The digital native generation loves analog photography: "The reels have gone from expired to exhausted"

One hundred years have passed since George Eastman (1854-1932) – founder of Kodak and inventor of the film roll – committed suicide along with a note in which he wrote: "My work is done. Why wait?" Before Eastman's invention, photography was not easily accessible. Kodak promoted the photographic revolution betting on manufacturing lighter equipment that, armed with rolls, was more manageable than glass plate cameras. The advent of the film made photography popular.

Since 1888, the year in which the first reel was marketed, the photographic industry has changed a lot. Exponentially since in 1975 –also Kodak– created the first digital camera. Of those three kilos of camera, it was passed to the iPhone 4 in just 32 years, from 3,000 to 100 grams. The film duopoly maintained by the Kodak and Fujifilm companies expired. Especially for the great Kodak, which failed to adapt to the new digital age. In 2001, Kodak achieved its highest revenue, but in just eight years revenues fell by more than 40%. Instead, Fujifilm opted for the manufacture of digital cameras. Currently, both brands are specialized in the medical field: Fuji manufactures X-ray diagnostic systems and Kodak, a year ago, has created a pharmaceutical subdivision.

So, if Kodak went bankrupt a decade ago, if the price of reels is almost double the usual price, if since 2007 every cell phone on the market has at least one target. Why does a native digital generation shoot in analog?

Instagram hosts more than 60 million images a day. Yes, it's not news, photography is more popular and immediate than ever. But, within this visual transience provided by social networks, there is a notorious demand for analog consumables: second-hand 35 and 120mm cameras, disposable cameras, color, black and white reels, slides, Polaroid cartridges, chemicals. And not only that, festivals, artists, groups and businesses that, both photographic and cinematographically, opt for the analog format.

Fotocasion was founded in Madrid in 1975 and claims to be "the largest photography store in Europe". Miguel Ángel, dependent on the store in the central neighborhood of Cascorro, explains to this medium that there is a lot of demand, "a boom" of the analog starring youth. "From the expiration of the films to the fact that there is no stock. In addition, the distributors do not give an arrival date. Now you ask for 300 reels and perhaps 30 arrive, we spend months without some models," informs Miguel Ángel. Currently, most of Fotocasión's analog clientele are looking for less quality when buying their reels. "They are tired of the digital theme. They are looking for the vintage quality that it gives to the photos. They start with disposable cameras," says Miguel Ángel. Fotocasion sells around 1,500 reels a month, about 18,000 a year. In color, one of the best sellers is the 35 mm Kodak Portra 400, a roll whose price has risen to 17 euros. "These are the highest prices we have had," indicates the Fotocasion commercial. Reasons why its clientele bets more on Ilford to portray black and white images, given that this brand is somewhat cheaper.

In 2012, the year in which digital photography was crowned thanks to DSLR cameras, it was born in Valencia Carmencita Film Lab. Analog laboratory that today has offices in Valencia, Barcelona and Lisbon. Its founder and manager, Albert Roig, informs elDiario.es that in 2013 they revealed almost 3,000 photographic reels. Numbers that have been multiplying year after year until reaching the 39,648 rolls that were revealed last year. However, their most prosperous moments were 2017 and 2018, in which they received more than 45,000 reels each year. In the beginning, it took between seven and 10 business days to process any order, today this workflow has been streamlined by 50%. "Little did we imagine that analog film would become almost mainstream and that we would be working for the world's leading fashion brands," says Roig.

In recent times, Carmencita Film Lab has focused on the world of fashion and the non-professional client. Currently, between the three stores, they have 30 people hired. "We have never seen this lack of film in our history," says its founder, despite growth. "Yes, there were times when certain types of film might be lacking, but you could make up for it by buying other similar stock." In addition, the price of the film has practically doubled in recent years. "In the case of some stocks in particular, the cheapest, they have gone from 4.60 to 12 euros," he reports.

On a more popular scale, the Sales de Plata store and laboratory, co-founded in Madrid by Cristóbal Benavente and Marta Arquero. Entrepreneurship that was born in 2012 without a physical store. In fact, the first reels and second-hand cameras they sold were from the family home of one of its founders. "That flat I was selling as 'an office in my house', but it is true that it was a room in my mother's house, which made sense then because almost everything we sold was online, but as everything became more physical, we took the step of going to street level", remembers Benavente.

