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Why I Started Photographing My Children using 35mm Film

May 26, 2021

Our brains do this thing when we’re distracted. It’s sort of like auto-pilot. Has this ever happened to you? Like, when you’re driving home and you look up and suddenly, you’re in your driveway without the memory of how it was you got there? 

Nikki Santerre

Because of the role of technology in our lives, this feeling is probably more familiar than any of us care to admit. We become so task oriented-checking our email, planning meals for the week, updating social media-that we lose the ability to stay mentally present within the moments happening in our daily lives. 

I knew this was happening to me when I scrolled through my iPhone photo folder where I store images of my children and I couldn’t remember the context of several of the images outside of the images themselves. The moments were made for taking photos, not the photos made for remembering the moments. In other words, I was forcing my family into scenarios for the sake of snagging a cute picture, rather than trying to document who they are in this season of their childhood and what the narrative of our daily life together is like.  

All I know is, the good stuff with our littles is happening right before our eyes, and, if we’re too distracted to pay mindful attention, we might miss it. 

So, how do we do it? How do we document childhood, and motherhood, with purpose and intentionality without getting swept away in curation and comparison? 

I may have accidentally stumbled upon a solution. 

Let me explain. Film photography has always had my heart. Since the earliest days of my business, I knew the images created by the film medium were set apart. There’s an emotive depth to the quality of film photographs that is hard to replicate. An authenticity, nostalgia. As a professional photographer, I’ve shot medium format film for my wedding work since 2014. It was seamless to transition to motherhood work when the season of my life ran parallel to those of my clients. When it came to documenting my own family though, they became like the cobbler’s kids without any shoes. The gear was heavy, the supplies expensive, and, in all honesty, I became lazy about taking their photos with anything other than my iphone. 

Now, that isn’t to say there’s not a time and a place for iPhone photos. But, when it came to heirloom quality photographs that I wanted to pass down to my children, I’ve decided that mass produced imagery just isn’t going to make the cut. 

According to Apple, 1.43 trillion iPhone photos were taken in 2020. However despite that staggering number, Google vice president, Vint Cerf, warns users that we could be living in a second “Dark Ages” era. The technology is changing so fast that our current digital imagery could soon become obsolete. He says, “future generations would struggle to understand our society because technology is advancing so quickly that old files will be inaccessible.”

This means detrimental things to our ability to educate our children about the times they lived in during their earliest days. Without proper planning, we won’t be able to show them the nuances of our communities and society during the historic season in which we’re raising them. But, beyond that, they won’t be able to see the joy and the love within the haven of the homes we’re creating for them. Tangible documentation is essential for their sense of belonging, and for their self-concept. 

This is where film comes into play, specifically 35mm. A dear friend invited me to shoot her 35mm Minolta film camera during her brand elevation session last fall. She loved the nostalgia of the grain and it gave us a fashion inspired look that she was going for in her final collection. It surprised me how much I loved shooting it. The settings were simple, the body itself was so lightweight, and there are more frames per roll, making it a more cost effective option opposed to medium format. It impressed me so much, I immediately returned home from our three days away and purchased one of my own. 

I decided, for fun, that I wanted to experiment with my own family to get comfortable before trying it out on paying clients. The results are a gift I’ll never be able to thank Jordan enough for. 

Nikki Santerre

I found that shooting film while with my family allowed me to put down the camera and live out these moments with my children, rather than constantly checking my phone or the back of my camera for perfection. It wasn’t as time consuming. I wasn’t worried about pulling the photos into lightroom and sharing them. All I had to do was photograph my kids during moments we were already experiencing, mail the film, and wait. 

And every time I’ve received film scans, it’s been like Christmas morning in my inbox. The best part? Photovision, my film lab, has a check-box on their order form where you can AUTOMATE print orders for your film rolls. This means, for every roll you send in, they will send you a set of 4×6 prints of the images. Automated, tangible documentation.

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