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Olympus OM-10 and film (Pic: Lucy Lumen)
Will this treasured camera become nothing more than a doorstop? (Pic: Lucy Lumen)

By Lucy Lumen

It’s no secret that anxiety is on the rise. Being a millenial, I always had anxiety blipping away in the background, but it was never enough to fully cripple me. Until now.

We had always feared this day would come. The end of an era had been threatened many times in the past, but something always brought film back, even when it was hanging by its last spool.

As a community we had seen a renaissance, a resurgence, a regeneration. So much in fact that Kodak themselves brought back film stocks and companies like Adox were working hard on producing brand new film stocks to meet the demand. The future was so bright for film photography I had to wear shades. Now it was all just a memory. Film was finally properly nostalgic. It was gone. Over. #filmisdead

So fast forward to three years later. In a post-film world where only the elite can afford to shoot. Those hoarders with freezers of film got money hungry and sold off what they had for exorbitant amounts to the Leica owners with the big bucks. Sure, we got a few rolls here and there from the community members who were willing to share out their supply for affordable prices, but that was in the early days. Now it’s the dark days. 547 days and counting without shooting a single frame of film.

In this filmless world I have only the rolls of the past to look back on, and that got old pretty quick. I tried to shoot digital, that’s what my family and friends suggested. I had heard that was the way lots of ex film shooters had gone. Turned to film sims, purchased Fuji X cameras and attached vintage lenses all in an attempt to see that grain and get the film-shooting experience back.

I couldn’t do it. I knew it wouldn’t be the same and I couldn’t stand the thought of a watered-down version of the real thing. Smiling and pretending, holding that X-Pro 5 knowing I would just be yearning for my Olympus OM-10 and the tension I felt while pulling the advance lever.

This tragic loss of film in my life really started to affect my day-to-day existence. A lot of the old crew had found new hobbies, gone a different way or just wanted to ignore the whole situation knowing it was too painful to revisit. I woke up in film sweats, dreaming of dropping my film off at the lab, something I took for granted in the past. I picked up my phone and started going through old accounts dedicated to sharing film photography. I saw a comment on a post of a film selfie saying…

Walks film box (Pic: Lucy Lumen)

“Anyone suffering from film withdrawal symptoms or anxiety due to the cancellation of all film production, meet at the Niecon Plaza front entrance on the first Monday of every month at 8pm. Please refrain from bringing any film cameras or any other film paraphernalia with you as it may trigger others in recovery. See you there.”

So Monday rolled around and I thought, ‘Hey, why not go and see what this group is all about?’ I made sure I had plain clothes on, no Kodak branding, no vintage tote bag of my local film lab (now defunct), just plain old non-film-shooting me.

I approached the building and could already see a few hipsters lurking out the front. I joined them and awkwardly stood a few metres away, too nervous to interact. A few more people started to show up, old timers, youngsters, indie girls all the people now left filmless and fragile.

A man came out and ushered us all inside to a room with chairs set out in a circle, a table with coffee and assorted snacks and signs up all over the room reading, “Analogues Anonymous – Helping you reconcile your loss and survive the digital world”. I looked around in disbelief that a group like this existed, truthfully it was the most connected and excited I had felt since, well, the last time I shot film.

We all popped on name tags and sat in the chairs provided, looking up at one another and smiling with a mutual understanding that brought me so much comfort. The head of Analogues Anonymous introduced himself and asked us to go round the room and share a story, a thought, a fear, an emotion or even a confession that we wanted to get off our chests. I started to get clammy hands and worry about my turn to speak.

Self portrait of Lucy Lumen (Pic: Lucy Lumen)
Contemplating a life without analogue (Pic: Lucy Lumen)

Luckily it was some guy called Matt who went first, the group seemed to know him and be familiar with his story, so I figured he was a regular here. He shared many thoughts and his smiles quickly faded to frowns as he reminisced on past times of photo walks, podcasting, making zines and sharing his photography with the community. He didn’t seem unstable, just sad to have lost his passion.

Next up was Jamie, an avid shooter who devoted his life to film; built a community darkroom, shared his experiences on YouTube and supported everyone in the community, far and wide. He admitted to feelings of helplessness and an inability to move forward and find fulfilment in other activities.

A few more people spoke, a woman named Molly who seemed to be coping okay and staying positive, but still with undertones of melancholy and despair over the loss. I admired her ability to push forward and she seemed the strongest of the bunch.

 

Edging closer to my turn, a few seats away from me sat a solemn faced man with a beanie, a beard and hoodie. Dark circles under his eyes and a name tag that read “Jason”. I recognised him from his successful YouTube channel and was now witnessing him in real life, fallen from film grace. He had his arms crossed and spoke with low energy and zero enthusiasm, relaying his latest fights with analogue anxiety and depression. Jason began to describe how it all got on top of him, how he lost everything in an attempt to cling on to film.

