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AA–Analogue Anonymous

Cutting Through the Noise

My name is Matilde, and I’m an Analogue Anonymous.

I just love the sounds it makes. The weight of that camera in my hands. The ‘click’ it does when I release the shutter. It drives me mad. I look through the viewfinder of my Nikon F, and the world that was a mess before becomes a wonderful universe of infinite possibilities. And then there’s that smell–it comes later, when I’m in the darkroom. The smell of the developer. And the smell of fixer. It's addictive. Plus, when you’re done developing, it will stay on your fingers. So I’ll pretend to fix my hair like an idiot just to smell it again and again, all day long–until it fades.

There’s something about it. Something about its concreteness, truthfulness: analogue doesn’t lie. Analogue can’t–and won’t–lie to you. How could it? It’s just light impressed on film in the end. Analogue isn’t pretty either. You need to get dirty to do it properly–and that’s something I would never give up. Clicking on a mouse while editing your pictures on Photoshop, or even just downloading your files from an SD to your computer is so… clean. Almost aseptic. Try a day printing in the darkroom. You get to touch things, and what’s best, you get to feel the soul of your images. And even the jazz if you like.

I’m getting obsessive–yes, I know, I know. But let me tell you a bit more about it. Let me tell you the story of a love affair: my love affair with analogue photography.

I’ve been around film cameras all my life–as long as I can remember. My Father introduced me to his Nikon when I was in primary school. He started explaining stuff to me and I’d find it so interesting. Complicated, incredibly frustrating, and above all fascinating.

When I turned ten I got my first point and shoot camera. I can still feel the tears streaming down my face after I got the first film roll (a Kodak 200) developed and printed. I opened the envelope, looked at the first picture, and thought there must had been some kind of mistake in the process. I got so angry. It looked so bad. Nothing like I expected. I skimmed through all the pictures, one after the other. Out of that first role came literally nothing–well some random, absolutely abstract flashes of light, if anything. That’s how I learned to deal with frustration, and especially with the fact that there were things–a lot of things–I still had (and still have) to learn. That’s one of the major things with analogue: you learn to learn from failure. 

Time went by and my father and I started to put together a darkroom in the garage on weekends. He showed me the enlarger and taught me how to use it. That’s how I learned how to print from the negatives.

When I turned 19 he gave me his Nikon F. I began to shoot more regularly, more seriously maybe. I moved to London and started developing and printing on my own. I found there were people out there who shared the same interest–passion, obsession. Lots of people really.

I recently got the chance to have a chat on the topic with Max Barnett, editor in chief of Pylot magazine, a fashion and art publication based in London–committed to analogue, un-retouched photography.

When I first picked an issue from a newsagent’s shelf in Soho, I was just amazed. I knew how important film photography was for me–but finding a magazine entirely dedicated to it was an entirely different thing. “Analogue slows me down,” Barnett says, “I think this is so important for photographers working today, we are surrounded by a constant flurry of information and analogue helps me to consider each shot carefully, to cut through the noise so to speak.”

It really is about cutting through the noise, most of the time. Going out and just walking around with your camera can mean a lot in the craziness of a big city life. You get to breath, focus, look through the viewfinder, think about what surrounds you in an entirely different way.

Some say it is old-fashioned, but it isn’t really. An increasing number of young people are starting to approach film photography.

“I started shooting on film last year.” Says Maya, a 17 year-old high school student. “I found my mother’s old camera in a drawer, by absolute chance. Right from the first shots, I had a completely different approach to photography compared to the one I have when using my digital camera. I feel more responsibility for each and every photo I take. I can’t help but think twice before releasing the shutter. This helps me focus, and, for a moment, I can isolate completely from the outside world. The results I get aren’t as good yet–I still need to familiarise. All the same, even if I’m still far from doing it professionally, film photography gives me incredible satisfactions.”

Some people get into it, and then get really into it, and develop quite extremist views: “Shooting digital makes you a coward.” Says Pietro, a 21 year-old photography student. “It’s definitely too easy. You don’t have frame limits, to start with. Well you do–but instead of being 36 they’re 3600. And they cost you nothing. So you won’t think before shooting. People need to start thinking again. That’s a bit like thinking before speaking. Please try and always remember to do it–we don’t want to hear your bulls**t all the time.”

“If you do analogue photography you know exactly what ‘One shot, one kill’ means.” Says Maggy, 21, Medicine student “You truly do your best to get a great result, the one picture you wanted. It’s not the immediate nor the easiest way, and you’ll probably lose the subject and fail many times. As it happens in life though, you learn to appreciate more the things you worked hard for. In the end, you get all the satisfaction.”

Matteo, 33, almost hits the philosophical approach when talking about the pleasure of film: “There are people who believe analogue photography is useful. Useful for themselves in the first place. A sort of analgesic,” he explains, “there are people who think that spending hours endlessly trying to understand a handmade process–just like developing or printing from film–helps you reflecting farther–and more deeply–on the incredible amount of visual material that constantly surrounds us. That’s the discovery of pleasure through commitment. A pleasure made of repetitive gestures. Of frustrations and discoveries. These people’s eyes want to see the world developed and fixed, and they want to take on some responsibilities, slowing down the flow of events.”

All these conversations I had the chance to have, these exchanges of opinions (either virtual or face to face)–they were made of mutual comprehension, winks and, well, some laughs about this tiny obsession of ours, too. There’s one, though, that truly inspired me. One that takes us back where we started, or rather, where I started. That’s the one I had while sitting at the kitchen table with my father, thinking about this piece I wanted to write.

We just came out of the garage-darkroom, where we were printing from a negative he found in his parents’ boxes. That’s a picture of my grandparents sitting in an unknown living room. He’s reading a book as she looks down, smiling. We wonder whether in her left hand, just outside the frame, there may be a cigarette.

“Why do we do it…” my father says, with that bittersweet smile of his. “Why do we shoot on film? Why bother? There are so many easier ways…” he goes on, “because we are out of our minds. Completely crazy. That’s the reason.” We laugh, laugh of that craziness we share. “But then,” he’s serious again now “then you hear the shutter clicking. And everything changes.”

I’m listening, captured now. Can’t help but thinking about my childhood, when he used to spend nights like this one explaining, to the little curious girl I was, the most different things about life, and the world we live in, there at the same table.

“Maybe it’s still having something concrete in this virtual world,” he goes on, “maybe that’s because you’ll always know where your photos are, you’ll be able to look at them, touch them. And they take space, and they take time. They have hard drives now, sure. But what about our grandchildren? Will they dig into our drives in 50 years? I feel so lucky we could print that picture tonight. The negative was still intact after 70 years. They have millions of shots now, organised on a laptop. Folders. ‘Mountain trip 2018’, what will it mean in 30 years? Will someone remember to refresh the files?

And then there’s the wait. We do it for the wait, too. That wait that makes both frustrations and satisfactions greater when it ends. It makes you feel them more deeply, strongly.

Shooting on film makes us think. You need to be careful, considerate, balanced. You need to put so many things together. You need to see. The exposure, will the light change, how, when. Sometimes you need to hold your breath, stand steady on your legs, and you and the camera become a whole. You constantly get to learn something.” He laughs again, “We are crazy, baby. Some crazy addicts.”

He is totally right, I think, bringing the feeling of having just done something important to bed with me. Crazy addicts.

Truth is, though, I don’t believe there’s anything to get clean from. Analogue photography really is one of those few disciplines left to us in this fast-paced world that allows us to slow it down.

It’s one of the few things left to me, for sure. And, if anything, I can’t wait to get more and more addicted.

Text, video and photographs by Matilde Moro  

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