IS FILM REALLY DEAD? Part 2 – Ryan Allan
Who is Ryan Allan and why should you care? Ryan is one of those photographers that has been there and done that before you even thought of doing it. As a founding editor in Canada’s SBC Skateboard Magazine, I first met Ryan while we were both cutting our teeth inside the magazine publication world. The main difference was that Ryan worked on the skateboard side of things, while I was on snowboard side. Oh ya, and Ryan knew how to use flashes and shoot amazing photos, all while I was just learning the craft. I remember asking him a lot of questions. Looking back, I now know how annoying that must have been. Well, I thought I would take it back to the streets and annoy him with more questions.
Ryan’s work continues to grace the pages of publications worldwide and he is an avid user of many different film formats. He made the jump from Canada to the USA years ago, as well as the jump into the commercial photography world while keeping his roots in skateboarding. Ryan’s experiences on the road and in the studio over the last decade have definitely made him a solid candidate to speak on future of film shooting. You can see more of Ryan’s works at: His website and is a regular contributor to Stopyelling as well as bneeth.
Interview by Colin Adair. All photos copyright Ryan Allan
Yeah. There was no digital shooting back when I got into it. I started shooting slide film first way back in the 80s. My dad shot slide film so that’s all I knew. I paid off later when magazines only wanted shots on slide.
What cameras and film did you first start shooting with?
Well, I used to steal my dad’s Ricoh 35mm out of his camera bag. I would steal it to shoot my friends skating. Then put it back and deal with the heat once the film came back. In college I learned product and studio stuff on a 4×5.
What equipment do you use now?
I don’t have one set camera. I try and mix it up so I don’t get bored and also so I don’t forget how to use different formats and such.
Do you use film now?
Of course. I love it. I’m very far from a film snob though. I just enjoy using the film cameras and holding a contact sheet in front of me. I’m not a fan of looking at images on a screen even though I fully accept that screens are now how 95% of my images are viewed.
What attracts you to shooting film in this digital age?
I love that people can’t see what you have just shot. I love loading film, the sounds, the weight. It’s a really analog feeling. I don’t know if that describes it right but digital feels so far from that. I really hate how shutters sound now.
When do you use film?
I use it for a lot of the Analog Clothing ads I shoot. The current layouts have film strips and for me I didn’t feel good about them dropping in digital files into a fake film strip. I also shoot it a bunch on road trips. I think I use it for sentiment.
What are your preferred formats and film stocks?
I play around a bunch with all sorts. I love a perfectly exposed 4×5 neg but then I also like imperfections in film, dust, or underexposure. It all just depends on the subject.
What does film allow you to do that digital doesn’t allow?
Feel like Im doing something special. Again, its total horse shit but that’s the feeling it gives me. Its not about the quality or anything for me. Its about the fun I have doing it.
How has film helped shape your vision?
Well I shot film for about 10 years before I got a digital camera so of course it has. It taught me about patience and knowing your shot before you shoot.
Does film have a place in your field today?
It always will. Its not so cost effective anymore but if the results work then it will have a home.
Do you have to fight with clients for the budget to shoot film?
Nope. I don’t shoot commercial gigs on film. None of my clients have the time or budget for it. (Aside from Analog)
How do you deliver film to clients? With Analog I just hand over all my film and then after an ad season is over I will pick it all up. That way they can go back and grab anything they need.
Are you finding it more difficult to get film processed/scanned etc?
Yeah. Its also tough to find a lab that doesn’t cater to cornball photography now. I don’t want to see how my shots can be in a calendar or a mug when I walk into a lab.
What is your reaction to people who say “Film is Dead”?
That’s cool. Don’t use it.
Do you think the proliferation of digital media, sites like Facebook and Instagram, and cell phone cameras have pushed “real” photographers to go back to their roots and shoot more film? Are these sites and others like them causing a devaluation of photography?
People can sit around and worry about the death of photography and how instagram is killing real film photos. I don’t care. I like the constant change. Bring it on. It’s the way of the world.
What is the future of film? How do you see it being used? By who?
Purists will use it for sure. Nostalgic types and people like me that really like it and enjoy it but also don’t think of it as the ultimate end all be all of photography. Some clients will ask for it. Most wont. I have really become enamored with the contact sheet as the image. Its not common to see photos like that now so it feels somehow artistic even though its just how film was given to the photographer. Maybe I should do a show of contacts.
Will film become extinct someday?
Im sure one day it will all be gone. Im going to enjoy it while its here. Someone hurry up and make that digital film canister that fooled us on April fools last year. I would love to use my Contax as a digital.
Is it strange that your film will end up digitized as a scan and then many people will only ever see it on a computer screen?
Nope. Its how I see photos every day on Tumblr or wherever. I still get stoked when I see a really good photo. I do however really like holding a print or a page in a magazine. It adds another dimension to the photo. More of the senses are engaged and I think that helps the photo. How many times has a smell or a sound reminded you of something? Those moments are lost with a photo on a screen.
Stay tuned for Part 3 where we go outside the snow/skate industries into the realm of commercial photography. Future interviews will touch on the pro digital point of view so check back if you hate film!