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This is going to come across  not at all well. It’s not that I’m stabbing my fellow filmies in the back, I just think it needs to be said. There are a few people out there, in fact more than a few, loads of people who think that if they take a photograph using a film camera that the image is somehow magically transmutated into art.

Now, plenty of things which are art are also photographs, and photographs do have that magical quality, but when you take a photo of something with a camera, it doesn’t matter if it is a film camera or a digital one, if it sucks, it sucks.

Given the choice between film and digital, I choose film all day long but when the sun goes down it’s digital baby. Sure you can use black and white film and push the hell out of it, but for colour at night, we’re talking about those hyper sensitive digital sensors. Light and film are much better than light and digital. It’s all about reciprocity failure and the non linear way that film reacts to light than makes film so good in light situations. It also produces beautiful colours.

Take a scene between two people talking, and watch it happening in real time. It’s just two people talking. Now film those two people talking with a 35mm Panavision camera, and you have something special. It transcends the mundane, it adds a quality which is hard to explain. It adds a mysterious quality, it makes it glamorous. It makes it special. This is how I feel about film. There will never be another scene like that.

As I’ve been opening my scans back from the lab, I’ve been harsh on myself about the quality of the prints, about the quality of my vision and what came out. More time needed between taking photos and viewing them. This is the learning process, and the is how we improve. We get out there, take more pictures and we see what comes back from the lab and how that matches our initial vision. That our chances to nail the shot are fewer and harder to get, ups the stakes and makes us focus harder on the most important element; technique.

I’ve actually realised that most of what I think about a photo is down to the frame of mind I’m in when I experience it. I like a lot of my photos after I’ve calmed down. Taking photos is something inspired. Viewing photos is often not an inspired event, it can be after a heavily critical day at work. Meditate first, and then view your photographs.

Anyway, back to the point. I, like you, spend a lot of time researching film cameras. They fascinate me. The folding cameras all the way up to the Fujifilm GF670 which is still available today. The 645 format SLRs which have made Jon Canlas and Jose Villa household names, these are cameras I want to try, to master and to achieve the sort of beautiful photos that those two create. Of course, it’s not that easy. If you want to be a good photographer, you need to have a number of things going on:

  1. You need to be an inquisitive bugger
  2. You need to ask yourself some deep questions about your photography
  3. You need to take photos, lots of them
  4. You need to know how your gear works, so that when the time is right you can nail that shot

Jose Villa and Jon Canlas have both produced excellent books which can help with your technique, but seriously, you need to get out there and talk to some people, and then take their photos. ‘People’ are what this is all about. Sure sunsets are good, and still-life and food shots can be aesthetically appealing, but people is what life is about, and if you’re going to be a good photographer, you’re going to have to take photos of people. Ansel Adams was known for his landscape photos, but the guy could nail a portrait on his Hasselblad as much as the most accomplished wedding photographer.

When I see a roll of wasted film, all I think is; “this person is too chicken to take photos of people. And if the value of film is not going to persuade you to take photos of things other than obscure and meaningless objects, then there is no hope for you.” The same goes for me.

Ken Rockwell gets a lot of stick for taking photos of his family. But I’d rather he took photos of his family than photos of some other gaudy restaurant in California. The West coast has many positive attributes, but photogenic buildings is not usually one of them. Bring on Ryan and Katie.

When you take a photo, you are capturing a moment in time, and the photo that you capture is about where you were emotionally when you ‘pulled the trigger’. Have you ever observed surrealist art? I went to an art gallery/shop when I lived in Oxford, and there were pictures painted by Desmond Morris (who actually went to the same school as me). Morris was an anthropologist, famous for his appearances on the BCC, his show The Human Animal, and his book The Naked Ape, but he was also an accomplished  surrealist painter.

Experiencing surrealist art is quite bizarre. Precisely because you cannot label it as something, must it be experienced emotionally. You stand before the painting, and you feel something of the emotions that the painter felt when they created it. The same it true with music, and the same (of course) is true with photography.

You are the individual seeing the world, and what you are seeing is reflected back in your work. Happy person? You will see happy things, and you will be likely to capture them on film. Depressed or downtrodden? You are more likely to see those elements and make those your work.

What are you trying to say, and how do you feel when you say it?


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