I am Barnaby Nutt and this is why I shoot film
Have we got a treat in store for you today. It’s the one and only Mr NEOPANTASTIC aka Ian Nutt, aka Barnaby Nutt but more on that a little bit later on.
For now, it’s over to the man himself!
Hi Ian…er, Barnaby. What’s this picture, then?
This is an important picture in my development as a film user as it scored a few ‘firsts’. It was among my first rolls of 120 film; it was also one of the first rolls that I processed and scanned myself; and I later learnt darkroom printing using this very frame.
It was taken on Bournemouth beach on the UK’s south coast. I was there with my wife for her birthday and as we sat enjoying the meagre apricity of the November sunset, this couple arrived, took of their shoes and began dancing on the sand. They had no musical accompaniment and said little to each other, but were wonderful dancers. It was a beautiful scene.
I fumbled around with the (new to me) medium-format behemoth I had carried along, guessed an exposure and fired off a couple of frames, scaring away gulls for miles around with the mirror slap.
But, I’d managed to capture the moment.
OK, so who are you (the short version, please)
If you Google Ian Nutt, you get an American football coach or a cancer scientist. Google Barnaby Nutt and you get me. So I prefer to use the latter for my online stuff. (Barnaby is my middle name). I live in middle-England with a Polish wife and the world’s cutest toddler.
I photograph out of necessity as my memory is terrible and often, the only memories I’ll have of places that I’ve visited, is through the pictures. I blog for similar reasons but do get a bit freaked out when people quote back to me something that I wrote, but then forgot about.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What keeps you shooting?
I’ve used film since there was no alternative. My first camera was a Kodak Ektra 110 – an awful long, plastic affair with a cover that swung open through 270° to form a handle, bought from the Co-Op (UK supermarket chain) with my paper-round money. From there I had a couple of point and shoots before buying a Pentax SFXn SLR when I was about 20.
I was in the Army in Brunei at the time and needed something to capture the incredible sunsets that happened every evening. Large trees would fall into the rivers deep in the jungle, roots and all, and be carried out to sea. Eventually they’d wash back up on the shore and cast vast, twisted shadows across the beach in the beautiful twilight. I was shooting tripod-mounted, long exposures even that long ago.
When I came back to the UK and got a proper job, I didn’t take pictures again for about 15 years with children and ‘life’ getting in the way. In 2005 I was lucky enough to do a bit of travelling, to Canada, Morocco and Iceland. I was going to need a camera when visiting such spectacular places and so sold off the old Pentax (for peanuts) and bought a very basic Canon DSLR. Over the next few years, I took more and more pictures, mostly of bikes and cycling. For a while I even had a deal with one of the UK’s leading bike brands where they sent me bikes to ride, so long as I shared plenty of pictures whilst doing so.
I continued to photograph only digitally until 2011 when, on a visit to my wife’s family in Poland, I happened to ask if they knew of anywhere that I might be able to buy old, Soviet-era cameras. Gosia’s uncle disappeared into the loft, and 10 minutes later, I was the owner of a fleet of LOMOs, Zenits and Smenas.
My favourite amongst them was a Zenit 12. It looked just like the cameras that my dad and his brother had used when I was small, that had been responsible for countless Christmas ‘slideshow’ evenings, consisting mainly of family group photographs, taken on some rain-soaked Lake District hill.
After my plasticky digital Canons, the Zenit felt like a proper piece of engineering (or maybe just a piece of engine). It was the ‘home-market’, Russian version rather than the model exported to the West and so featured fascinating Cyrillic text. The paint had rubbed through to brass in many places as Gosia’s uncle had used it so much during his youth, but everything seemed to work. (I found it amazing that it had brassed on the prism above the eyepiece. How many times do you need to hold a camera to your eye to wear through the paint with your eyebrow?)
That instant collection was boosted further when shortly afterwards one of my work colleagues gave me a Bronica SQ-A and a couple of lenses. It too had seen a lot of use, having previously been a wedding photographer’s tool, but worked perfectly. From this fortunate start, I collected all sorts of analogue cameras from a beautiful Nikon F through Lomography toys to homemade shoebox pinholes. While I mostly used digital, I began to experiment more with analogue processes, being delighted and frustrated in equal measure in those early days.
I was using both film and megapixels, and drawing the parallel that is often made between this and listening to vinyl and CD. Listening to a CD gave me a purer sound, but could lack ‘character’, however abstract, enigmatic and unfathomable that character might be. But that bit of grain or those colours that are not quite true to life, like the crackles and hiss on the run-in groove just before the music, make me happy (and probably the people reading this too) and that’s what’s important.
