In the muggy night air of Western Australia’s north, Daniel Hildebrand peers through his viewfinder to watch the energy of local favourites Spacey Jane on stage. In the pockets of silence between songs you can hear the sound of the shutter capturing the noise and grain of the gig in a 35mm shot. In one click he imprints a night from 2020 onto expired film from 1992. Days later, Hildebrand waits to receive the developed photos with jangling nerves. When the moment comes, every single shot is incredible. He flicks through the negatives in disbelief as the colours of the night jump out. Expired film just doesn’t work like that normally. “That’s what I love the most, it’s the surprise of film,” he says.
Hildebrand is a creative director, photographer and videographer who works with some of WA’s biggest musicians. In our digitalised world, like many others, Hildebrand chooses the analogue route of film photography. “Film is a trend right now, 100 percent, and that’s pushed by social media and social norms right now. Most photographers are shooting it, which I think is exciting but it’s scary. You can’t commit 100 percent to film,” he says. This trend is certainly not hidden, if you search any hashtag on Instagram with the word film or 35mm, you can scroll endlessly enjoying the beauty of grainy shots with saturated colour.
In January of this year, at the peak of its millennial success, the film photography industry was brought to a halt when Fujifilm announced the discontinuation of its Pro 400H colour film, due to a lack of resources in production. Franz Bato in the lab crew at digiDirect says when the giant of Fujifilm could no longer deliver, Kodak was drowned with orders. “Fujifilm has stopped producing film, so now everyone is buying Kodak and now it’s the same scenario with Kodak. They can’t produce enough film and can’t keep up with the demand,” he says. This leaves us with a global film shortage. This may be disappointing for those who shoot for a hobby, but when your career completely depends on the accessibility of film stock, it’s worrying.
Hildebrand heavily relies on Kodak Portra 400 and when his stock was running low, he noticed the shops were much the same. He couldn’t find one roll in store. “When I got home, I went online to every single film store I knew in Australia and I bought all the last rolls of Portra 400 and Cine 800 because I was just scared as hell that I might need to go to work and I won’t have film,” he says. Hildebrand sold ten rolls out of his own stock to friends in photography who were desperate. It seems what toilet paper was to 2020, film stock is to 2021. You’re sitting on a gold mine if you’ve bulk bought.
But why now? Fujifilm has discontinued stock before, and it hasn’t resulted in a shortage this bad. What has sparked our obsession with film? Dr Laura Glitsos is an Arts and Humanities lecturer at Edith Cowan University and links this current resurgence of film to the notion of nostalgia. “As a culture and as cultures we always idealise the past, and there’s this sense that in this mythical long-lost time, things were better,” she says. While this isn’t always the case, in our current social climate, the days of the past did shine brighter. We’re using the nostalgia of film photography to reflect on journeys we once travelled, music festivals we once danced at and friends we once held close.
“2020 and post-2020 culturally was a great trauma for humanity and with trauma often comes compensatory mechanisms to heal and resolve that trauma. Photography is such a deeply cultural practice … so it doesn’t surprise me that we’re seeing a return to this aesthetic of something past and something we considered golden,” Glitsos says.
Humanity’s recent loss of history has made us romanticise past moments and the way we remember them. According to Glitsos, the magic and appeal of film photography is that it captures a moment that you look back on when it becomes a memory, allowing you to be present. Digital cameras conflate the two, where you’re not looking back on an image, you’re in the moment while you’re looking at it through the eyes of a smartphone. “Younger generation are turning back to these retro practices where they feel they have missed out on this period of our culture where you didn’t have to document every second of your life,” she says.
Hildebrand’s love for film is deeply entwined with this notion of idealising the past. When we sit on the outside, looking back into the glory days, it’s historically through the lens of a film camera. “I like to flirt with the idea that through our whole life we’ve kind of looked back at photography in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and we’ve seen a standard of photography where every single big shot of fashion or iconic photos of celebrities or politicians, it was all shot on film.
“It’s like a luxury good that people are addicted to,” he said. With exclusivity, comes luxury and with luxury comes expense. We’ve already had an increase in Kodak’s film prices this year, but Hildebrand says he’s seen more people pick up a film camera than ever. DigiDirect went from developing 20 rolls of film a day to now developing 50 to 70 rolls. “People are going to push to ship it, but I think it’s going to get unreasonably expensive,” he says.
“Film is not just about the way it looks it’s also about the ritual, it’s also about connecting to a subculture, it’s about connecting to tradition,” Glitsos says.
According to Glitsos, people who use apps or filters to mimic the look of film won’t feel the effects of the shortage, they’re simply after the end product with a blind eye to the journey. “I think people that use film for a ritualistic practice will find something else, will find another way to produce that sense of connection to their work.
The aesthetic trend of film will ebb and flow as the culture demands it, but for Hildebrand and people like him, nothing will ever beat the anticipation in the days leading to the moment where you flick through the harmonious product of an eye, one click and a roll of 1992 film.