Digital technology has made photography very easy and accessible to everyone. But interestingly, in this era of gadgets that allow us to point, shoot and instantly share our images with the world there is now a resurgence of interest in analogue photography. The UAE also has a growing community of these film shooters who have come together through the online group Analog Photography in UAE. The group, which was formed in 2015 by a few enthusiasts, already has more than 700 members of all nationalities and ages.
The Facebook group is a forum where members share their skills and knowledge, exchange information about availability of ingredients, film, cameras, processing facilities and workshops, post their photographs and get critical feedback for their work. The experienced analogue photographers in the group answer technical queries posted by members and also conduct workshops on dark room developing and printing techniques. Members get together on weekends to go for photo-walks in various areas of the UAE.
The fact that the average age of the group is below 35 indicates the growing popularity of analogue photography in a generation that grew up with digital cameras. Christopher Osborne, one of the group’s administrators sees this as a reaction to our highly digitised, interconnected world.
“There is a trend across the world of moving to analogue, whether it is photography, vinyl records or movies shot on film because people are searching for something tangible that involves working with their own hands, thinking about the process and expressing their individuality and creativity. With digital photography you can take hundreds of pictures and choose later but with analogue film you must plan and think about the composition, the light and other elements before you press the button. There is no instant gratification, but the time it takes to finish a film, develop and print it creates a sense of expectation and excitement as you wait for the results. From the artistic point of view this time lapse makes you look at your work more critically, making you a better photographer. We are going through a visually boring phase in human development where the images in every magazine and newspaper look the same. I think people are discovering that by using older equipment they can achieve a different aesthetic and express themselves in new ways,” he says.
Michael Glenister, also an administrator of this group adds, “Analogue photography is about mindfulness. It slows you down and forces you to be aware of details that you would not notice when shooting digital pictures. It takes you from just snapping shots to creating images.”
Other members of the group echo these sentiments. Filipino Jed Bacason, who inherited his love for analogue photography from his parents says, “I like that with film you have to pick your shots and make every frame count.” Arvind Madhu, a sales engineer from India describes an analogue photograph as a “piece of art that comes from the heart.”
Emirati Ahmad Bin Matar enjoys street photography especially in the old areas of Dubai and prefers to use film because he likes the feel and quality of analogue images. Sertac Salman, an architect from Turkey was drawn to this hobby because he likes mechanical gadgets. “The sound of the camera and the smell of the chemicals makes me feel the images,” he says.
Russian Olga Smotrova began taking photographs with her father’s Soviet era Smena camera and later ran an online photo-lab. “I enjoy experimenting with various films and developers and am currently exploring shooting on infrared film and the ancient method of cyanotype,” she says.
The group organises workshops at Tashkeel to encourage members to develop and print their photographs rather than scanning them. Mohammed Usman, a member who lives in Kuwait is so passionate about analogue photography that he travels to Dubai to attend the workshops. “Tashkeel has been very supportive. Not only have they offered us their well-equipped dark room facilities to conduct the workshops, but they also hosted and curated the group’s first exhibition during the Sikka Art Fair this year. We have also had great support and encouragement from Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) and Alison Collins of Majlis Gallery,” Osborne says.
GPP conducts courses on analogue photography and sells film. So, it was easy for Canadian Narisa Ladak to connect with the group when she moved to Dubai last year to work at GPP. “I studied photography in New York and fell in love with analogue photography because of the grainy textures and depth you can achieve on film. This group has been an amazing resource to help me improve my work. I have met enthusiasts of different ages and nationalities, enjoyed going for early morning photo-walks in Karama and Bur Dubai with them, learnt to develop and print my films and received valuable feedback for my work,” she says.