Christian Sumalpong said he got into photography at a young age, but like most people these days his first camera was on his phone.
âI kind of got interested in taking pictures in eighth grade, literally on my Motorola Razr,â said the 26-year-old musician and photographer. âI had a better phone in high school. I have Facebook albums with just random snapshots, like everyday at school and after school, taking photos on my iPhone.â
After high school, âOnce I started making my own money,â he said, Sumalpong decided it was time to buy a real camera. The cost of a single lens DSLR camera, however, can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands, and that often doesn’t include the price of a lens.
âThat’s why I got into film photography, because buying a film camera was a lot cheaper than buying a digital camera back then,â he said. âAnd I only had a part-time job at this retail store so that was all I could afford. So the film was like my gateway into ‘real’ photography as a whole. , and I was learning the exposure triangle and composition and everything. “
While the cost of shooting a film can add up quickly, depending on how fast you burn those rolls – “Stay broke, shoot” is the motto of analog photographers – the initial cost of some film cameras can be so low they make the perfect starting point for novice photographers.
âI bought a Canon AE-1 on eBay,â Sumalpong said. âI had to bid for this camera, and I think I got it for around $ 50. It was in good condition. I went to Photo Town and they had Fuji Superia 400 (movie) on sale and I was like, âJust let me try one. I shot for about two weeks and then developed it. “OK. I like that.” So I continued. “
Film photography has its limits, however.
First of all, there is the price of the film itself. A single roll can cost up to $ 15, depending on the film stock (although there are many cheaper types). It also means that every bad shot (out of focus, under or overexposed, etc.) is money wasted.
Then there’s the fact that you can’t switch between color and black and white from shot to shot. You need to finish the entire roll, then tip over.
These limitations, however, force the photographer to be more careful with each shot.
âI wasn’t shooting, willy-nilly,â Sumalpong said. “I was doing my best to take my time every time.”
His focus on details continues into the development process, he said. Unlike some filmmakers, who send their rolls off the island for development (adding postage to the âstay brokeâ aspect of the medium), Sumalpong is developing his film closer to home.
“I’m developing my own movie, that of my girlfriend and my friends, clients. I do everything myself. Literally in my kitchen,” he said. “I load it in my bathroom, but I develop it in the kitchen at the sink level.”
And as one film lab after another began to shut down on the island, more and more local filmmakers began to develop and digitize their own work (if they didn’t have it. not already done).
âThere aren’t any more places in Guam that are developing films,â Sumalpong said. âSo the combination of not having any place on Guam that could do it, and not wanting – it can get expensive, per roll, in development. Plus you have to think about shipping. Then you have to wait two weeks just for it to get there. And then once they get it, maybe their turnaround time is another week. So you wait up to three weeks. “
He ordered the necessary chemicals and learned the development process on his own through YouTube tutorials and step-by-step guides.
These first developed negatives “are perfect,” he said. “I was surprised.”
“It was something really special”
Musician and skateboarder Dan Ganacias said his own introduction to film photography started “in a very organic way.”
“I had a friend who left the island and I was trying to think of a cool sentimental gift for them, like a reminder of my home. And all I could think of were like photo albums from my childhood.” , said Ganacias, 30.
âIt was probably around 2011. I went to Kmart looking for a photo album that I could fill with photos, and noticed that they had disposable cameras. So I thought, ‘ Perfect, I can use this disposable camera. ‘ The original plan was to take cell phone pictures and have them printed. “
He continued to photograph with a few additional disposables and to have his photos developed in the few laboratories still in operation.
Like Sumalpong, however, Ganacias eventually learned to manage in a darkroom to develop his own photos. He and a few others would develop their black and white shots at the University of Guam’s photo lab with photographer and professor Victor Consaga.
âI wish I had put more effort into helping cultivate this scene,â Ganacias said. âI think back to that time and it was something really special. We had the darkroom and we could go there pretty much anytime we wanted and develop a movie.â
Ganacias said that over time group members would meet less frequently, before the photo lab was finally shut down for good.
“I think back then was right before the kids started going into the movies. I think we were maybe five years early.”
The future of cinema
Sumalpong said he’s noticed more and more young photographers on the island are turning to film – often after seeing social media influencers post their own snapshots online.
âIt’s just gotten popular on all social media. It’s on, like, Instagram and TikTok.â
The local community, however, is “somewhat dispersed at the moment”.
âPeople are just in their own circle, with their own friends, making movies,â he said. “I wouldn’t say right now that there is a collective with everyone coming together.”
Regardless of how they get into photography – digital or film – he said it’s heartening to see young people enjoying the art he loves.
Eventually, Sumalpong bought their first digital camera to supplement their analog collection.
“But I didn’t get to this point without first learning how to take pictures – composition and all that – through film photography.”