The Rise and Decline of Film, As Told from Film’s Perspective

Film has seen better days. With legends like Kodak’s Kodachrome gone, and staples like Fujifilm’s Neopan 400 very recently following suit, most news about film is met with dismay and long drawn out “No’s” (if you doubt it, check out the comment section on the Neopan 400 and Provia 400X discontinuation announcement linked above).

But what exactly does “Film” himself think of this. What would the medium say if we could ask him to relate his feelings on the rise of digital photography? Tyler Shields’ The Death of Film gives us one interpretation of the answers we might get (note: there is a little bit of strong language in a couple of spots).

The short video amounts to a performance piece, with actor Logan Huffman playing the part of Film. Dressed up in a suit and only barely lit, he recalls the rise and fall of his character with all of the ire and bitterness that the medium might feel — that is, if a medium could feel.

Just last weekend, Fuji confirmed that both its Neopan 400 B&W film and Provia 400X slide film had been officially discontinued.

Just last weekend, Fuji confirmed that both its Neopan 400 B&W film and Provia 400X slide film had been officially discontinued.

“I was once the talk of the world,” laments Film. “Now I’m a cancer patient waiting for my last cup of pudding before the end takes me away to that place beyond this place … my hope is never to be forgotten.”

But beyond simply hoping to live on as more than a memory — “that … that … uh … that thing they used to use” — Film also issues a challenge to the audience of his monologue: “To all of the youth out there, try me! See if you can do, what you do, with me … instead of your microwave cameras you use today.”

But even after throwing down the gauntlet so to speak, Film ends up simply asking for us all to have mercy and let him bow out gracefully … to “pull the plug … kill the life support.” We’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but if you’ve got a few minutes today, check out the video at the top and let us know what you think in the comments down below.

(via Tyler Shields via The Phoblographer)

  • Carmen Shields

    I feel like film still has a place in photography and that simply right now we are in a phase. Something similar happened in the 80s to music when the CD format was first premiered and vinyl went to the side. Since then, vinyl has again come back into style, not nearly as popular as once was; however, there is still a good place for it and a rather noticeable one. I feel like this will prove similar with film, I feel like this simply needs a few years to prove itself. Simply my two cents :)

  • Matt

    Film isn’t dead, it’s just inconvenient.

    There have been two major thrusts in photography tech: convenience and quality. These are not mutually exclusive qualities, but “professionals” favor quality and “consumers” favor convenience.

    Convenience led to the development of roll films, of ready-load film, of safety film, of Polaroids, of 35mm and 127 film, of digital cameras, of camera phones, of wireless uploads, of filters, and of tablet photo editing. Lytro may be an example of ‘more convenience’. But we can now take, review, process, and publish pictures from a device scantly larger than two cigarette packs taped together.

    Quality led to oodles of money in chemistry, to slide film, to Kodachrome, to higher speed emulsions, arguably to auto-focus and auto-exposure systems, to motor drives, to tabular-grain films, to precision optics, to lens stabilization, to TTL flash systems, to wireless triggers, to higher resolution imaging sensors, and to the continued development of larger-format (24mm, 35mm, 60mm, arrays) sensors.

    Film still delivers quality images, but not convenient images. That’s one of the reasons why I shoot 35mm and 120 next to my digital work.

    …I also think that film will stick around for people who want to have a tangible _thing_ to hold in their hands. Something that’s be proven to hold together for 60+ years, that you can show your kids and grandkids.

    Which is why I shoot slide film at family events. It makes something I can hold and feel when after the holidays, even if I promptly scan it into the computer.

    …and I’ll happily date myself. I was born in ’83, so I’ve seen both sides of the transition. And I’ll speak favorably of both technologies.

  • Wolfgang_Zimmerman

    Brilliantly done as this eulogy is, it is also spot on. Personally, I do not give film much longer, as it will, with each passing day, become increasingly more unprofitable to manufacture. And without film, there will be no “film”. These are the (harsh) economic realities. Alas.

