I am Claudio Gomboli and this is why I shoot film
Rolling in for the second interview after my short break is Claudio Gomboli, Turinian currently ensconced in London, England. There’s plenty to read below, so I’ll keep this short and simply say Claudio, it’s over to you!
Hi Claudio, what’s this picture, then?
CG: This is a special photo for me. It’s the last portrait photo I took of my mother, a couple of months ago, just a month before she passed away.
I didn’t know then that this would have been the last portrait I could take of her, but I do remember that I thought she was beautiful, and that I wanted to have a visual memory of that day.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
CG: I am a London-based designer, currently working at Intel. To satisfy my wanderlust and curiosity, I have previously lived and worked in Berlin, Osaka and Turin (my hometown). I enjoy film & digital photography as complementary tools for mixed media visual arts.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
CG: I started shooting film when it was the common medium to take pictures. One of the first photos I took was with a Polaroid Land 1000 green button that I still own, when I was about 7. I took a photo of the horizon with a dark sea and a grey sky and nothing else, during a school trip. I still remember the surprise while watching the image appearing… the photo itself was quite crappy, but still it felt like magic.
The passion for photography as artistic medium blossomed later on, after experiencing other artistic techniques and design fields. I finally realised that photography could integrate the aesthetic I was looking for, with a more immediate result.
I don’t remember when I stopped using film, but I remember the space-time when I restarted approaching analogue photography: London, 2015. To go further I feel like the bond with the real tactile experience of film photography has grown in my visual explorations so much to become a fundamental part of it.
I keep shooting because I both enjoy and need it, and because it’s a simple approach: I take a long walk with a camera. I have been lucky enough to have lived in different parts of the world, and I always loved exploring the surrounding walking around with a camera.
It’s also therapeutic I guess. I often read that “film photography makes me think more”, and I see the point. I came to understand that to me photography is a bit of a zen practice, and especially film is something that makes me think less and feel more.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
CG: People and their surroundings are the main subjects and inspiration of my photography. The mundane routine of the city, those little actions that people do while going to work, or relaxing in a café, or standing on the train.
Growing up, the tool that I preferred to use to note down the surrounding, and its people, was drawing. The first time I travelled to Japan I was 19, and back then I used to draw and sketch everyday. I sketched architecture, buildings, panoramas, everything that I could see around. In particular I drew people. I didn’t shoot many photos, and I wasn’t really interested in photography itself, while I focused my energy and passion on drawing and painting.
I can see now that what I was doing was a kind of street photography: a street drawing, using graphite and pens instead of film, lens, or sensor. The passion for photography has always been dormant until few years ago, when I realised how much I loved taking photos, and specially pictures of people, just like drawing. I try to capture feelings within a scene, not just the representation of what I see.
About photographers, I love the work of Japanese photographers in particular, such as Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Junku Nishimura.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
CG: Short answer: yes, I do use both film and digital. I come from a family of painters, artists and art dealers from Florence, so since a young age I grew an interest in painting and drawing. I was also attracted by the digital computer techniques, with ancient 16 colours PC monitors where I used to mix up pixels in a digital pointillism in order to get other shades.
It was fun to draw pixel by pixel, red and yellow to get orange for example; it was the same mixing up oil colours after all. I then realised that combining different media and merging analogue with digital was one of the explorations that interested me the most.
I use more film than digital generally, mainly because of the experience. I prefer using film cameras because they feel like cameras, and not like portable computers. Nothing against it, I like technology, but for photography I want to get a different practice.
Also, I like the aesthetic that I get with film. I know and use digital filters, but I like playing with film aesthetic for its analogue signature, and play with digital photography for digital effects like distortion, compression, lo-fi, pixel, scanlines, and so on. Sometimes I mix up the two media, from a photo taken on film I end up with digital manipulation, or opposite.
I like exploring around. For instance taking photos of the computer screen with a film/instant camera. A kind of “analogfication” of a digital picture, and vice versa. I do so to reach different visual results, but sometimes also just because I like having a physical and tangible copy on film.
I know it doesn’t sound appealing to hardcore film users, but I do enjoy it.
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
CG: I’m planning to make a lo-fi zine, I just need to find the time to design and print it. I’m working on the lo-fi aesthetic quite a lot, so I hope to put together a consistent visual language, enough to create a zine at least. It’ll be for fun, because I like the idea. I lost artistic ambition several years ago. My father used to say “when I was 30 I understood I wouldn’t become an artist, but I did paint some good painting”. To me he was a true artist nevertheless.
I would like to develop my own film, this is also in the to-do list. I already digitalise film by myself with a Leica M9-P, an old but effective Leica BEOON, and an enlarger lens, so I would like to be completely independent with the development part, too.
Generally, I hope to reach a more consistent style overall, and I have some themes and topic that I want to expand as standalone photography projects.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
CG: I experience instant film slightly differently than 120 or 135 film. Instant inspires me to work more with real materials, like canvas where I can develop images that I can manipulate in many different ways. The Impossible Instant Lab is another great tool for these visual explorations.
I can easily work on merging analogue and digital techniques, combining the aesthetics of pixel and screen with a tangible piece that I can manipulate further. I also use my iPhone as a photographic tool quite a lot. The mobile device is just a vehicle that doesn’t limit us to work with smartphone pictures only: on the Instant Lab I use digitalisations from other format films as well, negative and slide, or merging analogue and digital works from other cameras.
The ultimate mix I explored has been porting some Game Boy Camera photos on Impossible film.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What do you take with you and why?
CG: To be versatile I’d take my Leica M6 with the Summicron-C 40mm, then a roll of IlFord HP5+ and one of Kodak Portra 160. Then if the assignment is about macro photography I guess I need to enlarge and crop quite a lot in post production…
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, were do you go and why?
CG: I would probably pick Pack Film, FC-100C in order to have positive and recover negatives too (I love this process by the way). Location wise I’d say China because it’s huge, and it’s a country that can offer very different environments and cities.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
CG: Sad question. I’d take the Trans-Siberian train from St Petersburg to Vladivostok with a roll of Cinestill 800T. I did quit smoking exactly 10 years ago (anniversary!), but at the end of my last roll of film I think I would start smoking again.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
CG: Film vs digital, film is better, digital is better. Better oil paint or iPad Pro? Setting it straight with saying “life is short, shoot with what you want and be happy”.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
CG: Traditional painting didn’t die with photography, and film photography won’t die because of digital photography.
I hope art schools will keep teaching photography with traditional technique too, just like it happens for traditional drawing and painting, they didn’t switch to the iPad Pro instead. I also see an important point for film as physical archive.
We can see how digital formats and media are changing fast, and having everything on hard disk, or solid state disk, or on the cloud, doesn’t really make me feel safe for important data to save and keep for a long time. I think digital computing will become more and more integrated with our lives, much more connected to our senses and deep in our consciousness, and the difference between physical and virtual experience will be very, very loose.
I think in a far future people will still shoot film, but virtually: simulating the experience and not only the grain.
~ Claudio Gomboli
…“life is short, shoot with what you want and be happy”.
That pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole film vs digital debate, and I’ve gone on about this a little too often recently, I’m going to leave that hanging up there and stop beating that drum for a while.
Thanks so much to Claudio for being so open and honest here. I’ll leave it at that.
I’ll be back next week with another fresh interview for you. In the meantime, keep shooting, folks.
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