I started to experience anxiety attacks and I fell deeper into total despair at the thought of no more grainy goodness, no more grainy days, just digital days

“It started off with me just buying rolls for double the price on eBay as the rumours were circulating that film would cease to exist. I didn’t fully buy into it but I thought, ‘Hey, I may as well stock up now just in case.’ Then Kodak announced they would shut down their factory and never again make another roll of film. I started to experience anxiety attacks and I fell deeper into total despair at the thought of no more grainy goodness, no more grainy days, just digital days. My livelihood was at risk here so I bought up all I could. It quickly became an addiction, not even really about the film stocks anymore, more a mad urge and desperation to get my hands on anything I could. Slide film, expired film, 120 film, hell even Lomography Purple. I was hitting rock bottom, I was officially a film junkie.”

Jason went on to explain how he now was bankrupt, living off food stamps and the doughnuts at these meetings. His girlfriend Monica had left him a year ago in the thick of it after pleading with him to stop and sell his Mamiya 7 to make back some of what he lost, but he didn’t, he couldn’t. He felt selling off his gear would mark the end of an era and he clung to it when he should have clung to her and their beloved dog Baxter.

Portrait on Lomography Purple

Jason now lived in social housing collecting unemployment payments despite his previous illustrious career in the movie industry. It was at this moment I realised how deeply this death of film had made even the mighty fall.

I decided to skip my turn to speak. Hearing Jason’s story really put what I thought was suffering in perspective. There was a little time to socialise and mingle afterwards before the room was needed for another group session. I spoke to this guy called Bill, known for his huge collection and connections in the community. He leaned in and whispered to me that he heard a rumour of a secret factory in the desert working on producing colour film. I furrowed my brow in disbelief. Who could be behind that?

“All I know is it’s one of the film bro guys in LA” Bill said sipping his coffee. “People have tried to get in contact but it seems like it’s pretty under wraps, who knows if it’s even true or how they will pull this off?”

Later that night I was consumed with the possibility that there was maybe someone out there making colour film again. I didn’t know the Joshua Tree area very well but I could think of two people who did. So I decided to get in contact with Jason from the group session today and also reconnect with his long-lost friend Caleb. They had a history of road-tripping together and I thought it could be worth a shot taking a look around Joshua Tree to see what we could find.

Caleb was worried this would give Jason false hope and he would relapse, so we agreed to not mention the secret film operation and go just on a road trip as friends. We packed up all our supplies and even some film cameras tucked away in case we did find this miracle film factory.

When we arrived at the desert, we got out for a walk around trying to seem natural in front of Jason. I wandered off in front in the hope of clues. As I was strolling through the hot desert among the rocks and cacti, I noticed some very familiar footprints. The imprint of Converse High Tops was clear and looking like they belonged to the foot of a tall man, maybe size 11 or 12. I followed them carefully through the sand, looking back hoping the others wouldn’t spot me.

Black and white portrait in desert

I came to an edge where the sand dipped down into a pit and I came to a grinding halt, gasping standing at the edge I saw before me a huge makeshift tent. Maybe this was it, this was the secret factory? No sign of life around so I decided to wait crouched down behind some rocks. Waiting anxiously, I finally spotted something in the distance. A quick flash of a tall man wearing a red sweatshirt. It dawned on me who this could be, the high top converse, the red hoodie, Bill mentioned it was rumoured to be a film bro…It was Willem Verbeek!

I was surging with energy to find out what he was doing here in Joshua Tree. I approached the tent with caution, desperately wanting to get inside and see for myself if this was really happening.

Suddenly I heard a man crying for help, his screams echoed through the desert. I quickly ran back up the hill away from the tent towards these screams and spotted Caleb hunched over Jason. Since film had become extinct Jason had suffered from extreme panic attacks and seeing Caleb in Joshua Tree where they had shot film together had proved too much. Nostalgia overload and too many memories had sent Jason into a panic, and he was unconscious on the hot sand. Caleb was regretting the journey and cursing me for bringing this upon them. We argued louder and louder and all my rage towards losing film finally boiled over and I let it all out.

I felt a hand push me aside and then Caleb too. Willem had emerged between us and knelt down in front of Jason wrapped him up in his Champion-branded hoodie and carried him towards the tent. We were shocked and followed him silently into the mysterious tent.

On entering, there were hundreds of people lined up working different machines and mixing chemicals. Testing products and doing maintenance on old machinery they had managed to preserve. Caleb and I were speechless at what we were seeing. Willem had still not said a word and seemed determined to revive Jason, carrying him to a table out the back near a fridge filled with unmarked rolls of film. As Willem laid Jason down on the table we all gathered round, hoping to see him awaken. Jason started to stir and his hands twitched, his eyes opened a little, then fully. Willem looked down smiling at him saying, “It’s okay, bro, you are safe now.”

Jason sat up and looked at the film fridge beaming at him, he turned to Willem who handed him a Mamiya 7 and a spool of 120 colour film. Looking at each other as if it was the first time they really saw one another.

Willem nodded his head. “Film is alive, Jason, and so are you.”

For more of my thoughts on analogue photography, check out my YouTube channel.

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