What took me a long time to understand is that neither CDs or vinyl, or digital or film is better, they’re just different. Like many other people who were won over by the accessibility and convenience of digital, I was lulled into chasing technical perfection and megapixel count. But those things don’t make good pictures. It’s more about the subject matter and the distribution of the elements within the frame than the pixel count.
What’s the next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique, or what aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
During 2016, I took the first steps along a path that I believe will improve my photography far more than gathering cameras. As usual, I spent Christmas 2015 in Poland visiting my in-laws and as usual, because of the poor weather and limited daylight, I spent too much time on the Internet. But while browsing, I came across the EMULSIVE 52 Rolls Project 2016 call for participants. I signed up immediately and by New Year, I was already shooting roll #1
At the time, I owned too many film cameras to go with the one film/one camera approach that some of my fellow participants were taking, and planned instead to shoot as many cameras and films as I could. By the mid-point of the project, I’d used 14 different cameras and a similar number of emulsions. I was enjoying the ride, having shot at least a roll each week and often a couple, but as I as I reflected on the first 26 weeks, I was struck by the variety of photographs I was producing and the eclectic nature of both the subject matter and the style. That was all well and good, but it was impossible to pick out my work from others, even though the same subject matter (my daughter, bicycles and my commute) kept reappearing.
The photographers that I admire most are often recognisable from a single picture. I realise that my favourites (Mark Power, Todd Hido, Wim Wenders) all have ‘day jobs’, shooting commercial work to pay the bills, but what seems to set the best apart from the rest of us is this dedication to a look or style and a tight ‘quality control’ on what makes it into the public domain. By swapping cameras and film, I was experimenting and producing some good stuff, but I was only happy with a few of these combinations and felt a pressing need to concentrate on what I liked, eschewing the distractions.
The other issue that I was looking fix was that my digital stuff tended to be the work I put more thought and effort into, counter to what many people who do both digital and analogue will tell you. Examples like my Katowice, A Shot In The Dark or More News From Nowhere sets have all been exclusively digital, despite preferring the results that film gives. The film pictures gathered the first months of the 52 Rolls project were pretty much all ‘snapshots’.
And so, I took the decision to simplify.
I sold off a load of equipment and used the funds raised to buy one camera and lens. Like many photographers, I’d bought into the legend and dreamed of a Leica for as long as I’d been aware of them, and for exactly the reasons explained by Bellamy Camera Hunter, took the plunge (and it’s a big plunge) on an M6.
Leica lenses are so expensive that they need to be gathered slowly over time, or buy one and stick with it. Since I bought a 35mm lens for my Canon a few years ago, it’s almost never left the camera as I find it suits what I do very well, so the decision on which focal length to go for first was simple. Mr Rockwell’s review and prolonged gushing sealed the deal.
So, 52 Rolls might have cost me a few quid, but it has made me think about my photography in new ways. While I still have a way to go before I settle into a true rigour, my Flickr stream is beginning to look a whole lot more uniform, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the results that the Portra/Summicron combination gives. Becoming familiar with one combination has been very liberating and allowed me to concentrate on the results, not the gear. Through the next 12 months, and probably the rest of my life, I’ll be trying to do the same.
Any favorite subject matter?
I usually feel more inspired to shoot when I’m away from home. As I mentioned, I visit Poland regularly and before I visit a new city there, I’ll research the local street-art and any communist-era buildings, dropping pins into a GoogleMap. As I explore these places, I usually find plenty of other subject matter in between.
Poland is beautiful, charming, pleasantly old-fashioned and some of the people are wonderfully creative. At the same time, it can be ugly, unwelcoming, frustratingly backwards and, as is being shown by the current political turmoil, dangerously ignorant.
I try to take pictures in Poland that explain how I see it and some of this contradiction. Along the way, I’ve been inspired by Mark Power’s work, The Sound of Two Songs. Here’s an Englishman (and Magnum photographer) visiting Poland and seeing it in the same way I do; loving the place but being occasionally horrified by it too; but experiencing a place in a way that only an outsider can.
The Poland that I know differs to Power’s in that the small town that Gosia’s family live in, and surrounding rural land, are not often represented in his work. I also lack the large format camera and local guide to show me around. Instead, I nervously take pictures in situations where, if I were to be challenged, I would struggle to explain why a foreigner was poking around with a camera.
When I’m at home, I work factory hours and so during the winter months, don’t see a lot of daylight. Weekends are taken up with my young daughter and so if I want to shoot, it needs to be at night. I’ve been recording night-time carscapes digitally for a while, but after trying the same using Fuji’s Neopan Acros 100 (it suffers no reciprocity failure until you get over a couple of minutes), have begun experimenting with it and enjoying the results. I make sure I underexpose by a couple of stops so that the blacks are really black, and that darkness creeps closer to the viewer…
As photographers tend to do, I also have a couple of ongoing collections. If I see an old Mercedes Benz, a post-war church or evidence of the decline of car culture and its infrastructure, I’ll take a picture for projects yet to come.
