I am Andrew Sanderson and this is why I shoot film
We’re honoured to have been able to grab some time with Andrew Sanderson, author and Ilford Master Printer.
Andrew’s prolific to say the least and in my opinion, a perfect example of all this is good with the photography community. His efforts towards greater knowledge transfer are admirable and set an example that we should all follow. He’s a man after my own heart.
Over to you, Andrew.
Hi Andrew, what’s this picture, then?
I took this whilst I was still at college in 1978 and the success of it spurred me on to do more night photography, which eventually culminated in my book; Night Photography.
Around this time I was beginning to notice that with certain images, a kind of magic was happening. There was a feeling that I was channelling some greater force and even now I look back over many of my pictures and think; ‘Did I take that’?
I really believe that my best work comes when I’m relaxed about the outcome, I have to give up some of the control and trust that I will be provided with another strong shot. If I’m too controlling the picture lacks something and becomes sterile. This picture, and a couple of other very early shots remind me of that initial feeling of excitement and discovery.
Ok, so who are you? (The short version, please)
My name is Andrew Sanderson. I am a photographer, tutor and the author of three books and around a hundred magazine articles. I’m based in the UK and I am a designated Ilford Master Printer.
When did you start shooting film?
I was still in high school and I borrowed my dad’s camera to shoot some pictures of my mates messing around. It was a twin lens reflex, a Flexaret. He showed me how to print by setting up the enlarger and trays on the dining room table.
That was 42 years ago.
Within a few months I had bought my first SLR, a rather poor quality Kowa 35.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
I love the challenge of shooting film versus the ease of shooting digital. There is a discipline which film and darkroom imposes and you have to really use your intelligence, instinct, vision and sometimes a kind of endurance to see an image through to the final stage.
When you have got the print you envisaged, you feel a great sense of satisfaction and pride, something that digital can’t give because the process relies largely on the expertise of other people, like the software designer.
I have a very large body of work with a range of subject matter, styles, and technique. Some people find it hard to categorise what I do, but I enjoy the differences and the individuality of each shot. In fact the whole ethos of my approach is to give equal weight to each image, even though each one might have nothing in common to the preceding or following image.
I don’t work in series, or on a theme. I am a proponent for ‘The Single Image’ and unapologetic about what others see as my lack of focus (an ironic term for one whose images often employ creative use of focus).
Any favorite subject matter?
My subject matter has been extremely varied over the years and I couldn’t pick out any dominant theme. It might be easier to list the things I’m not drawn to; Sport, sunsets, kittens, cars.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
I can’t imagine how upsetting that day would be, but I would have to choose Ilford HP5+. It was introduced just as I got serious about photography and has been the film I have used the most over the years. It has been responsible for many, many of my strongest images.
You have two 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?
Easy. I would put a roll of Ilford HP5+ into my Mamiya RB67 with the 90mm standard lens. I would also take my Manfrotto 055 tripod and Gossen Lunasix F meter, with a small hand flash (A very old Vivitar 273) and a spare roll of film in case I didn’t get it on the first roll.
The RB67 camera never lets you down, it is a brilliantly designed workhorse and the optics are excellent. The Lunasix F light meter can measure flash as well as daylight and will read light levels lower than any other meter. It is always accurate. The Vivitar flashgun has loads of power and is really simple to use.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
I would prefer to shoot at home. If I had to be somewhere, I’d go to any big city and just do headshots of strangers. I’m finding the human face more and more compelling.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
I think the most common mistake people make is that film has had it, it’s over. I have to explain this over and over to people and I’m getting a bit weary of it.
Film photography won’t be over even if no one makes commercial film anymore. Somebody somewhere will be hand coating sheets of film, or glass I’m pretty sure.
In your opinion, what is the future of film photography?
I have found the resurgence of film use amongst the young very encouraging and exciting. I would like to think that the recent interest is a trend which will grow, but perhaps I am just being optimistic.
At the moment they seem satisfied to get any kind of result, and are largely unconcerned about quality.
I think that many of them will stay with it and try to get better and better at it, but as long as they still enjoy it and get fulfilment then that is all good.
The darkroom is the thing that is the most under threat, because fewer people have the space to set one up. Many photographers who shoot film these days are happy to just have scans and don’t feel the need to try darkroom printing.
I think it is a shame because a well made print is the best part of photography and making one gives a wonderful sense of achievement.
My prediction is that film won’t die through lack of interest, it will die because of the onward march of ‘health and safety’ and eventually the chemicals will become unobtainable, or banned, even in labs. I hope I am wrong.
Let’s all go out and shoot film while we can.
I ask each interviewee to ensure their first image something that one which resonates with them. An image which has a connection with their photographic journey. Andrew hooked me with his. I can honestly say that if he hadn’t told me “Back Lane, Holmfirth” was taken in the late 1970’s, I would not have guessed the date to have been nearly 40 years ago. To my eye, it could have been taken last week.
Once again, we have a photographer talking to us about the discipline involved with film photography; the fact that you have to use much more than an LCD on the back of your camera. The combination of consideration, visualization and instinct when using film is something that is largely missing from the digital photography scene. Speaking on the whole, when you can fire off a dozen or more different shots before “nailing the one”, none of that really matters.
Digital has its place, of course but I’m not talking about that here.
As film photographers, we often say that film slows us down and as we move from 35mm to larger formats, it slows us down even more. When you introduce darkroom printing into the equation, things get slower still and looking back at the photographers featured on these pages to date, I feel a resonance with the images produced by those with a healthy darkroom appetite, such as Andrew. To quote him, “…a well made print is the best part of photography and making one gives a wonderful sense of achievement.”
I was thinking that 2016 would be a year of improving my capture of black and white photographs but considering the images and words I see here today, I’m beginning to think that I should look to building a darkroom instead.
You can learn more about Andrew, his history and his work on his website, as well as find out (and hopefully join), his workshops. I’d also strongly recommend checking out his blog for a huge dose of knowledge. There’s a real wealth of information to absorb there.
Finally, you can find out more about Andrew’s published work right here.
We’ll be back soon for the final interview for January 2016 (and a little competition) in a few days. In the meantime, 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.