I am Andrew MacGregor and this is why I shoot film
“Shooting film and riding steel framed bikes; the life I wanted but never knew existed”. That pretty much sums up today’s interviewee, Andrew MacGregor, a photograher who has found himself somewhere in between shooting large format and yard sale junkers.
A supremely interesting man with a life most would envy. Let’s have a look at what he has to say before he rides off, leaving us in his dust.
Hi Andrew, what’s this picture, then?
This is a photo of the inside of the blacksmith’s shop of the American Eagles mine in Victor, CO. As abandoned mines go, it as easy as they come to get to, but I liked the light coming through the remains of the roof. This was shot with a Nikon F3 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. It’s Ilford Delta 100, but the light was going so I pushed it to 400.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m Andrew! I’m a somewhat retro guy who enjoys shooting film, riding steel frame bikes, traveling by train, hiking, wandering, and generally exploring the West.
When did you start shooting film?
I shot my first roll of B&W and developed it in J school in the 80s. I never had a formal arts education, so there are huge gaping cracks in my knowledge of photography. Being self taught and finding new things in those cracks has been a fantastic path to follow. I got away from film for many years and shot digital, but I naturally came back to it. I never should have gotten away. Now I have a lot of shots I wish I had taken on a real camera.
What about now, why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
I shoot film because I’m a process person. Same reason I ride bikes. Same reason I take the train. I don’t take pictures merely as a means to an end, but for the whole process. Film shows the world the way it actually is because it is a reflection of the world as a medium. It’s polished by the touch of many hands over a century and a half. Rubbed smooth by water.
It’s organic, and comfortable. Every step of the process is enjoyable. Every step isn’t the easiest approach to capturing images, especially since I am moving into large format. But hard things are always more rewarding and more worthwhile.
It’s part of my process of living. Recording the tops of mountains, the far away places, the miles of steel ribbons across the country, the country from the back of my bike, these are all as much a part of the process as being there. I rarely don’t have a camera. I rarely pass a day without taking a few frames. And I always try to have the sort of day that contains something worth seeing.
Any favourite subject matter?
It’s overly broad, but it’s rare I go to a place that I don’t think is worth seeing. I love the hard places, the places too far up and too far away, too cold, places you can’t love enough to stay in. I love shooting the towns left behind. I love capturing the way the world looks while you pedal through it. I love that in spite of itself, train travel still holds an amount of romance. I love the woman who has decided to share her life with me. I love capturing the life we have together.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
My last roll would probably be a roll of Agfa APX 100. I’d leave it on the shelf to remind me how it felt to shoot it while I sensitized my wet plates so I could continue shooting. [EMULSIVE: cheeky bugger…we never thought about wet-plates…]
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
I would grab my Nikon F3, the Nikkor 50mm f1.4, a roll of Kodak Portra 400 for color and a roll of Ilford Delta 400 for B&W. Both of those films can be pushed or pulled very well, giving the widest possible means to shoot in varying light.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
I’m already here. I’m lucky to live in the Inter-mountain West, the place so many great photographers came to work and live from other places. There are scenes of heartbreaking beauty, wonderful people, great artists, magnificent ruins from several great civilizations, and most off all, the space to move around. Please send that unlimited film supply now, thanks!
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
People think it’s hard to do compared to digital, and they are right. But hard things are always worth doing, and as you go it becomes easier, a craft to be mastered that comes with an appreciation of a job well done. As you progress down the path, you’ll fall in to the flow and realize it becomes second nature. Now that I’m shooting 4×5, I feel like shooting 35mm is cheating, it’s so easy.
Also, some people are stuck on the environmental impact of film. The truth of the matter is, digital is worse on the environment. The millions of digital cameras out there with the batteries no one recycles, the rare earth metals they use, are far worse than the much smaller number of film shooters using chemicals that are mostly recycled. The truth is photography has always been a filthy business, back to the day of using cyanide to fix glass plates. If you want to help the environment out, ride your bike instead of driving, take the train instead of flying, and shoot film instead of buying a new digital camera every year or two.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
There will be fewer suppliers in the future. Fuji is going to give up. I don’t know how long Kodak will stay in the game. But Ilford is going to be around for a while, and I hope Ferrania joins them.
I’m sure some others will continue. As long as those of us who shoot it continue to show what it can do, and continue to support and encourage new shooters, the future will be bright.
I think that covers it. The only formal project aside from my personal website I’m working on is something I can’t really talk about right now. It’ll be ready in this winter, so more on that another time.
I think it’s fair to say that many photographers are able to lean heavily on breathtaking scenery. When you have truly epic landscapes (or grandscapes, to quote a past interviewee), it can be easy to rest on your laurels and let the scenery take the shot for you.
Andrew however, is a different kind of beast. He explores. There’s a consideration behind his exposures you can see if you give his shots more than a fleeting glance.
Mixing two wheels, an eye for detail and an insatiable appetite for exploration, it’s easy to see the passion he has for his life of shooting film and riding steel (frame bikes).
Much like many of our interviews, the few words and images above don’t do justice to the man behind the lens. We urge you to look Andrew up via Twitter (where he’s at his most interactive), Facebook and Tumblr to name a few. You should also check out his website, shootfilmridesteel.com.
Drop him a line, he won’t bite!
That’s us done once more. We’ll be back…possibly sooner than you think.
Keep shooting, folks.
EMULSIVE needs you. If you’d like to take part in this series of film photographer interviews, please drop us a line, or get in touch in the comments. We’re featuring to photographers young and old; famous and obscure, so get in touch and let’s talk.