As classic photography regains popularity, film hard to come by

Yoshiko Yap

National Camera Exchange in Golden Valley maintains waitlists to keep track of everyone who has requested color film.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Jason Brown has worked at National Camera Exchange for 15 years, but the store manager says he’s never seen so many people clamoring for point-and-shoot film cameras. He started seeing the trend around two years ago.

“Photography in general became more interesting to people,” Brown said. “But the big thing that changed for us is film photography became super popular with the younger generation.”

Brown said it’s almost been hard to keep up with the demand. Not only is there a renewed interest in the art, but he says the supply chain became a problem during the pandemic. He says it created the “perfect storm.”

“Kodak and Fuji have started to slow down their production and turn their production facilities into other types of ventures, and so the availability of film will just continue to go down. But at this point, the popularity of it hasn’t gone down,” Brown said.

But seeing young people become interested in an old-school art form has been fun for him.

“In the past, we haven’t been really able to reach out to kids in their 20s or even in their teens. We can’t keep up with the latest social media trend,” he said. “That totally changed, and now if you’re under 30 and you’re in my store you’re probably looking for a film camera, dropping off, or picking up film.”

That includes 19-year-old Brooks Witta, who started taking photos in high school and built an early career shooting on film.

“I grew up on digital photography and digital video but I was mostly into video at first,” Witta said. “And then I stumbled across a bunch of YouTube videos about film photography and I just liked it because it was a new way to get into photography, and it was against the grain of the digital age.”

Witta says he enjoys the intentional aspect of shooting on film.

“People my age, we grew up on digital photography…you have a digital camera and you can take a bazillion photos at once and you don’t have to worry about composition or getting your exposure right,” he said. “With film, you’re limited to 10 to 15 shots per roll. So you gotta really think about your composition and think about the photo you’re taking because each photo costs money.”

The photos actually cost quite a bit more money nowadays. Photographer Jacob Fladebo, who has been shooting weddings on film for clients for five years now, says he’s had to pass the price onto his clients.

“It’s cool to see people get excited about it but at the same time, it’s frustrating to have every camera price go up, every film stock price go up,” he said.

He says, instead of spending $50-60 on five rolls of film, it’s nearly double the price.

“And you have to pray that they get there in time,” he added.

Brown and other store workers maintain waitlists to make sure every one of their returning customers can get their hands on film, and they often set a limit to how many rolls customers can purchase at once.  

“These kids have never had to wait for anything,” Brown said. “I had a customer tell me every time they shoot a roll, it’s like getting a Christmas present because they have to wait for a week to see something. That’s not something people are used to anymore.”

Editor’s note: This story was shot in September. 

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