The timeless age of film photography and the moments captured

All photos by Larry Heng.

I have always been a digital photographer. The simplicity of the mechanics and the ease of correcting exposure between shots is the primary process of young photographers everywhere, including me. Recently though, these repetitive steps have arguably become overbearing for shooters like me; the constant struggle of finding the perfect angle to convey the story can take hours to accomplish. When I first began to dabble in photography, my initial demeanour was to capture a candid moment — and in those moments would be a story — usually characterized by a motion, a colour or a person. Over time, though, the moments I wanted to capture started to diminish and I found myself lost in the world of digital photography, mimicking other photographers that had long-inspired my journey and creative expression. So after a two-month, despair-filled creative drought, I went out and purchased a refurbished 35mm film camera.

In an instant, capturing moments became incredibly exciting again.

A roll of film usually contains around 32 frames, sometimes more and sometimes less, with each roll costing around $20 depending on a variety of qualities that the film holds. For months, I left my bulky digital camera on a shelf in my tiny Kensington Market apartment and instead packed my Canon AT-1 — a fully manual film camera that dates to the 1980s. Knowing I only had a limited amount of frames on each roll of film, I chose my shots carefully. I’d always have my film camera in my backpack, and when I noticed something that seemed unusual or out-of-the-ordinary, I’d quickly fumble with the tiny gauges on my rig and snap a photo, hoping for the best.

I continued to choose film over digital photography. When I travelled to Southeast Asia for a month, I packed both cameras… and came back with four rolls of film ready to develop and just 10 digital photos.

What I liked most about shooting film was the curiosity, the discomfort and the overall unknowing of how the photos would turn out after taking them. Although I loved it, I never had the budget to go out and buy the copious amounts of film I wanted, or pay $20 for each one to get developed afterwards — so I rationed each roll of film for as long as I could. I would usually go months strategically shooting one frame at a time. When I got those rolls back, one frame could’ve been taken at the start of spring and the subsequent one being from three months later, shot by the lake with my friends in the heat of the summer.

This prolonged process offered an increased excitement to film photography and allowed me to really look back on the months that have passed — highlighting some of the most important, beautiful, and radiant moments of my life.

Here’s a look at some of my favourite moments:

April 2017 — Two of my friends and I decided to do a four-day portage trip in Algonquin Provincial Park, and this was taken on the first morning. It was the end of a cold spring and there was still snow on the ground in some parts of the park. On the morning of the third day, we got caught in a hail storm and had no choice but to do two days worth of travelling, resulting in eight hours of portaging in below zero temperatures and horrible hail that resulted in one of my friends going into hypothermic shock. It was one of the most exhilarating weekends of my life, and it was much more peaceful at the time this photo was taken.

 

May 2017 — During my fifth trip to Cambodia, my family’s home country, we travelled to the Siem Reap province, known worldwide for the stunning archeological remains of ancient temples that dot the area. This photo captures a moment as three young monks make their way through an ancient temple known as “Bayon.”

 

July 2017 — Late in the summer, my friends and I went up to Bala, Ont. in the Muskoka area and canoed out to a small island on the Moon River to camp out for a few nights. We had not established a proper recycling system, so we tossed our empty cans near an old tree stump so we wouldn’t litter them across the area. As firm “no-trace camping” enthusiasts, we continued this tradition the next year as well.

 

May 2017 — This is one of my favourite photos of all time that I’ve taken. It was shot in a large stairwell by the docks in Penang, Malaysia, showing three tourists heading back to their cruise ship. The colours created by a setting sun made for a beautiful shot, and makes me want to return to Southeast Asia every time I look at it.

 

May 2017 — This photo was snapped in a rice field in rural Cambodia, at the site of my biological grandmother’s grave, who died while giving birth to my mother during the communist revolution in the 1970s. I had only found out earlier that year that my mother’s birth-mother died during this time, as her step-mother had taken up the lead maternal role in her life and always acted as if she was my blood-relative grandmother. It was an extremely vulnerable moment for my family and I wanted to capture and save that feeling.

 

July 2018 — During our annual trip to Bala, Ont., my friends and I always enjoy fighting a harsh current and swimming to a small nearby island. It may not seem like a great distance, but without a lifejacket, it can be quite daunting. A few of them laid out on the large rocks, basking in the little sun that shined during the weekend.

 

April 2017 — During my first year at Ryerson, I hadn’t hoped to get into a relationship, but I met the woman who’s now my girlfriend and awkwardly fell in love. I had just bought my AT-1 film camera a few weeks prior to taking this photo, and the first time she told me she loved me in her Pitman Hall residence room, I couldn’t help but snap a picture to remember the moment forever.

 

July 2017 — While experiencing one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen in Bala, Ont., I wanted to experiment with my film’s colouring abilities. I didn’t have enough light to get a sharp image of the wide landscape, so I needed a subject for the photo. Besides my camera, the only other object I had was my beer — so I rested it on a rock and snapped a photo. The reflection of the sky can be seen in the water and characterizes the absolutely stunning view that I had along with a group of my closest friends.