Grain is your friend
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
I'm gonna rant for a little bit. I apologize if its a bit all over the place. I am at the appropriate age which means I am entitled. So, I'm going to attribute what I am going to write about with the era I grew up in. It was the right time and I am thankful it happened when it did. They say that nostalgia is overrated and we need to keep moving forward. No thanks, especially when you take the best parts of my youth and replace it with convenience.
I was a contributing writer/photographer for a car magazine. It was kind of surreal when I first got the gig. I sent an email to the editor in chief about writing them an article on my car and he told me to send it to him with some photos. Two months later the article was in the magazine. Cool! Four years and a half dozen articles later I was humming along. Then came a piece I was really proud of writing and had taken some great photos but unfortunately the new editor in chief didn't like one aspect of my new article. The photos. I was actually stunned because I thought they were pretty good. He didn't think so. And the only conclusion I could come up with was they weren't 'clean' enough for the magazine. Translation: he wanted digital photos. I shot all of them on film for a number of reasons, chiefly because the article was about the Nikon F3 turning thirty and it seemed appropriate that the article have photos that were shot on film. A few emails back and forth between me and the 'new' boss and the next thing you know I never wrote for them again. I wasn't interested in submitting flat, colorless photos. I wanted to get away from their traditional staid photos. Since when did we replace the art in photography for fast, cheap and convenient? Maybe our ancient teaching methods on composition, setting up the shot, checking depth of field, takes too long for their attention spans? Or does ancient technology scare them because its still a threat to them?
I enjoy shooting film. It was what I grew up on and, for me anyway, it is my preferred medium. Don't get me wrong, I take photos with my cell phone and I also have a digital camera but they don't look right to me. Not really a fan. Digital is supposedly convenient, but who cares. Call me old fashioned, call me stubborn, tell me to get with the times. I don't care. You're still wrong. And I've heard that you can add 'digital grain' to make it look like film. Whatever.
For probably the last fifteen years the trend to shoot all digital when it comes to movies or television is what we have come to know as well. Digital has seemed to skew everything to a flat, antiseptic look that people seem to prefer to the point they even scrub the look of older films and remove any kind of texture from the original intent to make them look more modern. Why? The first time I noticed it was when I picked up the film “Bad Boys”, the one starring Sean Penn. When I popped in the movie something seemed off to me. Since I hadn't seen it in a while I couldn't place what it was. The same kind of feeling back in the early days of starting off on pan and scan VHS and then graduating to 'letterboxing' and laserdiscs. So I did a quick search on blu-ray.com confirming that something was off. They used digital noise reduction to make the film look glossy. Like when they would colorize older black and white films. Just, don't, do it! You are doing a disservice to the filmmaker as well as the viewer. And besides, If you wanted to make a film look glossy, what do you need 'digital grain' for anyway? Understanding the impact of digital is obvious. Dismissing analog in favor of something new is a mistake.
Anyone get a chance to see “Dunkirk” in IMAX 70mm film? Even though the film was playing at the local multiplex I drove an extra 45 minutes to see it on this format. One of the best theatrical experiences I had the pleasure of attending. It fortified what a format is able to produce knowing its competition is desperately trying to make it obsolete. We really need to get back to the art of analog photography and retrain our eyes. Too much ones and zeros are giving us all severe eye strain. Grain is your friend. It what gives the picture texture and depth and warmth and some nice bright colors. Just ask Paul Simon, he'll tell ya. -- Angelo Alexopoulos