Skip to content

Two Photography Tribes

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

Have you been to a camera show recently?

I went yesterday for the first time in 20 years.

You would hope, with the revival of film in the past few years, the hall would be teaming with hipsters looking for deals on vintage film cameras. It was the opposite.

At 40, I may have been the youngest person in the room. Most of the sellers were 70+ and most of the buyers were 60+. There were comments bouncing back and forth about the good old days and how bad business had gotten. It wasn't depressing so much as it was depressed. The vintage gear lit up everyone's faces, but the talk was of the utter destruction of something beloved.

One dealer bragged that he hadn't bought a new lens for his own camera in 25 years. Yet, he didn't make any connection between that and why he wasn't selling much at this show.

How can you have a revival of something and a depressed state of that same thing at the same time?

It's a failure of connection.

We've seen it in vinyl, we've seen it in vintage pens and paper. Now, we're seeing it in photography.

In the first phase of a revival, each general keeps to its in tribe. 70-year olds sell to 60-year olds and stay off that new-fangled whatever that helped kill their business. 20-somethings sell to 20-somethings on the web and off, establishing a new tribe. Eventually, the tribes meet and either work together (in the case of vintage pens this is happening right now), or repel each other (this is what I saw yesterday at this show - other shows may differ).

Maybe at 40, I have the advantage of being in the middle, observing the two tribes from afar. What I'm seeing is energetic youngsters wanting to learn more (on Youtube mostly - photographic instruction is free now), buy film (mostly online) and actually use it. What I saw from the older tribe yesterday was an unwillingness to break with tradition and the feeling that it had all come to an end many years ago. They were the last of their tribe.

No one wants that to be the case. Seeing the two tribes come together would be wonderful. But there are plenty of examples of the opposite happening, like in the entire music and, soon, television traditionalist industry.

If the tribes of photography want to join forces, there's going to have to be a complete reset in the minds of older members. We can't welcome people with a depressed attitude.

What is there to be depressed about anyway? Film is back! Photography never went away. It only got more popular. Young people need your guidance now. Get to it!