    In a parallel development, more and more movies are now being shot on digital, as well as projected digitally.

  • Wierdo Ian

    And the IRONY is that this movie is “filmed” in digital.

  • Eugene Chok

    i was born in 84, and i shoot 400x :(

  • millskaviar .

    I agree with you. Film has it’s place. I was born in 89′, and shoot almost just film. Portra 400 and t-max :) Digital is practical to have when you need the picture for digital work, fast and easy, like in newspapers…

  • tarena1991

    Film is still used very widely in the Fine Art photography world, rather useless for event photographers at this point though.

  • Bernie

    “Filming” in digital has the same ironic feel as “dialing” phone numbers.

  • Jeanne Spain Prince

    Digital photography has made it possible for anybody to end up with good shots. “Point and pray” 500 times at the same item and odds are good you’ll get one decent picture. Digital killed my love of photography because it no longer takes talent to come up with a good photograph.

  • Stanco55

    My film ain’t bowing out- it wears a much better suit.

  • Jack

    Yeah, dialing a phone number is so ironic. Kind of like a black fly in your Chardonnay, right?

  • Jack

    If you think anyone can just mash a shutter and a good photo will miraculously appear as if artistic merit is some kind of random function, you are part of the problem.

  • Zizo

    Apparently, in the old days they had a theory that if you sit million monkeys with a typewriters they would eventually create the equivalent of “War and Peace”… remember this joke?

  • Federico

    Is film inconvenient?

    Barbecue is inconvenient. Microwave is not
    Acrylic painting is inconvenient. Adobe Illustrator is not
    Have a face to face meeting is inconvenient. Talk over the phone is not
    Buying a DVD audio is inconvenient. Downloading a 128 Kbps mp3 is not

    This is not about film vs digital. This is how you enjoy life.

  • Juan Alvarez

    very good article. hopefully film will be around for some more time. i shoot both (digital and film) and like them both the same (it’s still photography. it will be nice if Petapixel make a new “reader Poll” question to see how many photogs are still using film (even if it is two rolls a year). cheers!

  • Jake

    …or a death row pardon two minutes too late.

  • Jeanne Spain Prince

    Do you process your own film? In the rural area where I live, there isn’t anywhere left to have film developed without mailing it off. If you use a mail service, could you let me know which one? I pretty much gave up on photography when people started posting good pics, which were obviously edited, online.

    It seems like with the ability to take hundreds of shots of the same person/object with no thought of cost combined with the ability to crop out unwanted elements of the picture and edit color/light made everyone and their brother capable of producing decent shots. My artistic ability/talent no longer mattered. I was considered a “good” photographer; not up to great yet but good enough family and friends would ask for photo sessions. I pretty much put my camera down and haven’t been able to find the same passion for shooting in digital.

    Reading your post makes me want to get my SLR back out. You hit on my biggest issue with digital (other than the sudden surge in “professional” photographers where I live): I want to hold my pictures. To protect and cherish my pictures so one day my work will live on for my great-grandchildren. I need that tangible piece of work to be able to feel I have accomplished something. A few software changes and digital photos will be inaccessible if not printed and those prints won’t live forever because they don’t have the quality of film prints. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve felt but not been able to describe.

    I also realized, reading your post, that even though everyone else I know is using digital, it doesn’t mean I have to. When everyone went digital, I assumed it was an improvement in photography and tried it but just didn’t enjoy my hobby anymore so I moved away from it altogether. Reading that others still shoot with film makes me realize, it doesn’t matter what is happening technology-wise, if that is the format I enjoy the most, I should pursue my work using film. Now I just need to find somewhere to get my work processed!

  • Jeanne Spain Prince

    Yes, I do think photo editing software and the ability to take unlimited shots has increased the number of people that are able to come up with decent to good shots. No longer are skill and talent pre-reqs to good photography.

