Technology is driving the world of photography towards an unforeseen level of ultra-clear and pristine images and it has been for the better part of the last decade. Camera companies have to keep up with the increasing accessibility, versatility and cost effectiveness of smartphone cameras, and in the age of Instagram and Snapchat and all the mass marketing that goes into those platforms, it’s an understatement to call it a competitive industry.
In the way that 120mm was replaced by 35mm, and Polaroids were replaced with 1 hour photo stations at every pharmacy, the scramble to create the best and brightest product for taking photos, be it with a phone or traditional camera, is still being fought. With Social Media and everyone branding themselves now, the demand for clear and perfect photos taken on the best cameras money can buy would seem like it is at an all-time high, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
Women of all body types and lifestyles are modeling online given the accessibility and ease of use that social media platforms have created and the built in foot traffic it offers, but for some instead of seeking out portrait studios and photography shoots that end in ultra-touched up, airbrushed shots of themselves, or even settling for the standard phone camera shot, they are taking a step back and reevaluating not only how their own image looks, but also how it is taken in the first place.
In a society where the definition of a woman’s character and her image is consistently being challenged, the need and desire to push back against oppressive social drawbacks is ramping up. The revival of feminism in the last few years has created a diverse media landscape, both on the end of consumers and on the marketing level. Sex sells, but it also has the ability to be exploitative and oppressive. In that same vein, the sociopolitical climate in the U.S. in particular is in a strange limbo between social progression and an equally powerful conservative backlash against it, which has created a fertile ground for alternative modeling and envelope pushing photography. The recent election alone having relied so heavily upon issues that solely concern women contextualizes why such an alternative movement is re appearing and why women are seeking ways of taking control of their images back from those who wish to define and constrict it.
Instagram is all the proof you need that film photography and intimate photography is alive and well. Brands like Suicide Girls have been presenting alternative modeling for years, but it is only as of late that an overall departure from agencies and binding contracts like the one with SG requires has begun to happen . Many models are simply cutting out the middleman and moving from trying to get publicity through contractual obligations that follow through companies like S.G. to marketing themselves and selling their photos directly to the consumer through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. You can even get prints through bigger format online stores like Etsy and even Ebay. The money goes directly from the consumer into the model or photographer's paypal account, without a cut going to anyone else. This liberation from management or agencies has put more power back into the hands of the artists and models themselves.
I spoke to Bette Machete, a model hailing from the Charlotte North Carolina area about her thoughts on the trend and it’s relation to women being more expressive with technique and content through modeling. She said “There are certain publications I will never be able to get into because I don't have a specific "look" or fit the type they are looking for. Well, good! I don't want to cater my look to specific publications. For me, it is true artistic expression. So for myself and many models alike, the opposite is happening. We are empowered and constantly inspired and striving to be better and push the envelope for ourselves and our creative happiness.I have always particularly been attracted to film and I am so thankful I am shooting a lot more of it these days and consciously choosing to focus on that medium of photography. It has made me feel very fulfilled and I am very excited that people follow and enjoy my film work and even routinely purchase my Instax and Polaroid photos.”
I can relate to this first hand. I have followed this trend simply out of interest and appreciation for the genre. Given that I only shoot film, I have an appreciation for the art, but since the dawn of time the female image has been a constant source of inspiration for artists and in a society where sex sells, the ultimate aesthetic power is that of the female form, which has been a double edged sword given the power dynamic is on the opposing end.
Now, with the rise of social media and the influx of alt models, the access to intimacy is just a message away. There is a connection between you and the model that feels very personal despite a screen and possibly thousands of miles geographically between you because most of the time, you can direct message them and have an interaction that consists of more than just money changing hands. Customers like the authenticity and rawness of the product. With a print or a literal instant photo, you can feel it and display it, as if you took the photo yourself. It appeals to the most voyeuristic inclinations in us. The vintage feel of it reminds you of something you could have found in an old box somewhere; a private moment you weren’t supposed to see, adding another layer of captivation to the product. A lot of the time, you will also get the photo hand signed with some kind of note from the model creating even more of an intimate bond. A lot of photographers are using the medium to create dreamy shots of their models, and the overall feel is much softer and sexier, even if the price of film is a little more costly.
On the photographer's end, it takes a different eye and a certain finesse to work with these formats. Instant photography is specifically challenging given how rudimentary some of the older cameras are and how unpredictable they can be. Lighting alone is a large factor, not to mention distance, colors, etc. Anyone with a digital camera can take photos on auto mode and get a good image, but even the new instant and film cameras Fuji and Lomography are putting out are tricky to master at times given the learning curve and the high cost of making a mistake with an eight pack of Impossible film hovering around $28 and a 20 pack of Fuji mini around the same price point. It costs money to fuck up, so the general idea of shooting on these mediums takes much greater attention to detail. Bette put it best saying “ Analog gives a raw effect with more depth that is difficult to mimic with digital. It's just so much more natural and real. I get a feeling from looking at a film photo that I don't get from looking at a digital photo. Anyone can be a model these days ( and likewise anyone can shoot photos ) but one can tell when a photographer/model deeply respects film and all the manual processes that make it work, whether it be experimenting with different types of film and film speeds, processing one's own film etc.”
Whether it be a sociopolitical statement, branding or just an aesthetic preference, film photography in the world of traditional modeling and alt modeling is alive and well. The path that lead us to this point is less important that the simple fact that women are taking back their image for themselves and the world of predatory and manipulative mass marketing is getting it’s well deserved lashback. Also, in general more people are getting back into analog photography and the culture is growing and becoming more accessible, which for anyone who cares about keeping the culture and development of the analog photography medium alive is a great thing.