I am Alex Kurganov and this is why I shoot film
We grabbed some time with Alex Kurganov, whom you may remember from his excellent review of Fomapan 400 / Arista EDU ULTRA 400. Give it a quick read if you haven’t done so already, it’s a bit of an eye opener – infrared sensitivity? Who knew?!
Alex provides us with a bit of a departure from the norm here on EMULSIVE in that he’s decided to mostly show us scans of his darkroom prints, as opposed to scans of negatives and slides. Wonderful doesn’t even come close.
Over to you, Alex!
Hi Alex, what’s this picture, then?
AK: This is a night photograph of Prague Castle as seen from the Petrin Hill. It was made on Kodak Profoto 400BW, which was a nightmare to print in the darkroom. I didn’t know it back then, but in the end after many attempts and in no small part thanks to some old ORWO paper I managed to get the picture I wanted. I like how this paper responded to lith developer, all those artefacts it produced really add to the grim and gloomy fairy-tale atmosphere I was trying to create.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
AK: I’m a self-taught photographer from Prague. My preferred creative medium is analogue photography that utilizes the gelatin-silver process.
By doing everything myself – from choosing the most appropriate light-sensitive material to the toning of a final print – I manage to obtain maximum creativity at every stage.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting?
AK: I got into film photography quite early on in life. On graduating from school my parents gave a new Zenit camera with a number of lenses from fisheye to some super tele mirror lens’; and when I started to make a living after university, I upgraded to the Canon EOS system.
I had my digital period too, was an early adopter of the Canon 5D, but got disappointed quite quickly. Digital imaging technology in general seemed to be very promising, but it didn’t evolve in the direction that would be interesting to me. That’s why even in my darkest digital days I always carried Olympus XA as my pocket camera.
As to why I keep shooting film, I think the answer is simple – it’s easier for me and it’s more fun. These days I utilize black and white film only. Actually I’ve never been into color photography, I find color to be too distracting for me.
I love the feeling of abstraction brought by black and white film, a move away from reality. The limited tonal range might seem dispassionate for some, but I really enjoy the challenges it brings.
Any favorite subject matter?
AK: My favorite subject is landscape, but I tend to photograph whatever captures my eye or imagination. Currently I’m in the middle of my street photography phase.
What’s the next challenge…your next step? How do you see improving your technique, or what aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
AK: I would like to go to university and get a degree in photography. I’ve already tried it twice at FAMU a well known Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. The competition is very high, but I’m not going to give up that easily and will try again this year. Apart from that I want to concentrate more on darkroom printing and alternative darkroom techniques.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
AK: If it’s the last roll of film on the planet I won’t be too picky and will use what’s left. But if there still is a choice I would go with Fomapan 400 for the same reason as in the previous question: I love it, I know what it can deliver so I could really use that last roll with maximum efficiency.
My back up candidate for my last film photo shoot would be Kodak HIE, in my opinion Kodak’s best film ever made and the one that I still miss greatly. I know it’s not been manufactured for quite some time, but we are talking about imaginary situation here any way.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What to you take with you and why?
AK: I would go with the Canon 50 plus two primes, a 28 mm and 50 mm. For film, I’d go with one roll of Fomapan 400 and one of Fomapan 100. Fomapan 400 is my film of choice these days, it’s the film I know best so I could really get the most of it. With this set I think I will be able cover almost any subject in any lighting conditions.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
AK: I would like to travel Route 66. I know it doesn’t sound very original but I’ve never been to the US and I believe I could learn a lot there. I would like to get lost somewhere on this trip from coast to coast for several months; exploring endless photographic possibilities this land can offer.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
AK: I think the biggest misconception is that film is dead.
You can still buy film in pretty much any format invented during the 20th century, be it freshly manufactured or from old stocks. People also tend to think that shooting film is harder than digital, that it’s easier to make a thousand digital shots and then choose the right one or make it better with some filters afterwards. And it’s the biggest misconception about digital photography. Film or digital, it doesn’t matter, if you have no idea behind an image, if it’s dead on the inside, no amount of post processing can save it.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
AK: I agree with those who think that film photography is becoming mostly a fine arts medium. From my point of view that totally explains the shrinkage of the market that we saw. In the end how many pencils (of different varieties) will we need if we limit their usage mainly to drawing?
Drawing pencil manufacturing is a niche within a niche of total pencil production and it has been like this for many decades. Why film should be any different? Of course this transformation to fine arts medium is not over yet and we will have more losses on our way there. For example Fuji on more than one occasion has said that they plan to withdraw from the analogue imaging market and they are doing so by successively pulling plugs on their films and increasing prices on what’s left.
…but there are and will be positive news too: just last year Foma introduced a totally new film Retropan 320, Ferrania is getting ready to restart film manufacturing, New55 are improving their quality and studying possibilities to extend their product line, people at Impossible are working hard to upmarket their products.
~ Alex Kurganov
You can see more of Alex’s work, as well as connect with the man himself over on his Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/AlexanderKurganovPhotography.
We’ll be back next week with another interview but in the meantime, please take a minute to read through the archives and see if you can’t find someone you’ve missed over the past year.
As ever, keep shooting, folks!
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