    Case in point: my sister was married this past weekend. Her “professional” photographer probably took over a thousand shots with no attention paid to composition, framing, light metering, etc.. I honestly think she had her DSLR set on auto sports mode. She was obviously using the “point and pray” method. And she will come up with enough good photos to satisfy my sister’s desire for good wedding pics and to build a reputation in this small community as an accomplished photographer. And people will rave over the 250 good pics my sister will end up with and never see the 750 awful ones.

    I paid very close attention to what she was doing because after having her engagement photos taken my sister remarked that the photographer had taken “tons” of shots. My sister ended up with twenty-one different shots; again the “point and pray” method worked for this photographer as my sister was thrilled with the pictures she purchased.

    Do I think this woman is a good photographer? Absolutely not! Do I think she is making a huge mistake in relying on luck and editing software to enable her to capture someone’s special day? Absolutely! But this is what digital photography has made possible. Only those of us that actually understand that making truly great photographs requires skill and talent know the difference. There aren’t enough of us to prevent these other people from making a living off of Photoshop. And I’m afraid there aren’t enough of us to keep film manufacturers in business either.

  • JIm

    When you shot with film, if you didn’t like the result you changed the developer you used, or the film you used, or your technique. With digital you buy a new camera.

  • ProtoWhalePig

    How is that a bad thing? It means we get more good images. Who cares how we get them? Sounds to me like jealousy on your part. “Waaaaah! Something I was good at is available to more people now! I can’t demonstrate my superiority over them any more! Waaaa!”

  • Rob

    Carmen – the analogy of film to the CD is irrelevant. The CD and digital recordings were developed to create better audio: wider dynamic range, less noise. It was a deliberate attempt to improve the medium.

    With photography, they didn’t envision the current specs of the digital sensor has achieved today. Digital imaging was made for convenience, primarily, not fine art quality.

  • Matt

    I’m in a ‘metro’ area of ~250k and can only find 35mm C-41 processing, so I feel your pain. I cook up my own B&W film (it’s easier than mixing a Long Island Iced Tea) with little more than a changing bag and a double-roll canister.
    (Sorry to plug, Mike) I ship my C-41 and E-6 off to Fromex. They have a free shipping to with a business reply label, and will give free shipping back on orders of $50 or more. They’ve given me consistent results so far, and take 220 rolls for minimally more than the 120 rolls. They also have timely service (for me), shipping from WA to CA, processing, and shipping back in seven calendar days.

    If you have an urge to get your SLR out, do it! The technology still works great, and it’s kind of nice (to me) to slow down and be forced to concentrate on what I’m doing. And ultimately, shoot the way you want to ~ go have fun with it! Figure out what you’re passionate about, and chase it!

  • Carmen Shields

    You took the words outta my mouth haha, perfect reasoning.

  • Sam

    Outstanding short. It’s kinda sad and makes me miss my friends Plus-X and Ektachrome (sort of). They’re gone and, sadly, will not be remembered.

  • William Lanteigne

    What I shoot for fun is “art,” what i shoot for money is “business.” I still shoot film for fun, and digital for business, but I also shoot some digital for fun and, if required, I will use film for money shoots.

    I will disagree with Matt who said:

    [“professionals” favor quality and “consumers” favor convenience.]

    I think it’s the other way around. Professionals realized they could get their digital images to their editors within minutes instead of hours or, in the case of international journalism, sometimes days. Anyone with a camera and within range of a cell tower or a Wi-Fi hotspot can send images anywhere in the world in seconds. That had huge appeal to “professionals,” especially photojournalists, on remote assignments.

    Losing the mass market was the death knell for film. It may survive at the hands of “artists” and diehard “hobbyists,” but only if they purchase as much fresh film as they can as often as they can, and freeze what they won’t be using in the near term. The recent trend of shooting with long-expired film may be “art,” but it is in no way “saving film.”