How Kickstarter Is Saving Film Photography
Everything old is new again, thanks to the internet.
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To ordinary people, film photography has been extinct for years. But for the analog faithful, the art of exposure is undergoing an unexpected renaissance, gaining new followers after a lull in the mid-2000s.
It's not unlike what's happened recently with vinyl records—whether it's down to nostalgia, tactility, or simple aesthetics, film has an indisputable allure for a certain set of photography fanatics.
Modern technology may have almost killed film, but now it's helping bring it back in a big way. Not only are film fans congregating and communicating online, but they're also sustaining the hobby that brought them all together—and they're doing it via Kickstarter.
Film Finds Its Fanbase
Among film fans there's a very real fear that, someday soon, fresh film might no longer be available at any price.
This kind of extinction event almost happened to Polaroid-style instant film half a decade ago. Then the unexpected happened: A group of enthusiasts rescued the last complete Polaroid film assembly plant in Holland and restarted production.
Since 2008, The Impossible Project has been cranking out color and monochrome cartridges for Polaroid cameras from that factory. Impossible has been embraced by lo-fi loving people of all ages, including some high-profile celebs like Taylor Swift.
Impossible's success paved the way for another independent company to capitalize on the public's reignited appetite for film. In 2012, co-founders Nicola Baldini and Marco Pagni brought new life to the venerable Ferrania film brand.
"FILM Ferrania is named for the original company [Ferrania], founded in 1923, and is utilizing carefully selected parts of the former facilities, [which] closed in 2010," says Dave Bias, Director at FILM Ferrania USA.
FILM Ferrania has been working to salvage what's left of the defunct Ferrania plant in Liguria, in northwestern Italy. The new company has plans to restart production of color reversal film in 35mm and 120 for stills, along with Super 8mm and 16mm color film for motion picture cameras.
And it looks like they'll pull it off, thanks to a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign that came in the nick of time.
"As we approached a very tough deadline to salvage key pieces of equipment from the old Ferrania buildings, we had the idea to use Kickstarter to raise the necessary funds before our time expired," Bias told us. "We know, obviously, that the analog community is many times smaller than it used to be—but it's also many times more connected and passionate. 5582 backers voted with their dollars to help us."
The company surpassed its original goal of $250,000, collecting $322,420 by the end of the campaign. It's now on track to start producing small batches of film in 2015.
Bias gave us an idea of what will happen after that: "Once [the Kickstarter film reward] packages are out of the door, work immediately begins on Batch #2, and construction begins at the factory to begin to incorporate the larger machinery purchased from the Kickstarter funds."
Vintage Style, Brand-New Tech
There are plenty of old film cameras out there that still work, but that hasn't stopped enterprising designers from cooking up brand-new ones. Again, thanks to the online film community, we're seeing a renaissance in film cameras and related gadgets.
The Impossible Project, for instance, used crowdfunding to develop its Impossible Lab. While it isn't a camera, per se, it lets users print pictures from an iPhone screen directly onto Impossible film.
"[Kickstarter] enabled us to raise over half a million dollars in 2012 and attracted a good deal of attention, when analog photography was rarely in the spotlight," says Creed O'Hanlon, Chief Executive for Impossible. "The Instant Lab won us a new following, and since then we have seen a great resurgence of interest in analog, with Kickstarter campaigns often being at the forefront of any innovations in the field."
One of this year's most prominent Kickstarter camera successes has large format photographers throwing their money at the screen. The Intrepid 4x5 Camera was designed to be a simple, affordable way for hobbyists to shoot big negatives with existing vintage lens boards. Backers helped Intrepid Camera double its original funding goal, raising almost $100,000.
Lomography, seller of low-cost Holga, Lomo, and Diana film cameras, has also had some success in this arena. In 2014 it launched the Lomo'Instant Camera. Piggybacking on the well-developed Fujifilm Instax film system, it's the only instant camera with conversion lenses, and it'll even let you do long exposures. Support from the Kickstarter photography community was outstanding, netting Lomography over $1.1 million to work with.
Beyond Mass Appeal
Of course, none of these cameras are the sort that provide the kind of razor-sharp, effortlessly well-exposed photos the average consumer expects from a modern camera. Likewise, these new kinds of film—no matter how lovingly made—won't match digital for convenience or ease-of-use.
But that's not the point. The obsessives who are still buying film paraphernalia don't want perfect results; they want the unpredictable, character-rich shots film provides. And they're willing to pay for it.
Though Nikon is still cranking out F6 bodies for aging pros and FM10s for film students, it's unlikely we'll ever see another mass-market film camera from a major manufacturer. Instead, the industry is getting "right-sized"—scaling down from broad appeal to niche obsession.
With the millions of dollars raised by Kickstarter campaigns, film fans are putting their money where their mouth is. Their funding not only ensures analog photography will survive far beyond its expected expiration date—it also guarantees manufacturers produce the kinds of products they want to buy. That's a win for all involved.
Hero image: Flickr user "ccastor" (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)