Much like the famous Schrodinger’s cat thought experiment, certain facets of film are both its best and worst qualities, and you won’t know until your film is processed.
For those that are unfamiliar, Schrodinger’s cat is a reference to a thought experiment from the 1940s. In said thought experiment, a cat is placed into a sealed and completely opaque box along with radioactive poison. At a certain point, it is possible that the cat has been poisoned and is no longer alive, but until someone opens the box to find out, there is no way of knowing. As such, the cat is both alive and dead simultaneously and remains in those two states in parallel until someone opens the box, and the two possible outcomes/realities converge into one reality. If you happen to be a physicist, please forgive my plebeian understanding. If you’re not a physicist, I hope you found my potentially overly simplistic explanation of this thought experiment helpful.
Physics aside, the concept of Schrodinger’s cat is very much applicable to film photography. For those that have never shot film or have minimal experiences with it, the delay between exposing the film and seeing the developed image may well be the scariest or worst part of shooting film. It is in this way that I would argue the exposed but not yet developed film photograph is both as good as or better than you expected and not as good as you expected. For those with experience, you probably know exactly what it's like to shoot a frame and leave with the feeling that it was well exposed with excellent framing and perfect tones only to at some point have a fear of the shot being far under/overexposed, poorly framed, or having weird color shifts. As the thought experiment goes, these states exist simultaneously until the film is developed and viewed for the first time.
The procedure of exposing a frame and then, at some point in the future, having the film developed and viewed on a light table doesn’t bother me. I don’t know that it bothers most film photographers as it comes with the territory. It is kind of expected that there is some delay in the process. That’s not to say that I don’t, in some circumstances, drop off my C-41 on the same day I shot it or process my black and white the same evening I shot it; I’m just saying that it isn’t typical. At the time of writing, I’ve been building up a collection of E-6 for processing that I will inevitably have to mail out. Still, it’s been sitting here for a few weeks and will likely not be mailed out for another month or so until the coronavirus situation has died down. For slide film, in particular, I have high hopes that the film is correctly exposed and the colors look gorgeous. However, I won’t know until I get the film back, and given the tendency for slide film to get blown out at the drop of a hat, screwed up shots are entirely possible. If you think that this makes me crazy, I would imagine it is because you don’t shoot film. There’s a patience that comes from it that cannot be taught shooting digital. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing — only that they’re different.
I would even argue that there's a beauty to approaching photography this way, as it is, in many ways, reflective of life. When I want to try a new beer that seems kind of out there (as many are in the U.S.), I don't know if it's going to be amazing or terrible. The same thing goes for new friendships, books, music, or anything else. Even more so, this experience is very similar to test-taking in school. Having taken and proctored enough college statistics exams, students feel as though they're in limbo until the exam is given back. Diving into something not knowing what's on the other side cannot be emulated with digital photography, where the feedback is instantaneous.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever shot film? Is the delayed viewing of your work your least ilked or favorite quality of shooting film, or is it somewhere in the middle?