The co-founders of Sales de Plata have noticed this year, for the first time, the shortage of supplies. They believe that this is due to the great demand and the revaluation of analog. Chemical photography as a language compatible with digital, as well as vinyl in the music industry. "Since we started we have seen a change in our clients, who have gone from being nostalgic older people to being young people looking to experiment or find a different aesthetic. Today most of our clients are between 20 and 30 years old but we have some of even 15", say Benavente and Arquero. In addition to digital natives, the world of fashion has great weight in the purchase of film and analog cameras. "It is very common to find publishers and catalogs in which the black border of the reel is even left to show its origin, it is one of the markets that has valued its aesthetics the most," reports Sales de Plata.

Every Sunday for the last five years – one kilometer from the Sales de Plata store, in Plaza Vara del Rey in the Cascorro neighborhood – Javier Martínez has set up his stall at El Rastro in Madrid. In this, mainly, "analog and compact SLR cameras, and expired film because people look for the film to fail and have color variations," says the seller. Javier Martínez inherited the business from a person, also called Javier, who had been selling at El Rastro for forty years. "Since I've been with this, 90% of the public is young, perhaps now it's a little more noticeable, but this has been going on for about eight or 10 years. People who were born in digital are unaware of laboratory techniques and are attracted to revealing with liquids. Seeing the image come out has a bit of alchemy, it's very exciting and attractive. Digital is more comfortable but perhaps it's colder," he says.

In Spain there are festivals such as the Experimental Photo and the Reveal'T who, from Barcelona, ​​are international references for people who love chemical photography. Experimental Photo Festival celebrated its third anniversary this summer and, with a public subsidy of only 1,000 euros, it brought together more than 200 people who, for five days, explored the various techniques within the unfocused framework of photography and experimental cinema. Pablo and Laura, directors of the festival, think that the increase in the price of supplies "will not make photography disappear, it will make it return to what is important, to what was analog, knowing how to look for the photo before taking it and finding other ways to shoot that make sense. Experimental Photo is an intergenerational festival, its audience is between 22 and 75 years old. "Our community is a crossroads between the digital natives who go to analog and the analog natives of the 70-80s who became disenchanted with photography because of the way digital took," says the directive.

Revela´T celebrates its tenth anniversary this September. Financed with 130,000 euros from public and "few" private sources, according to the association. Revela´T looks at contemporary analog photography, summons some 15,000 people a year. This 2022 –between September 10 and October 2–, it offers workshops, portfolio reviews and 40 exhibitions that will reach different places in the Spanish State. "In the first editions of the festival, analog photography was associated with nostalgia, when it has become a trend where digital natives are now the majority," says Pep Minguez, director of the festival.

Revela´T will hold a conference in which eight international analog photography festivals will meet with the intention of "finding common ground, recognizing strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages of doing it in each country; being able to collaborate together, sharing resources and knowledge, face new challenges", exposes its creator.

In 2021, the artist Irene Zottola published her photobook Ícaro (Anómalas Editions) –Winning Project of the V Fotocanal Contest of the Community of Madrid 2020–, an analog work in its entirety that was selected by PhotoEspaña as one of the best photobooks of the year 2021. Nacional level. "At the beginning of the 2000s, everyone thought that analog photography would disappear with the arrival of digital photography, and here we continue," says the creator from Madrid. Zottola works in black and white and, for years, the laboratory has been her creative core. In the dark room she reveals her rolls and develops her visual creations. "I enjoy working in private with my hands and being able to see the negatives between my fingers. It's something physical, it's there and it happens in a real way. I've lost several phones with important photos that I haven't seen again but the negatives are still there," he recalls. Irene Zottola is one of those artists who, despite being digital natives, use a format that began to fall into disuse when they were born. Zottola's father was a photographer and filled the family albums with analog images. With the transition to digital, "my father dedicated himself to assembling and printing new albums in book format, but it's not the same and in the end he ended up losing that habit," she says.

In a conference held this year at the Experimental Photo Festival, the Argentine artist and teacher Dulce Delía presented the chemical studies she is carrying out using the cyanotype technique, in which she has been immersed for twelve years. Cyanotype, a process thanks to which the photobook –Photographs of British algae (1843) by Anna Atkins– was born, is, according to Delía, a "very traditional technique, which allows unique photographs to be obtained, either by brushstrokes at the time of emulsifying , or by the variation in the sharpness, in the densities and in the contrasts obtained".

One of the searches that Dulce Delía is carrying out within the art of cyanotype is the use of vegan elements in the development, since analog photography has always used gelatin from animal skins and bones as a binder. The antispeciesist alternative that she explores is the use of agar-agar gelatin and the vegan cornstarch bioplastic. "If these explorations provide acceptable results, it would mean that photographic films and papers that do not contain animal gelatin could be produced, either by hand or even industrially, to avoid promoting the animal exploitation industry," projects the artist and teacher.

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