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A contact sheet displays photos on a roll of film. A contact sheet is a contact print made with all or some of the negatives from a given roll of film.

Capturing an era through film photography

The use of film photography has soared since 2015, according to The New York Times. Film photography has been matched with certain aesthetics that overwhelm social media feeds with grainy, lower quality “photo dumps.” Curating posts that strive for perfection have become “cringe,” according to an article from Vogue that explains how photo dumps have answered “overly-manicured” aesthetics with the “moodiness of Tumblr-era emo sensibilities.”

Social media platform Tumblr could have had an effect on the resurgence of film, according to Emma Ressel, a first year photography graduate student at the University of New Mexico.

“I was a teenager in 2008 when we had this Polaroid renaissance and a Tumblr era. I was totally all over that and I loved it. I think that it's sort of like an aesthetic that really captured an era,” Ressel said.

Although many people come to his business to develop film, they are mostly interested in utilizing it digitally, acording to Matt Alexander, the owner of Picture Perfect Photo Lab, who has lived through the transition from film to digital.

“The vast majority of people bring in a camera, like a disposable camera, for example, or a roll of film, and they want it digitally sent to them” Alexander said.

The technique and thoughtfulness that is required in creating and developing film is important to Alexander who said he is confused by his customers’ lack of interest in the physical souvenirs that are produced when a roll of film is developed.

“It kind of boggles my mind that basically everybody who's taking these film pictures, half of them, they don't care about the negatives. That's kind of sacrilegious to me,” Alexander said.

The process is also imporant to Stefanie Mayfield, an undergraduate biochemistry student at UNM, who said it encourages an awareness of the photos she creates while taking and influences her enjoyment of the art.

“I like that it makes you think more about the picture you take because on your iPhone or a digital camera, you can take 20 million pictures … But with your film camera, you have to be thoughtful and conservative with the pictures that you take,” Mayfield said.

The process of shooting with film creates an experience that resists the instant gratification of digital photography, according to Ressel.

“When I'm shooting film, I'm trying to be so careful about getting my exposure right … There's this moment where you sort of like step back and you're like, all right, fingers crossed … Sometimes it's weeks or like even months before I get the film developed and scanned. I've even said that getting film back from the lab and having it come out well feels like Christmas morning … There is that part of it that's really kind of intoxicating for me,” Ressel said.

The expense of film photography doesn't only affect professional photographers, but also casual users. Mayfield described film’s cost compared to digital and said that she buys whatever film is least expensive, which has led her to spend approximately $28 a month on it. However, she said she is often not interested in the quality of the film. 

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Film may also not always be the best choice for certain project or people due to its accessibility and time constraints — digital is essential to the future of photography, according to Ressel. 

“Zooming out a bit, this has been a reality of photography for forever. Processes come and go and things disappear all the time. There's something to be said for staying ahead of the curve a little bit and that's definitely going to be digital,” Ressel said.

Still, Russel said film can also be used to capture time periods and can evoke feelings of nostalgia. This effect can also be used to capture the nostalgia that is present in our daily routines, according to Alexander.

“(Film helps people) to think about what they are doing, and what that's gonna look like 20 years from now — kind of be nostalgic about your current day-to-day” Alexander said.

Outside of social media, the idea of documentation is important to Mayfield: While she said that, while it is fun to upload on social media, that is not where her intentions lie.

“It's fun to post them, but I don't do it to have an Instagram post. I do it because ... it's a nice way to remember fun things that happen in my life,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield encourages anyone interested to get involved in film photography.

“I love film. If you haven't tried it out, try it out. Just try it,” Mayfield said.

Addison Key is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @addisonkey11 

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