January 21st 2017. Women’s March in the US with solidarity marches across the world. By all accounts one of the largest marches in US history. And despite what some might claim, in person engagement is worth far more than people watching things at home or on their phones.
Here in Vancouver the march was claimed to be approximately 15,000 strong. Certainly the biggest congregation of people I’ve ever seen in Vancouver. I was told by one group of women the marches in the 1970s were bigger, but I didn’t get to go to those.
I made the debatably risky decision to shoot only film. I left my Nikon D750 at home and headed out with only a Leica M4 and a slightly ancient and decrepit Seagull TLR medium format camera. And a bag of film.
From my last experiences at protests and big events things are not as hectic as you would think so there is time to pick and choose. And shooting film adds to that sense of taking time, looking for something different. The biggest difference for me is shooting digital feels like you grab as many images as you can without thinking and then you obsess for hours over a computer screen looking for something interesting or different. With film, you look for something interesting and different in the world and then take that photo.
Everyone was very interested in the old Seagull. It got me some interesting interactions with people who engaged with me as opposed to me engaging with them. And I learned a new technique with interacting with people in a march; I often asked permission to take photos. It created a very different dynamic than my normal approach of trying to stay out of the scene. In part I tried this as I have been (very very incorrectly!) accused of being a cop in the past at protests, and in part I tried this as there were many younger children present and it never feels appropriate to shoot small children without permission.
Shooting film definitely provides challenges as well and you can have disasters that are mostly unrecoverable! For example; I shot three rolls of 35mm film and decided to head home. As I left I saw a photo I wanted to take but I need to reload. I opened the back of the camera to change the film and stared down in horror at the complete roll of film on the uptake spool! A whole freaking roll of what I thought would be my best photos suddenly exposed to the light!
And the Seagull? Someone told me it was really cool I was shooting with that camera. I told them I’d reserve judgement until I saw the photos. I’ve seen the photos. They are almost all a disaster. The camera distance scale didn’t agree with my focusing. When I looked at the distance when the image was in focus it was way off. So I decided to trust the distance meter and not the focusing screen. Huge mistake. Every photo after that was out of focus. And some that would have been brilliant too.
And there is no multiple exposure protection on the Seagull. When you shoot, nothing prevents you from shooting a second (or third, fourth etc) image on the same frame. But it can have some unexpected benefits.
In the end it occurs to me; this is what photography has been for most of the time it has existed. This is how most of the greatest photos of all time have been taken. You can get great photos shooting film? Obviously.