I am Marta Beltowska and this is why I shoot film
Today we’re grabbing some time with Marta Beltowska, currently based in London, UK. She’s got some amazing work to share and there’s much more on the way, thanks to a bit of light prodding from yours truly.
Enough cryptic lead-ins to future articles, it’s over to you, Marta,
Hi Marta, what’s this picture, then?MB: This image is from a personal series I did in 2013, simplifying family history and events brought on by my father’s ill health through staged photographs. It was shot on slide film (Fuji Provia 100F), and it was the first proper project I had done on medium format, or my first mature project on film.
I had shot on film before that, but with this series, film became cemented in me like a proper part of my practice. When I compare it with other projects I’ve done on film, this stands out as the most thought-through.
Before starting this series I had just had my “intro to medium format” at university, and was amazed at slide film. It was like a tiny color photograph as soon as you developed the film!
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)MB: I’m a photographer currently based in London, England. I work to create, so my day job is as a technician at an arts university.
This is really hard to answer, because I could easily condense myself into one sentence, or ramble on for ages. A lot of me has to do with creating, or being creative – not necessarily good-creative, but I will try to have several things going on, and try different things out.
At the moment I’m interviewing and photographing people, printing color and black & white, making hand-made boxes for prints, and shooting video projects. I sound so uppity writing that, but trust me, from my point of view I’m just trying to keep up with everyone else.
I’m originally from Sweden, from a Polish family. I say this because someone’s always disappointed over my bad Polish.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
MB: I first picked up a camera as a kid; my family always took a lot of photos and at some point I got my hands on the family camera.
The results were probably as good as you can expect from an 8-something-year-old, but from then onwards I kept stealing my sister’s 90’s Polaroid, disposables, anything I could get my hands on, and wasted film pressing the shutter at everything. At 12 my father got me my own slr (Konica Minolta Dynax 4 – still got it), with the words “Learn how to use this and we’ll see about the rest”.
So with that backstory, my drive is spontaneous but motivated. I will still take what I describe as snapshots on film – things that just look nice – but beyond that I’m driven to tell or create something meaningful. And I mean that in the least pretentious way.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?MB: My dad was an influence, in that he first enabled me do photography. I think he was really into tech at the time, so he fuelled his own interest through my interest in photography.
Otherwise, growing up with photo albums had an impact on me. I keep my own albums now, though I’ve been lazy with it recently. But as a family we were always looking through pictures when I was a kid, and my parents had plenty of photos around the house of kids and grandparents, and so on.
Taking a photography class in high school had a massive impact on me. That’s when I learnt how to process and print in the darkroom. My teacher was really supportive and encouraging. Those sort of people are important.
Today… I’m very bad with names but Alec Soth is a photographer I really like. Painting and cinematography influences me as well. Visually for me, less is more.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?MB: I mix depending on where I’m at in a project. At the start I’ll compose and try ideas on digital, to eventually take the final “initial” shots on film. Once I’m committed to a subject, I do it all on film. Unless I’m broke, on a short deadline, or doing moving images, that’s the only time I would switch to digital.
When I started photographing “In the form of neon”, I badly wanted to do it on medium format film but didn’t like the limiting perspectives I got. After some trials on a Rolleicord IV, I continued that series for a long time digitally before talking to another photographer and trying out Kodak Portra 400 on a 35mm camera I found at my parents house. Since then I’ve more or less continued shooting neon on film.
Overall I shoot on film because it slows down my hyperactive mind. It can easily go into overdrive and ramble on at 100 miles an hour, and going through the analog processes is like forced meditation.
Knowing I only get good results if I properly pay attention to what I’m doing – it keeps me in check.
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 Months?MB: The only new year’s resolution I believed in was in creating more physical images – even though you get physical negatives with shooting film, often I will scan those digitally and that will be the end of it. I’m getting more darkroom printing into my schedule, so I can give more prints out to people. I also want to improve my portraits.
I’ve been doing more portraits as part of a documentary series, and have had real highs and lows with that. Some people hate having their picture taken, but I’m aiming for that unrealistic goal of never taking a bad portrait, ever. Showing someone their portrait that you took, and them making a frowny face sucks.
At the moment I’m doing a lot of video for my regular job, and it’s making me think of the limitations within photography, and how I could improve what I’m trying to do with stills. So in short – become a master printer and portrait taker. Easy.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?MB: I like people and faces. I like hearing people’s stories, about what makes them tick. Do they passionately love something, or hate something? Besides that, I’m always drawn to moody looking landscapes or interior – I watch too many films.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What do you take with you and Why?
MB: I’ll bring my Olympus OM-40, its 35-70mm lens, and rolls of Kodak Portra 400 and 160. I more or less only shoot 400 speed film on this Olympus, but tried the 160 stock on a Mamiya RZ67 once and really liked the results. Even though I never have spare batteries for when the main one actually goes, the Olympus camera has always been reliable and I love the lens on it.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, where do you go and why?MB: I would go with the Kodak Portra 400 again, and I would travel the States with only neon signs on my mind. That film has worked really well for me during both day and night, and I like the contrast in it when I shoot dark.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?MB: I’ve only recently gotten back into black and white, but for the romanticism of it, I would use some nice Ilford film and photograph my family and partner. More of a “who” rather than “where”.
Why? To go back to basics with my last roll of film, and create dreamy, “traditional” black and white portraits.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?MB: The biggest misconception is that film photography is only used by nostalgic hipster teens, because it’s cool and retro. Whenever I hear this argument, it comes from someone who’s at the opposite end of the demographic they’re looking down on.
People enjoy film because it’s fun, it’s hands-on and more gratifying when you take a good picture. It’s no more complicated than that, and no more pretentious than some make it out to be. I wouldn’t set it straight, film photographers usually just get on with it and keep shooting, while those against film are the ones who stop and have to make a point about it.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?MB: I think film photography will keep on keepin’ on. It’s where photography originated, and I honestly can’t see it ever disappearing completely. As someone I recently interviewed said, “Digital isn’t a replacement of analog, it isn’t either / or – it’s in addition to, it enhances it” – just because you get something new, doesn’t mean you throw out the old.
~ Marta Beltowska
I’d originally planned to share a guest post with you from Marta well before this interview was released but as things have a habit of doing, the editorial queue got stalled and here we are, Marta and her story came first. I’m kind of glad.
This quote really stuck with me:
“At the moment I’m interviewing and photographing people, printing color and black & white, making hand-made boxes for prints, and shooting video projects. I sound so uppity writing that, but trust me, from my point of view I’m just trying to keep up with everyone else.”
I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Other photographers and their output(s) certainly serve the purpose of inspiring us to do more but is it really that stressful out there? I’m probably not the best person to ask, as I’m pretty much all over the place with what I do but for all you project-focused photographers out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what would likely be called, “keeping up with the Joneses“.
Thanks very much for reading. I’ll be back next week with another interview but in the meantime, please take a scroll up the page and have another read. You know you want to.
Thanks again and as always, keep shooting, folks!
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