The novelty of an old art and the abundance of spare time during the pandemic seem to have piqued the younger generation's interest in film photography.
The Atlantic Photo Supply is one of the few remaining businesses that sells and develops film in Nova Scotia. Allen Sutherland, who manages the store's locations in Dartmouth and in Halifax, said there has been a 200 per cent increase in film sales over the last five years.
"It's kind of like vinyl records. It's the same trend," said Sutherland. "Vinyl records came back because of the appeal for something that was more analog."
Younger customers are bringing in cameras passed down to them by their grandparents or are finding them in thrift stores, he said.
"They bring it to us and are like, 'We'd like to buy a roll of film. Can you show us how to put it in?'" Sutherland said, adding that there are still a hardcore group of seasoned photographers out there who never got rid of their film cameras.
Customers across Atlantic Canada and as far away as northern Quebec ship rolls of film to his store to be developed, he said.
Allen Crooks has been running the Halifax Darkroom for the last seven years to teach people the art of processing film.
He said the pandemic shifted the way people think of photography, experience it, and share it.
"It's just the pure curiosity of a certain generation that wasn't born into analog photography," said Crooks, adding that most of the 30 members of the darkroom facility are under age 30.
Many young people took the pandemic as an opportunity to learn an art that takes them away from computers, he said.
They could also use the darkroom safely during lockdowns.
What's the appeal?
Sutherland said people are also drawn to the retro look of the final product.
Film cameras capture what is in the environment mechanically, without an image processor. There's no sensor that interprets what it sees. "That's as true and pure as you can get," he said.
Albert Lee, a photojournalist whose work has been published in newspapers and magazines, said the trend has only caught on in the Maritimes recently.
"It's a big thing on the West Coast in the states right now," said Lee, who has dabbled in both digital and film photography.
He believes the young people who are embracing analog photography see it as a mode of self-expression.
"People are too used these days just to squinting at a two-inch-square screen on a smartphone, or maybe just like a 12-inch display on their computer monitor. That sense of esthetic isn't quite the same as watching it like on a print say, even an eight-by-10 or 11-by-14 print hanging on a wall," said Lee.
Will it last?
Sutherland said he believes interest in analog photography will last if it is affordable.
But today, a roll of Kodak film that would normally have cost $8 is now $28, he said, and people are selling them online for about $40.
The price of analog cameras has also shot up. For example, he said the Pentax K1000 and the Canon AE1, which used to cost about $400 and $300 respectively five decades ago, now sell online for between $800 and $1,000.
"It definitely is a trend, and it probably is one that's not going to last forever," Sutherland said.
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