How Bham Film Walk is making film photography popular again in Birmingham

Bham Film Walk
Local photographer Mack McCollum at the Bham Film Walk in August. (Nathan Watson)

By now, it’s no big secret that film photography—yes, like your parents’ old 35mm cameras—is making a huge comeback. Across the world, a growing community of photographers are setting down their new digital cameras in favor of their simpler analog predecessors. Birmingham is no exception.

Learn more about the Bham Film Walk and see how you can join.

The rising popularity of film photography

Bham Film Walk
Local film photographers at a Bham Film Walk meetup near Lakeview. (Photo by Blake Calhoun, taken on a Canon P with Ilford HP5)

Over the past decade, film photography has seen a massive resurgence in popularity across the globe. Whether it’s the “film look”, the analog process, the anticipation of seeing your scans—or a little of all three—there’s something about film photography that is appealing to a new generation of photographers.

“I catch myself thinking that people just want to shoot film because they’re influenced by Instagram and YouTube, but there is more to it. A lot of young people have not experienced analog or physical forms of art, and I think they want to. Physical arts—like film photography, painting, hand/writing poems or journaling—have the ability to romanticize memory in a way digital forms can’t. I think a lot of people are looking to hold their memories tight in the modern world.”

Mack McCollum, Photographer and Bham Film Walk attendee
Bham Film Walk
Seth Kuntz using a Yashica TLR at a Bham Film Walk. (Photo by Mason Criswell on a Fujifilm X-T3)

Unlike the instant gratification of digital photography, film forces the photographer to separate the moment from the results. In addition, the limitations of film—either 24 or 36 photos on a standard roll of 35mm film—requires photographers to choose each shot carefully and deliberately.

“Film photography has always intrigued me because it is tangible, organic and has a life of its own. Film is making a resurgence because technology consumes every aspect of our lives in today’s world. The art of waiting has been lost. I feel film helps keep patience alive in today’s instant world. There is value in that.”

Leigh Ann Edmonds, Photographer and Bham Film Walk attendee

Last year, local residents Jake Patrick and Jordan Higgins opened the first professional film lab in Birmingham in years—Electra Film Lab. In addition to developing and scanning film, Electra Film Lab has begun selling 35mm and 120 film that you can’t find anywhere else locally.

“All of the greatest photographers shot with film, and the medium’s chemical and physical nature brought life to their art and message. I think of all the artists who inspire me—Robert Frank, Dorothea Lange, William Eggleston and Fan Ho—and how their use of film created art that matters. Each shot is precious and each story mattered. That inspires me to use it, too.”

Mack McCollum, Photographer and Bham Film Walk attendee

Enter Bham Film Walk

Local photographers Noah Ray and Blake Calhoun had the idea for a film walk community in Birmingham during a recent couple’s trip to Chicago with their wives (coincidentally both named Rachel!)

“The four of us brought our film cameras to a Chicago Bears game and got some great shots at the tailgate and walking around the streets of Chicago. When we were walking back, I asked, ‘Why don’t we have something like this in Birmingham?’ Chicago is a lot like Birmingham—sure, the streets of Birmingham aren’t as crowded, but the architecture is there.”

Noah Ray, Co-Founder, BhamFilmWalk
Bham Film Walk
Local photographers meeting up before embarking on the film walk, taken with Ilford HP5 in a Nikon F2. (Nathan Watson)

Noah and Rachel—who run a successful wedding photography business in Birmingham—put out a poll in their Instagram to see if anyone else would be interested in a community film walk in The Magic City.

“We got a really good response, so we were looking forward to our first official film walk in January. Then, the day comes and it’s terrible weather—17 degrees and sleeting. Only two other people showed up, and it started raining so much we were forced to go inside. After that we thought the film walk was a terrible idea—but we decided to give it one more month. February rolls around and we’re planning to meet at Paramount. When we turned the corner, we saw more than 25 people standing outside—we knew then that it was really happening.”

Noah Ray, Co-Founder, BhamFilmWalk

What to expect at a Film Walk

Bham Film Walk
Noah Ray (second from the left) talking with Blake and Rachel Calhoun. (Photo by Brandon Chalmers, Ilford HP5 on a Canon A1)

Held each month, the Bham Film Walk is an opportunity to meet new people interested in film photography, to ask and answer questions, to be inspired by incredibly talented photographers and—most importantly—to take photos.

Typically, a Bham Film Walk event kicks off at a local establishment, such as Black Market Bar & Grill in Five Points South, Paramount in downtown Birmingham and The Lumbar in Pepper Place. After giving attendees some time to arrive and catch up, Noah and Blake will give a short introduction to any new members before the group embarks on the walk.

Bham Film Walk
(Photo by Russell Marbut, Canon AE-1 Program + Portra 400)

Although Noah and Blake plan out a tentative path for the walk, attendees are encouraged to explore the area on their own or with other members of the group. Eventually, the Film Walk attendees will reunite at another local establishment for food, drinks and visiting.

“Whether you’re an experienced photographer or its your first time picking up a camera, I want people to know that everyone is welcome at each Bham Film Walk event. Its a place where you can feel free to ask any questions you might have about film photography—sometimes I don’t even take any photos because I spend the whole time catching up with friends and meeting new people!”

Blake Calhoun, Co-Founder, Bham Film Walk

Want to join the next BhamFilmWalk? Here’s what you’ll need.

Obviously, you’ll need a film camera. Film cameras can range in price from $40 plastic Holga 120’s to $50,000 special edition Leica’s, so what’s the best option for you? First, I’d recommend reaching out to family to see if they have an old film camera laying around. If not, check local Facebook Marketplace listings and antique stores—you might find one! If that doesn’t work, eBay is usually a safe bet—just make sure you read the description carefully.

Pro Tip: Want to buy a film camera locally? Check out B Photo Supply and Framing in Pell City or Chris Barrett’s showcase at Hanna’s Antiques Mall in Birmingham.

Some popular film cameras for beginners include:

  • Canon AE-1 or AE-1 Program
  • Olympus OM-1
  • Minolta X700
  • Pentax K1000
  • Pentax Spotmatic
  • Nikon F

I’d recommend testing the camera to make sure it works before buying it. Google is your friend here. Once you have a camera, you just need a few more things!

That’s all you’ll need! Watch some videos to figure out how to load, use and unload your camera. Then, drop your film off at Electra Film Lab or send it off in the mail. Indie Film Lab and Southerland’s are both located in Alabama as well.

The next Bham Film Walk event is scheduled for Sunday, September 17th! Follow the Bham Film Walk Instagram to learn more about the upcoming event!

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer at Bham Now

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