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?
You’ve probably guessed, but it’d be my Leica M6 with its 35mm Summicron and I’d feed it with Kodak Portra 400 and Fuji Neopan. Since taking the plunge last year, the camera and I have begun to ‘form a relationship’. I rarely need to look at it when in use and almost see the world with 35mm framelines.
The Portra 400 ‘look’ is why I shoot film. It may not be how the world really appears, but that slight desaturation, perfect skin tones and a sprinkle of grain bring the character that I look for in analogue photography.
And as for Neopan, it’s been a favourite for years in all its different forms. When the 1600 version is shot with low-contrast, it is my very favourite film. The current Acros 100 has very different skills, with endless graduations of grey and its awesome night-time abilities. But its best feature is that you can still buy it fresh.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll and why?
I have a single remaining roll of Fuji Neopan 1600 (that I was given via the generosity of the Twitter film community) that I’m saving for some as yet unidentified special occasion. I’m unlikely to be tempted to buy a roll on eBay at the price it is currently going for, so this one is it.
If I can never use film again, I’d use this roll…
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Can it be a country? In that case, it would be Iceland. As I mentioned earlier, I went once, before I really got into photography, and yet the place is so photogenic, a beginner like me came back with tremendous results. Iceland feels like it is geology (and geography) happening in front of your eyes. It feels like it isn’t finished. To record that with an unlimited supply of film sounds great – when can I start?
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
I’m not sure it’s right to call it a misconception and I’m not out to upset anyone, but something that I don’t fully understand is people’s reluctance to manipulate film images once they have been scanned to digital. I guess that most film shooters have never wet-printed their work in a darkroom and instead either use the images on-line in digital form, or print via a digital lab.
So why treat the digital file that began as a scanned negative differently to one that started out as a RAW file? I understand that it can be a personal challenge to get the best results through good technique in-camera, but for the sake of a slight correction of levels, increase in contrast, or levelling of the horizon (all of which would be done if printing traditionally) results can be so much better.
I guess the only other misconceptions I hear are the old favourites ‘can you still get film for that?’ and occasional surprise that film can produce quality, high resolution results. I can only set these daft ideas straight by shooting more film and sharing the results – maybe you can all help…
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
Back in the old days, I’d hear a record on John Peel, buy it mail order from a classified ad in the back of the NME and then play it to death. I’d tell everyone about it, but apart from one or two like-minded friends, I’d be met with the same response – ‘nope, never heard of The DaVincis/The Shop Assistants/Mega City Four’. Back then, as soon as something was outside of the mainstream, not on Top of the Pops or in Smash Hits, it was impossible to tell how popular it was.
When you’re in the middle of something, it’s hard to tell how big it is, and film photography feels like that right now. To me (and you probably) it feels active, buoyant and robust, but I guess the film scene is an alternative to the mainstream and as such, its longevity will remain in the hands of the people producing film and chemicals.
I’d suggest we all get out there and make the most of it while it lasts, making as much noise as possible as we do so…
~ Barnaby Nutt
As time goes by, I’m gladdened to hear more and more film photographers say things like this under the glare of the public eye (taken from above):
“What took me a long time to understand is that neither CDs or vinyl, or digital or film is better, they’re just different. Like many other people who were won over by the accessibility and convenience of digital, I was lulled into chasing technical perfection and megapixel count. But those things don’t make good pictures. It’s more about the subject matter and the distribution of the elements within the frame than the pixel count.
Digital or film, wet plate or paper negatives; it doesn’t matter. Whatever works for you, what you want to capture and how you want to capture it is the important factor in deciding your medium.
I’ve no doubt that these words will fall on a few deaf ears but by the same measure, it may encourage a few to have a rethink and approach photography as less of a fight and more of a community of people with widely differing thoughts and preferences – none of them more or less valid than the next. It’s all about individual choice.
Thanks to Barnaby for stepping up and give us a look into his photographic world. As with each and every photographer featured here, it’s a real pleasure to be able to share his work.
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to scroll up and read through Barnaby’s words and pictures again. When you’re done, please give him a follow on Twitter and then jump on over to his website to take in more of his wonderful work.
We’ll be back with a very special interviewee next Wednesday and a little advance announcement. That’s all I can say for now but I will tell you this: you may want to read about all the new film stocks announced in 2017 so far first!
Ae ever, keep shooting, folks!
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