how filmphotography saved my life
These words are about a collapse, a personal experience and one point of view on how to solve a life-related problem with photography. This article does not claim to be correct or complete. Of course, there are many other options than film photography. But in my very honest opinion nothing else is more real, literally speaking…
My name is Ivan Slunjski and I have lived in Frankfurt/Main, Germany for my entire life. I work as a full-time UC&C Solution Architect in the IT environment of a traditional German Institute. In my free time I’m busy trying to be a self-taught artist in photography. My roots are Yugoslav, from the former Yugoslavia. Nowadays, I would say I’m half Croatian and half Serbian. I’ve been happily married to a wonderful Greek woman for more than two decades; she is also the mother of our three boys. I love to be multicultural and a family man who is desperately trying to freeze all the important moments of people in his life. That’s who I am as a photographer now: a creator of beautiful memories for my future.
But let’s start at the very beginning: in 1992, I purchased a Nikon F-801s from my very first paycheck because I wanted a camera for some snapshots. And since 2007, around the time when digital cameras started becoming affordable, I have tried a lot of photography genres. I was capturing flowers, the moon, still life, landscapes, long exposures of waterfalls, and I was fascinated by portraits. I shot hundreds of soccer games (played by my youngest son), went into event photography, had some newborn photography sessions and also tried to start a business as a part-time wedding photographer many years ago. During this time,I also devoured many appropriate books and magazines, joined a lot of workshops, and again read books and magazines and visited workshops, etc. Sometimes I had the feeling that I was training and studying way too much. But I guess this will never stop. Being a beginner is a lifetime job in photography.
I just wanted to understand photography and have more options because I always had the feeling there was still more behind every step I took. And I’ve got a lot of options! Especially with digital gear, post processing and then more new gear.
I guess it is nice to have options. But the problem is: too many options can overwhelm you and force you to the point where you are unable to choose anything at all anymore. Such a moment changed my photography dramatically and the course of my whole life. In 2011, I had a critical collapse – not only because of photography, but a work-related cause. It was a big deal because this influenced my private life, photography included. The following burnout needed some time to develop, but it kept growing and unfortunately became real.
I really can’t remember when I had my lowest point in life that time but what I know is that at some point I basically stopped everything I’d ever spent time with immediately. The same with photography. I set down my camera and didn’t touch it for a while. I deleted my entire Weblog BlogNotiz.de from the webserver, and closed all my social media accounts. The problem I had: I was unable to handle it anymore. The digital era was too fast for me. Too many options, too much gear. And remember: I’m a nerdy geek. I love technology! And I still do. But the development options with digital camera gear and especially the time in front of a computer for post processing was too much for me! I couldn’t feel any creativity anymore nor that I was able to feel anything at all anymore. Being burnt out means you simply lose the strength to breathe and the passion to feel. What’s left is just an exhausted body with an empty soul.
a new beginning
I’ve recovered simply thanks to the patience and love of my wife and because of my belief in Jesus! But it took some years. I started to live again bit by bit. I wanted to start back up with photography again but feared the digital overkill. Luckily, something unexpected happened to me which was the main reason why I still stick to photography at all. Film photography saved my photography life and allowed me to maintain my creativity.
Why I choose film over digital
It was just a lucky moment one day when my father brought me a very old Nikon – my first. I had forgotten it in my parent’s storeroom. And without any specific reason, I went and tried to expose a roll of film. I think it was a low budget Kodak film. After I finished this roll I brought it to a lab in our city to get it developed, which was quite exciting. It was like a journey through time. Since I had to pay for the development, I was really afraid to make any hasty clicks. I thought twice about what I captured. And finally, when I got my printed pictures back, I was amazed at the results! It was so cool that I didn’t have to go back to the computer for post processing anymore. I already saw the results in my hands. I remember this feeling exactly: it was a deep freedom that I’d almost forgotten. So my longing for memories and beauty and simplicity were resurrected and I began to grow in my heart.
To cut a long story short, in terms of photography progress I had to move backwards. After discovering the world of film photography, I realized that there is so much truth within it. With film photography, I felt I had returned home in my photography world.
I never wanted to become a photographer, I just wanted to understand photography. And film photography was able to explain it to me. Gear doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. But what really matters is the reason behind the gear, why you would choose something and what you want to create with it. That’s my dogma now!
In terms of inspiration during all these times there weren’t a lot of photographers who inspired me. Just a handful which I still adore for different reasons. Thomas Leuthard for his directness. Rui Palha for his shadows within the light. Anton Corbijn for his authenticity in his language. Saul Leiter for his humility and of course his colors. Sebastião Salgado for his honest idealism, Dennis Stock for the nearness in his portraits.
For three years now, since joining a Thomas Leuthard Street Photography Workshop in Frankfurt, I’ve been focusing my work more and more on Street Photography. Capturing beautiful moments in urban surroundings is my challenge to stay alive. And there is much more happening in my Street photography world. Just in this year I had 3 personal highlights.
First one was a group exhibition. I love working together with other photographers like in my very first group exhibition called #141analog in June 2018. Among 10 other very gifted photographers there I had the chance to exhibit my work (shown in our exhibition catalogue) titled with the question if a large city itself is enough to get a feeling of loneliness. For me personally it was a great success and of course a unique time with these guys.
My 2nd highlight in 2018 was a publication in a brand new film photography only magazine: PhotoKlassik international. In the very first issue on page 90 and 91 you can find some of my Street photography moments. I’m honestly proud to be part of this special publication.
And my 3rd highlight was a street photography workshop in cooperation with the Photoklassik-Akademie. After my exhibition in June I was asked by these guys from the Academy if I could hold a workshop about analogue b/w Street photography in my hometown Frankfurt. It was an amazing weekend with 6 not only participants but rather very talented photographers. Recently I’ve written some thoughts about it in this article on my personal Blog (in German).
I am really thankful for everything because it was a successful 2018 so far and I am already looking forward to next year.
Hitting the streets on my own with a good choice of film and being in the moment helps me to focus and to breathe and find the balance I need. With film photography, I’m able to create and to be creative in a unique way; a way I’ve never seen before in my digital pictures.
So will I reject digital camera gear? Well, although I think that digital photography is not really an evolution of the film photography era, of course I will not refuse it. Mainly because there are so many benefits that come with using digital equipment. However, honestly speaking I rarely use my digital cameras any more. I simply feel more comfortable with film photography, and it’s a huge part of my life!
I hope you will find your way to become more creative, whether digital or analogue. And if I may give you an advice: less is often more!