Many argue for their own approach to making photographs. Some people are analog shooters, some are digital, all have their opinion as to which approach is best or superior. I say try them all.
I was going to write about whether or not using film is overrated, but I decided that topic has really been hashed out. I mention this, though, because my conclusions about whether or not expired film is overrated are closely related to my thoughts on the value of film photography more generally. Shooting film, it has been decided, is neither better nor worse than shooting digital — it's just different. I tend to agree. This aside, many still like to stoke the argument. Many analog photographers bemoan the lack of "personality" in digital images, and many digital photographers make light of the nostalgic hipsters who spend their trust funds developing film. And round and round we go. Indeed, in a recent interview with New York photographer Matt Weber, he recounted to me how he fails to understand these young photographers and their #shootfilmstaybroke hashtags. He feels film limits a photographer and he has never looked back since making the switch to digital. By contrast, I've also interviewed photographers, such as Matt Day and Liz Potter, who absolutely live and breathe analog photography. They claim it has unique qualities that simply cannot be replicated in the digital world.
Suppose we agree that there is still merit in shooting film. As soon as we dig into the film world, we will quickly see that there is lots more controversy to be had. For example, what camera to shoot, what film format to use, and, my question of the day, whether or not to shoot expired film. For every option, there are proponents and opponents. Strong opinions abound. When it comes to expired film, what is all the hype actually about? I mean, it's film, it is just expired. What's the fuss? Well, some people believe that expired film allows for a unique aesthetic — a kind of "filter" if we think about the digital equivalent. Expired film provides a whimsical and somewhat unpredictable result. Okay, maybe. But I want to say is that shooting expired film has no real tangible benefit or disadvantage. It's just expired film. It's different. What it does have, though, is a kind of "charm" that comes with the experience. So, the benefit is a different (and albeit unpredictable) shooting experience. Daniel Schneider, from Popular Photography, says it best in his guide to shooting expired film:
Using expired film compounds the uncertainty, like jumping from an airplane with a parachute you just bought at an army surplus store.
So, is expired film overrated? I say, yes, it is if you are promoting it as some kind technical advantage or superior way of shooting film. But I also say no if you are promoting it as a kind of "alternate experience." Shooting expired film fuels the mind, spirit, and inspiration of analog photographers, and surely, that is worth something. Expired film allows us to feel as though we are shooting something that is not uniform and ubiquitous. It is not a bunch of 1s and 0s on a memory card, but rather, it is a physical thing — a tangible object — and one that is varied in a unique and unpredictable way due to its vintage.
Some may argue that the resulting image should stand on its own, that the story behind how it was made is irrelevant. Okay, so you shot expired film on an old camera, who cares? Fair enough. However, stories are the stuff that make us human, and they hold tremendous sway over our emotions. Someone who sets out on a photographic journey with her grandmother's camera in hand will have a different resulting project than if she had photographed with a new and unstoried camera. And, like it or not, her photographs will be viewed (and seen) differently also. The story will be a part of the package, and part of the story will be the expired film.
I say go ahead and shoot expired film. I think every photographer should give this a go. Why? Because it is something different. It is something to disrupt and disturb your normal photo-making routine. Anything that allows us to experiment and work outside of our comfort zone holds the potential to inspire us toward our next great thing. For you, that could be shooting expired film. Is expired film somehow better than digital or fresh-dated film? No. It is not. There is nothing special about expired film other than the fact that it affords a different shooting experience. And this brings me back to the point about shooting film more generally — do it because it is different. Different is good, as we have too much of the same. Shoot film because you can or because you haven't done so. Shoot film to see what it is like to shoot film. Go analog to seek out a story — to find an adventure. Go analog to bust your routine and refresh and renew your love of making photography. Grab a crappy 110 camera and some "almost extinct" (and maybe expired) 110 film and experience the joy of 1980s snapshot making. Embrace the unpredictability and explore your own potential as a photographer. Or just have fun. Go ahead, jump out of the plane!