Why I Don’t Like Cleaning Film (But Did)

One of the best things about film is the fact that it is physically real. In a world of so much digital artifice, of images captured in pixels and enhanced by algorithms, film’s appeal is a layer of realism that - as yet - cannot be replicated; a certain honesty. Of course, photo manipulation isn’t something new to digital imagery, nor is the phrase ‘the camera never lies’ uttered without at least a hint of irony. But it’s the way that film carries the process within it, sometimes physically etched into its surface. Take Great Grandma. I’d resisted Photoshopping out the imperfections, as they added a layer of interest and told their own story (not just of the manual process of developing in my kitchen, but of an epic battle to get the damn film on the developing reel). To me, there was honesty there, an element of truth; the whole point and beauty of film. It said, this is not a sanitised collection of pixels, a soulless reflection of the truth, but instead a physical representation as flawed and complex and beautiful as the humanity it represents. Alas, indicative of our times, it seems most people assumed what was real was faked to make it look real. And after being asked too many times why I would add the effect, I got rid of it. I’m not mad about it, don’t get me wrong! We’re all tuned to view images in such a way that it was inevitable. Indeed, it was an interesting exercise to see what could be done to ‘clean up’ the image. I guess the whole thing has taught me that I need to be a little more patient and careful when it comes to handling film. Realism is one thing, but maybe there’s such a thing as a little too much. 

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