I am Christopher Schmidtke and this is why I shoot film
We’ve got more fresh blood for you today in the form of Christopher Schmidtke from Wuerzburg, Germany.
I won’t spoil it and let you all jump in; over the you, Christopher,
Hi Christopher, what’s this picture then?
CS: I thought I’d start off with a picture that has special meaning to me.
This was on my second roll of film and shot on a Minolta X-700 (my first film camera). It may not be the greatest image of all time, but I remember that I was walking in the woods, taking in all the different sounds, when I stepped out onto this field and I saw the thunderclouds in the distance. For a very brief moment the sun came out and shone unto the field before me, creating this amazing light. When I got the film back from the lab and saw the results, I was hooked on film. This scan is straight from the negative, no photoshop or anything.
Ok, so who are you (the short version)
CS: I am just a guy who loves photography (film photography to be exact) and art in general. I study literature in Wuerzburg, Germany, but seek a future in photography.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
CS: In the summer of 2012. I had a digital camera which was great because it taught me the relationships between aperture, ISO and shutter speed. You could try out different settings and see the result immediately. But very soon I wanted more. Something was missing. I checked out some cameras on eBay and got myself the Minolta and a 50mm lens for 30 Euros. You can’t beat that.
What I absolutely LOVE about film is the fact then when you expose an image, of a person for example, the negative you get is the physical object that was right there at the time with that person. Said person looked at this one negative and not onto a digital sensor which creates an image out of ones and zeros. It might sound a bit strange but you have created something that was there with that person.
Also film is available right now. It might be gone in ten years or so (hopefully not) so better shoot now, than sit there in 2030 and regret that you never tried out film.
Any favorite subject matter?
CS: This is difficult. I started out with landscapes because they tend to not complain when you mess up. Last year I began to take pictures of people and I love the interaction between yourself and the subject. If there is no connection or someone’s in a bad mood, you won’t get a great image (usually). But if you’re lucky the two people can make something that lasts for awhile.
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?
CS: I have the amazing opportunity to go on a road trip this fall and visit places like Joshua Tree, Yosemite and Death Valley. So right now I’m trying to plan the trip and figure out which films and cameras I am going to use.
I got my hands on a Rolleiflex and I am absolutely in love with the square format. I also discovered a ‘new’ 35mm film called Silvermax which supposedly has a higher silver content and thus more exposure latitude.
I’ve shot a couple of rolls and am really amazed by the results. So my next challenge is to go out, discover new types of cameras, films and papers because there is just so much out there and it might even help me be more creative and get a new grip on photography.
However my overall goal for this year is, I know it sounds silly and simple, to try and shoot themes (like storm). The idea is to hang three (or more) photos on the wall and they work together and evoke a different response you would get from just one single photo (which can be nice too).
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
CS: My first thought was Kodak Tri-X 400 because this is my go to film and I know how it works and what I need to do in order to get what I want. But if its going to be my last roll, I would choose Fuji Provia 100F.
I remember when shot this film for the first time on my medium format camera and got the slides back and held them against the sunlight I was stunned. The colors, the detail.. I had never seen anything like this before. Moments like this remind me why I shoot film.
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?
CS: Now I’m going to go with Kodak Tri-X 400 because I know what it can and can’t do. If you’re used to a certain film and don’t have to worry too much about how its going to turn out it frees you up (at least me).
The second one would probably be Fuji Provia 100F because the colors it produces are simply amazing. You could go with Velvia, but for me it’s just a bit too colorful.
I know with slide film you really have to nail the exposure, but in my opinion the risk in this case is worth the reward. And as for camera, I would go with my Mamiya RB67, because even though it’s old and heavy it has never failed me and composing the image through the bright waist level viewfinder is simply a joy.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
CS: I know, now should come a really creative answer like, I don’t know, Mongolia or Kazakhstan or something, but I would love to go to Iceland.
I’ve done some research and the vastness of this land really amazes me. These landscapes that sometimes seem otherworldly fascinate me. A place (away from the tourists) where you can forget about the world and lose yourself.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
CS: People believe what they want to believe, but I think that the greatest misconception is that film and digital need to be compared and one is superior to another.
I mean you don’t say an acoustic guitar is better than an electric guitar. Essentially they are tools and either one or the other helps you achieve your vision and I think it’s the same with photography.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
CS: I hope it’s a bright one. I mean film sales have been at the bottom in the 2000s and several companies didn’t survive the transition from film to digital. But in recent years more and more people are coming back to film.
I don’t think film is ever coming back to the masses, simply because digital is all too easy and cheap, but there will be a niche for the people who want to use film to express something specific which they can’t with digital.
However I do believe that the future for black and white film is a bit brighter than for color.
~ Christopher Schmidtke
More and more of the young film photographers appearing on these pages are echoing the sentiment that we’ve seen the film market bottom out and now find it in some state of recovery. I am in complete agreement and hope that with a combination of passion from people like Chris and the determination of the rest of us old farts, we’ll be able to make film photography commercially viable to a point where we will see new R&D committed by larger players, such as Ilford and Kodak.
That said, I’d like to focus on Chris’ though that, “…it might sound a bit strange but you have created something that was there with that person.”
This speaks to my heart. On the few occasions I’ve had the opportunity to speak to (mostly willing) photographer audiences in the past, it’s this one point at I try to drive home.
Digital and analog photographs can – from the point of view of a JPEG – show the same subject in exactly the same way. Just check out some of Fuji’s BW filters in case you’re unsure. Sure, one could say that there’s a difference in depth, subject separation (from the lens), and overall feeling but give an ordinary viewer a web-quality image via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and it’s a 50/50 chance that they’ll spot if it was shot on film or digital.
The point is that – our preferred aesthetic aside – we shoot film…well, I shoot film because I love the idea that actual-real-life-honest-to-God-photons hit the medium I digitally scanned or printed in the darkroom and brought the image into the world.
For me, this is an incredibly powerful action makes me fee (no kidding), that my negatives are imbued with a magical power no lens, or high-brow brand can match. It’s a direct and physical interaction between the worlds and something I can pull out from a plastic sleeve and look at whenever I want.
I played with light, I caught it and I bent it to my will.
Think about that for a while.
Please head on over to christopherschmidtke.com and check out some more of his work. I can’t wait to see what he comes back with from his US road trip this Autumn. I hope we’ll be able to get him back for a recap on events!
That said, you’ll be hearing from him again very soon, as he’s kindly written a guest review of ADOX SILVERMAX film, which will be appearing on these pages over the coming weeks – stay tuned!
We’ll be back again very soon with another interviewee a bit closer to (my) home in a few days.
Stay sane and and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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