Depth of Field


There was a time when Parker Fitzgerald thought shooting with film was just about the dumbest thing in the world. Sure, it’s trendy, but no serious professional photographer would do that.

That was about two and half years ago. He started shooting with a Polaroid 100 camera and nowadays the 28-year-old Portland-based photographer fills his portfolio with film photos. The aesthetic of his work comes, in large part, from the look of film. 

He goes for something beyond “a pretty girl and a pretty landscape.” In his work, he’s chasing a transcendent kind of beauty, a mood.

Often, the mood is that nostalgic feeling so absent from perfect digital photos. Fitzgerald’s work has a warm, rustic feel. The subjects of his photography, ranging from musical acts to fashion portraits, are mostly people,and they’re frequently outside in natural settings like wooded areas.

In the past few years, demand for the aesthetics of analog has stores like Urban Outfitters stocking cameras we thought time left behind—35mm, Holgas, Polaroids.

A recent report from the Photo Marketing Association shows that contrary to what you might expect, sales of digital cameras have gone down while sales of film cameras spiked 30-40 percent between 2009 and 2010. While digital cameras outsell film in terms of actual units sold, the film bump has been unexpected. Still,the digital camera slump may be due to the growing number of people content using their camera phones, as well as market saturation, but it might also be an indicator of something a bit loftier.

Fitzgerald thinks the appeal film photography holds for people his age has more to do with an appreciation for a process that’s slower, more purposeful, and linked to the past, than a drive to populate Tumblr and Facebook with artsy photos. “There’s a whole generation of kids who are now growing up and able to realize the fact that there’s something wonderful about the whole process of shooting on film,” he says. “You’re having to exercise a part of your brain that this culture in general tells you to ignore, which is your patience and discipline.”

There’s something of an entrance barrier getting into film. Many like Fitzgerald are self-taught, but Jim Dygert of MQ Camera Center in Syracuse, N.Y., says a lot of area high schools are still teaching film photography, and that drives younger folks into the store and into the habit of shooting with film. “They feel there’s more worth put into it,” Dygert says.

After all, between the roll of film and labor costs, every click costs anywhere from 15 cents to a quarter. The need to be deliberate and conscientious when shooting is part of the appeal for Fitzgerald. Instead of machine-gunning a quick hundred photos, photographers have to slow down and engage with the subject.

He says it adds value to every frame. “I think it’s healthy to pursue that quiet, nostalgic purposefulness in life, where you contemplate what your father and your father’s father did and why they did it that way,Fitzgerald says, “and ask yourself: ‘Why are we doing it the way we’re doing it?’”

Erin Carson

Check out exclusive photos of Parker in our May 2012 issue on pages 4 and 31!

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