cellulose nitrate film base, created by George Eastman founder of Kodak, that mass-produced cameras and roll film were available cheaply to the public.

Kodak’s early 20th-century slogan “You press the button. We do the rest” was literally true. People took their photos and then sent the camera to Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, New York, US, where they processed the film, and then sent back the camera loaded with a new film, the negatives and the mounted prints. Each loaded camera was capable of taking 100 photos.

With cameras such as the Kodak Box Brownie, photography became popularized and affordable in the early 20th century and different film types and cameras subsequently came onto the market. 35mm film was introduced in 1905, Polaroid in 1948, and Fuji disposable cameras in 1986, until the first commercially available digital cameras were sold in the late 1980s. Today a professional level DLSR is available for as little as US$500.

The current quality and cost of digital cameras means that everyone who can afford them is, in theory, capable of taking a professional quality image. The rise of a mass amateurization of photography and photo sites such as Instagram and Flickr means that professional photography has had to change. How professional photographers and artists distinguish themselves and their work is evolving rapidly, and many are turning back to film. However, until affordable digital cameras can replicate the same tonal dynamic range, grain, texture, color, quality, and arguably mysticism of film, there is still hope for people like me, who want to work manually with ‘old’ cameras and film technologies and master the basics of photography to create something a little different from everybody else.

Kirsten Cunningham, an Australian artist and photographer, is exhibiting “Cuba Libre” at Bordello Galería in San Miguel de Allende (Casa de La Noche, Organos 19) from Saturday, July 12, to Saturday, August 2. Her exhibition is an exploration of Cuba through 4”x 5” large format film, digital photography and old Kodak Box Brownie photographs from 1939 found in Cuba. Join the artist for the opening night on Saturday, July 12, at 6pm and the artist talk on Sunday, July 27, at 3pm.

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