The position of film photography has never been stronger. Against the intangibility of our virtual reality, the medium of photography and its process gives viewers the craved tangibility of physical reality and tactility. There is now a desire for presence. 

People crave realness, authenticity and tactility in artworks, not one that only possesses a brain but with heart and soul. We want to feel the presence of the artist through the artwork. We desire artworks that serve a purpose, not just to illustrate an idea but to create a sense of awe that increases knowledge. 

As AI-generated art becomes easily available to the public, I want to highlight three natures of film photography that makes it unique.

It is near and it is close. Physically, the photographer encounters his subjects. Emotionally, his subjects draw him to release the shutter. The intimate exchange and sharing of a moment, of a now, to create an artwork makes the photographs unique. The physical film that captured it was present at that moment, and a darkroom print that was made afterwards was also physically close to the film. Unlike a digital work that can be sent and transferred virtually, a silver-gelatin print is an immediate artwork created through an intimate process.

It can be senseless, disorderly, or derived as a non-construct. Unlike AI-generated art that follows a formula, the thinking (and feeling) person can make ‘bad’ photographs, making all the mistakes, and breaking all the rules to construct an image that is lacking in subject and object. Yet, the image, however chaotic, urges the viewers to find some logic and process behind the artist’s choices. While chaos from an AI is seen as a mistake, an artwork from a human being, going against the conventional, only reveals the unique quality of humans. We are beings that not only think but are also aware that we are thinking.

Photography stands unique amongst artistic mediums as one which uses reality as its paint. These captured happenings, regardless of authenticity, must have existed somewhere at some point in time. It is this special quality that photography has that not only sets itself apart from AI-generated artwork but also other forms of traditional artistic medium. When (knowingly) looking at an AI-generated image, the sense of reverence is immediately withdrawn from its audience. A barrier between artwork and the audience is created as the line between virtual and reality is drawn. Whereas an authentic photo forces the audience to confront reality. Be it a personal memory of a person, a place, or the collective memory of one as a participant in culture, photography is evidence of an event that happened in the past, and possesses the power to connect us as part of a shared story.


I hope that these three points would encourage film photographers to see their craft in a new light and to understand that the position of film photography is unique and unthreatened. A good photographer can reach beyond the spectacle that AI-generated art can produce and seize their viewer’s attention. If you find an AI replacing your work, perhaps it is because they are not human enough.

Joseph Tan

Contribute to 35mmc for an Ad-Free Experience

There are two ways to experience 35mmc without the adverts:

Paid Subscription – £2.99 per month and you’ll never see an advert again! (Free 3-day trial)
Subscribe here

Content contributor – become a part of the world’s biggest film and alternative photography community blog. All our Contributors have an ad-free experience for life.
Sign up here.

Read the full article here