_on_: Film Photography

_on_: Film Photography

In this series we’ll be hearing from a new person each month, talking on a specific topic of their choosing – something they love, a hobby, an interest, a thread they’ve been feeling lately, or a new discovery.

Rachel Dickson on Film Photography
I was hooked on film after my first shutter release, the very first time I used that film advance lever. Then there was developing my first roll of film, which added to the insanely whimsical way I was beginning to feel. The mixing of powders at just the right temperature, the movements you make when agitating the mixtures in the developing tank, and the sequencing of chemicals that ultimately lead to the reveal of a negative on gelatin surface. I have been lucky enough to experience the joy of teaching and printing in a dark room; soaked in the dim glow of the red safety light. There are very few moments for me that feel better than finally seeing a print appear when placed in the developer. Film is a magical substrate. I can’t explain how at ease I feel as a person when I’m making images at a slower pace, IT JUST HITS DIFFERENT!

I remember my first film camera was a Nintendo-themed point and shoot I got for Christmas. I went through the whole roll on the first day, mainly the roll consisted of my stuffed animals and toys I got that year. I was always delightfully intrigued by the process, and finally getting a print in my hands, seeing my images made concrete for the first time. As I got older and more involved with photography I went into the digital realm, torrenting Photoshop, manipulating images, and messing around with composites and layers. It felt so easy and immediate, it allowed me to create nearly instantaneous results. It felt like there was so much hype around Flickr and Tumblr, two platforms I obsessed over and carefully curated my pages to fit who I thought I was as an artist, person, and photographer. There were so many beautiful artists sharing their work this way, some of whom I developed amazing online and irl relationships with. While I reveled in this workflow and means of creation, I felt there were these spaces I couldn’t quite activate, certain textures and colors I couldn’t quite emulate; like I needed to slow down.

Late in high school my Grandpa Dickson passed away and I inherited his Polaroid camera. I loved its immediacy but at the time this film was super expensive and hard to get a hold of, back when The Impossible Project was the only company making Polaroid film. My other grandfather, Grandpa Hakola, heard I was experimenting with photography so he sent me his Pentax K1000 he picked up in Japan while in the air force. This was the camera that really resonated with me, the one that connected all the dots. So far my relationship with this camera has expanded to reach the last twelve years of my life. It is my most prized possession. Although it is one of the most common and sought after 35mm cameras, it is so special to me. I have a level of familiarity with it that I wish I could reach with most people and things, but grateful it serves as an extension of myself through the images I make with it.  Since developing more of my digital photography skills, I tend to rely on the digital medium to make most of my work in my art practice. For me, film serves as an opportunity to slow down, pay attention, and catalog moments with the people and places in my life that mean the most.

With film, I’m not trying to create work that fits a concept or narrative that I’ve constructed, but simply following my intuition and the places that life leads me. If you have ever been photographed by me, whether in the past or perhaps recently, the weight of your presence in my life means the world. I have culminated so many friendships through this medium and have had so many beautiful conversations with those that also feel similarly about film. I love putting my camera into someone’s hands and asking them to make images with it, seeing their expression change as the pin point their focus, to share something that I love with someone. I now own too many cameras, but always return back to Grandpa Hakola’s Pentax.

In the last five years I have gotten into the habit of finding point and shoot cameras at thrift stores, I usually give them away to friends or sell them cheaply to others. I want everyone to at least experience the joy of finally getting a roll developed and seeing all the photographs that they forgot about making. Even if their cameras sit in their tote bags for a year, or collect dust on the shelf, the sentiment is there regardless.  Film, for me, provides stillness, intimacy, and introspection. The making is just the beginning, but the whole process holds this precious feeling that sticks with me, the raw sense of anticipation is unbridled and addicting.  For those interested in diving into film, please reach out. DO IT. Experience the joy, join the cult.