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Author: Digital Darkroom | Ian Wong
Some time ago I was at the Mandarake complex in Tokyo, where it’s seven floors of just pure craziness—ranging from innocent manga to some more hardcore stuff. I had two rolls of black and white film with me.
First, the control variable: the Tri-X 400. It had appeared in pretty much every single video I’ve done since Digital Rev and it’s pretty much the black-and-white film I’ve using it since I was 10 years old. The first roll and it will probably be the last roll ever use.
Then, the newcomer. Since I was in Japan, and I was going to be in the streets, I chose the JCH Street Pan 400.
So inevitably, for everyone who has a passion for analogue things, such as toys, books, and of course film photography, they would come across lots of naysayers. There would be people who say, why are using such an obsolete technology?
Why are you playing with toys, when there are computer games? Why are you shooting film when you can use digital? Why are you reading books, when you can read Kindle? Or why listen to vinyl when there’s FLAC?
But of course, what they’re missing is the passion that goes behind all these things.
When we talk about why we shoot film and not digital, there’s a feeling behind. And no matter how strange some of the things are, like the libraries of toys from the 80s in the Mandarake Complex, there’s feeling behind those as well.
We argue that a certain magic to the old and of course from a photographer’s perspective that’s true. What’s more wonderful than watching Dunkirk, which was shot on film, in a movie cinema in 2017, or if you go on holiday with your old crumpled up paperback?
What’s more transformative than rereading the same book, again and again, in the same paperback? In terms of film, if you’re in a darkroom or in the digital darkroom, and you’re watching a print develop in the developer solution. That’s beautiful. Irreplaceable. Nothing comes close to that.
After Akihabara, we found ourselves in Ginza, and we’re going to look for a coffee master at Cafe de l’Ambre.
It was a public holiday and it was awesome because they blocked off all the roads and no cars were there. There were old people in kimonos walking around.
This guy we were were visiting had been making coffee for decades— easily. Probably at 60, 70 years. He’s done things the same way that has always been done. Just like there are film masters who’ve been doing things the same way they’ve always been done.
Are there better ways to make coffee? Sure, I guess. But there was something quite unique and distinct about what we tried that day.
Why JCH is a roll that interests me is because it’s so specifically set for a certain kind of light and a certain kind of mood. When we’re talking black-and-white film and film in general, we’re talking about how it manufactures a mood. When I want to use something neutral, something photojournalist, then I have Tri-X. If I want something pretty something kind of really raw and vivid I can try something else like JCH Street Pan.
This, was a moment made for monochrome.
Back in the day—maybe ten years ago—there were probably 30 types of black-and-white films. There were slides from Agfa, there was the Ilford bunch, the Fuji bunch, the Kodax bunch, and now, sadly, a lot of that has dwindled away.
I think part of that is that, by going digital, we’ve removed a large part of the photographer’s own input into the black-and-white emotions and tonality. Before, when I was learning how to use darkroom as a kid, you can experiment with different kinds of chemicals you can use, and darkroom enthusiasts would tell you hundreds of their own favourite recipes and mixes. Right now, when we give it to a lab, they have their own recipe. Ten different types of black-and-white films will use the same kind developer, or the same kind of chemicals, for the sake of consistency.
Emotion, if we boil it down, is basically the influence of colour and tonality.Film has character because it ages—like wine—and different producers have always made different tones and colours that inspire different feelings. Colour photography has grown in leaps and bounds in digital. Many talented colourists and professional graders are masters in crafting the right tones to match the right footage.
So I feel like currently film still matters because black-and-white still matters. I will always love the feeling I get when I open up my contact sheet and see a photo that was simply meant to be captured in black and white. Something that simply couldn’t exist in colour. It’s the finality of it. A choice that’s irreversible.
About Digital Darkroom Digital Darkroom is an ode to film photography. With this project, Anne and I are seeking to go back to the roots of why we were drawn towards this craft in the first place, and what compels us to keep coming back.
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