I am Bill McCarroll and this is why I shoot film
Today we managed to wedge ourselves into the hectic life of Bill McCarroll; finance professional by day,
billionaire vigilante crime fighter by night photographer and writer by night (and weekends).
You may be familiar with Bill as the founder of the Google+ Leica Camera Community or as @BillMcCarroll on Twitter. Working mostly in black and white, Bill’s film cameras of choice are his Leica MP, M2 and Rolleiflex 2.8F.
Over to you, Bill.
Hi Bill, what’s this picture, then?
BM: This is a quick snap with my Olympus XA. It’s one of my favorites and testimony that you don’t need the most expensive or sophisticated camera to get an image you like.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
BM: Just a regular guy who got into photography late in life. I have always taken photographs but only in the last ten years have I really studied photography.
Now, I live, eat and breathe film photography. There’s hardly a part of the day that goes by that I’m not somehow thinking about what to shoot and how to work with my cameras.
When did you start shooting film?
BM: I only seriously went back to film three years ago. In my earlier days, I shot film but never really did anything more than take snapshots with little understanding of the fundamentals of photography.
About ten years ago I got back into taking photographs with a digital camera. Like many Dads out there, my kids sports teams were the pull to take photographs. I ended up being the team photographer and webmaster for my boys’ lacrosse team in high school and later in college playing Division III lacrosse.
I quickly understood that shooting sports was a challenge, especially at night in bad light that required me to understand the basics of how to get a decent shot.
When the kids graduated, I was free to take photography to something new. It was then that I searched for something deeper with my photography. Eventually that search took me back to film.
What about now, why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
BM: Certainly not because it’s easier than digital. I credit digital cameras with allowing me to climb the steep learning curve to create and learn from my mistakes. Film offers another dimension to photography. It allows me to be hands on with a physical medium.
I was also leery of the ever changing digital camera technology. I’m not scared by new technology, I actually embrace it but I didn’t want a large investment in a good digital camera. So, I sold my full frame digital camera to buy a brand new film camera. It was a wonderful digital camera, I loved the images it produced. I did a lot of soul searching before selling it. But I was sceptical of its long term viability, and recent events with the brand’s sensor has confirmed the fear that led me to make the shift. Even a few years ago, I had nagging doubts about how long the electronics and sensor would last? Also, I knew I’d feel tempted by the next generation camera as technology moved on.
BM: Like many photographers I have a problem with gear acquisition syndrome (GAS). I put a brake on it by buying a completely mechanical film camera built to last a lifetime. Could I break my new film camera? Perhaps I could, but in normal, everyday use, it will never be obsolete as long as film is around.
Film also slows me down. My experience confirms it. I know this is getting to be a cliche as a reason to move back to film but it helps me in the creative process. I really do think purposely about the images I’m taking. For me using film equates to more deliberate photography. I find that I take more time to frame and consider the composition using film. I believe that it’s the physical nature of film itself that makes it more satisfying.
I’m striving to create the image of a lifetime. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m always hopeful that an image I make will be one of those images that has a complete emotional impact on me. The truth is that quest is likely to be never ending which is why I love photography. I never stop learning and finding new ways to improve.
Any favourite subject matter?
BM: There are a few. I love to take photographs of old cars. Their classic lines are always a draw for me. Most Fridays over the summer will find me at a local cruise night where all kinds of classics are driving up and down the main street and on display on side streets.
I love to capture these cars in a way that preserves their heritage by photographing them as if they were still back in their own time, no hints of today’s environment. I’m also feeling a new pull towards fine art photography. I want to get out to the local Southern California deserts and discover the landscape with a large format camera.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
BM: Ilford HP5+ is my current go to black and white film. I’d go with that.
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?
BM: My Rolleiflex 2.8f, a roll of HP5+ and Portra 800. I love the 6×6 square and the resolution of medium format on my Rollei. The Rollei isn’t too big and delivers a wonderful image with it’s 80mm Zeiss Planar lens. While the square format is a bit unconventional, I like the challenge of making it work.
Ilford HP5+ gives me a ton of options to shoot in any condition. It’s very easy to push one or two stops with great results. I love the deep blacks I can get from that film. Portra is a terrific color film for general use and offers great rendering of skin tones. I really like Portra 800 and will expose it at half box speed in daylight for a light airy look or at 800 when conditions warrant.
With my Rollei, a roll of Ilford HP5+ and Portra 800, I could probably tackle anything.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
BM: I’d love to get to Cuba before it goes through the big changes I expect it will see in the coming years now that we’ve opened up to them.
Cuba still has a unique look in the world with its eclectic styles and colors and of course for me the old, classic cars that are the daily drivers for many Cuban citizens who have had to make do with what they’ve had for these past decades.
It’s a photographer’s heaven but I’m not sure it will always remain that way much longer as they undergo the inevitable modernization and gentrification I expect will take place.
Finally, what do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
First, that it’s a dying medium. I think there’s a renaissance in film with many experienced digital photographers looking for something more from their photography and for many young photographers who want to experience film for the first time. Also, there’s a real misconception that film photography is expensive.
While I do agree that it does require a recurring investment in film and processing, there are ways to keep those costs reasonable. For instance, rolling your own black and white film from bulk rolls and also processing your black and white or C-41 film on your own. It’s an easy process that doesn’t require a major investment.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
BM: I expect it will see a continued rebound with some growth but then eventually stabilize to a dedicated core group of photographers who enjoy the experience and challenge that comes with shooting film. Of course it will never be what it once was in its heyday. But it’s so gratifying for those of us who want to work with our hands to develop film and learn the nuances of how film works.
We are analog artists. I don’t believe film will ever disappear completely. There will be fewer choices for film but there are companies like Ilford who are successful and dedicated to film as well as some boutique manufacturers that will cater to film photographer’s needs.
There will always be artisans who want to enjoy the film experience and the unique quality, look and range of images one can create with film.
Well there we have it. Beautiful images and great words. It’s rather surprising to find out that Bill only recently (in relative terms) began shooting film. His body of work to date is stunning to say the least.
I’m a huge fan of chrome being shot on black and white; and when it happens to be chrome on beautiful old cars and motorcycles, my own desire to go out and shoot is sometimes difficult to temper with the realities of life. I hope that Bill keeps shooting and sharing, regardless of what it does to my libidinous desire to shoot film!
We’ll be back soon, watch this space!
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