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This week, we’re featuring a travel essay from photographer Nick Hogan. Nick traveled throughout Asia for seven months documenting his journey on 35mm film. Below you’ll find a collection of his images and an essay reflecting on his experience shooting film during his time in Asia.
Traveling for Over Seven Months in Asia: Documenting Life on 35mm
A Photo Essay by Nick Hogan
I recently traveled for over seven months all throughout different parts of Asia.
During the trip, I only brought with me a small backpack which can fit as a carry-on. That is all I brought with me. I did not do this out of some fad of minimalism or trying to make any statement. Truthfully, I did it, so I did not have to pay the baggage fees and wait around the luggage carousel at the airports.
Every time I exited a plane and glided by the huddled masses looking longingly at the empty carousel waiting for their luggage, I felt good about my choice.
Another choice I was very pleased with was the decision to document part of the trip on 35mm film. A portion of the little space I did have in my backpack was devoted to my little Pentax K1000 along with around eight rolls of film.
Only after returning home, did I realize how much those rolls of film mean to me. Those little bastards gave me a lot of grief. I carried those rolls of film with me in my small backpack through multiple different countries, security checkpoints, border crossings, monsoon levels of rain, hiking up and through mountains, countless overnights bus rides, frequent motorcycle rides, and everything in between.
After months of travel and taking care of those babies, I found a little shop that could develop my negatives on an island in Indonesia.
I anxiously rode a motorcycle throughout the throngs of traffic to the shop, hoping to the Gods that these photos turned out well. Praying that all the prep work of having them being hand searched through metal detectors in multiple countries, wrapping them in dry bags during many torrential downpours, and just general care was time well spent.
I anxiously waited for the next few days like a small kid waiting for Santa Claus to come down the chimney and deliver presents. Spending the days slightly obsessing over the pending presents and daydreaming of all the excitement once they arrived.
Those few days flew by and I finally got the scans of negatives emailed back to me. All the brewing excitement, slightly obsessing, and daydreaming only made looking over the pictures that more exciting.
It totally lived up to the hype I formed in my head. Every single picture turned out well! No water stains, no light tampering, no x-ray damage, no overexposing, and no excessive grain. I was over the moon.
Every photo is a vivid memory frozen in time, most of which I completely forgot about.
I’ve made enough mistakes previously to fully appreciate how fragile and wonderful film can be. I’ve learned that film needs to be treated with a certain amount of respect and care that is just not necessary for digital photos.
Living in the age of smartphones and social media, pictures have become so ubiquitous and easy to take now. But what we gain in quantity, we lose in quality and sincerity. One of the reasons I love shooting with film is that it teaches me patience and awareness.
I’ve found the limitations of film have made me more patient and has given me a better eye. Given that there are only 36 frames in a roll of film, each shot is a gamble. Unlike with my iPhone, where I can take about 100 pictures in a couple of seconds.
The constraints of time and money make me constantly ask myself if the photo is even worth taking. I also can’t see if the photos even turned out well until they’re developed, and the total cost for each roll of film is about twenty-five bucks.
Also it usually takes me six weeks to finish a roll of film. This whole lengthy process has chipped away at the part of my psyche wanting instant gratification. Now, my mind has bought-in lock stock and two-smoking barrels to the idea that good things take time.
When I shoot with film, I feel myself living more purely in the present moment. Now just so you know, I am from California, so we can say “spiritual” things like present moment, bliss, and, occasionally, chakra. There is an ease and effortless quality to storytelling with film that I just can’t seem to find using digital.
The shots are more personal and the experience increasingly vivid. Shooting with film expands my awareness and helps me see new people and places with a fresh pair of eyes. It helps me see the little things, that usually go unnoticed, like the soft light reflecting off the curtains in my room, palm trees gently silhouetting the setting sky, and how windows can frame scenes in a unique way.
All these memories come rushing into my head, looking back over these photos from my trip.
This seven-month sojourn to Asia has been a dream of mine since I was sixteen. My fascination with traveling began when I was sixteen and was on an exchange trip for the summer in Xi’an, China.
That trip was my first time on a plane, off the east coast of the US and out of the country. It was a whirlwind of an experience and sparked a lifelong fascination with faraway places.
Over the years, I continued to develop this intoxicating desire to see exotic, foreign, and faraway places. I would plan constantly, and silently but very solemnly swear to myself, that I would confidently step into my dreams.
These photos that took so much effort to shoot, care for, and develop serve as a visual record and confirmation of a kid who took a chance and lived out a dream ten years in the making.
Thank you so much, Nick! You can find more of Nick’s work on his website and Instagram.