Film photography is by no means a new way of photography, in fact, it has been around since the late 1880s, and is one of the earliest ways of documenting a scene visually. However, with the rise of digital photography in the late 1990s and early 2000s, photographic film slowly became obsolete.
Film developing labs and darkrooms in Egypt and the world slowly started to shut down because the need for digital equipment was growing and people no longer needed to go through the long and limiting process of film photography.
That is until digital photography became the norm, and photography enthusiasts started yearning for that vintage feel again.
Especially during the last several months of quarantine, many young photographers in Egypt have been discovering film cameras that used to belong to their parents or grandparents, and deciding to experiment with them as part of their quarantine hobbies, on walks and with their families while exploring their neighborhoods.
Of the many Egyptian film enthusiasts who first got acquainted with film photography during quarantine is Sandy Sameh.
“My mom has always had an analog camera and it has been laying for years in my grandpa’s house,” Sameh told Egyptian Streets.
During quarantine, Sameh thought of digging more and exploring this area of photography when she realized she wanted to capture those quarantine moments through a different lens.
“A lens that captures only the very precious moments, since you only get 36 pictures,” she added.
Ziad Kamal is a fellow photographer who says film photography was one of his highlights for 2020.
“I really enjoyed the process of capturing then waiting for the pictures to be received after developing the roll. This is the reason why I’m passionate about it. I feel that every film roll is a new experiment since I never know what the final results will be,” Kamal told Egyptian Streets.
He particularly enjoys the colors that come up in the photos and the various accidents that occur while developing the roll.
Others enjoy film photography because of its reminiscence of the past when fine arts had a different flavor. Amr Attia is passionate about film photography because it lets him experience the golden age of photography, not knowing what will come out of the camera.
“It makes me feel alive when I get that nice shot I was aiming for,” he said.
Noureldin Merghany also thinks the photos turn out more “retro” and different from the regular digital cameras.
“I thought, most photographers use regular digital cameras so what’s going to make me special if we’re all taking the same type of images and getting mostly the same results? So, I started shooting with film,” he said.
Film photography has a surprise element, and the photographer’s inability to see their shots right away creates excitement.
“Film works as a better memory than mine. You’re limited to a certain picture-count, so all the memories you choose to include in these limited pictures are always ones that make you squeal, beam, you name it, the moment the lab sends you your scans, because you have this keepsake of different moments you had almost forgotten if it weren’t for film,” Haya Gamal said.
Najla Said shares the sentiment of the emotional relationship the photographer has with their photos.
“There’s the tactile relationship when you develop, print or scan, you just build this intimacy with the work; but also the distance when you don’t see the images until they get developed,” Said said.
Photographic film makes her a better critic of her own work because she can be a bit more objective, becoming much more conscious of the things she chooses to photograph.
“You get to know more about yourself, why certain subjects or composition attracted you and are “worth” it versus others that didn’t,” she added.
For some, the medium is emotional because it was passed down to them by a family member. Just the process of learning from someone else makes the activity more fun.
“My dad used to use a film camera when I was a kid, so for me it was acting on something that he loves with just an interest of exploring,” Mayar NassarMayar Nassar told Egyptian Streets.
Nassar’s passion for film photography stems from her love of documentation, which is what attracts her to the entire field of photography.
“But film particularly for me was a transitional point because before film, I only did architectural photography and hated taking pictures of people. With film, I started to really love seeing people on camera,” she said.
Salma Olama also got interested in film photography after fixing up her grandfather’s old camera and immediately became obsessed with it.
“I’ve been using that camera for three-ish years now and it’s the most precious thing I own. I’ve tried out different analog cameras, medium and large format and I don’t know why I get really giddy and excited whenever I get to try out a new analog camera just because there’s so much variety in the mechanics of it and the results,” Olama shared.
Something that many of the film photography enthusiasts shared about their love for the medium is its ineffable magical quality that they could not describe.
“It’s just magical I always sound like a really excited pretentious 10 year old whenever I talk about it but it just gets me so hyped,” Olama added.
While film photography can cover a range of genres from landscape photography, editorial and fine art photography, Sama Nasser specifically loves to capture Cairo in her photos.
“I really love to describe how it feels to live in Cairo,” she said.
Among the numerous amounts of benefits unique to film photography that were expressed by its fans, Youssef Azer adds that it also slows the photographer down.
“It makes you think about composition, framing, and what makes the best photograph with what you have in front of you, as every frame costs money and film is quite scarce and not readily available in Egypt,” Azer added.
The Darkroom is one of the very few functioning darkrooms in Egypt, with their Downtown Cairo store selling film cameras, film and developing and scanning rolls of film. However, for those far from downtown, or Cairo as a whole, the hobby remains to be an exclusive area of photography.
Nevertheless, old film cameras can be relatively cheap in relation to digital cameras, and judging by the sheer amount of people interested in the medium, it is by far a growing trend and hobby for Egyptian photographers.