I am Craig Pindell and this is why I shoot film
We’re back again and this time we’re sitting down with Craig Pindell, native of Cheyenne, Wyoming and (mostly) 8×10
nut philosopher. Despite offering us an 8×10 selfie via Twitter (a promise he has yet to keep!), we think Craig has some pretty interesting work and thoughts to share with the rest of the film photography community.
So, it’s with great pleasure that I invite you all to jump in and see what he has to say.
Hi Craig, so what’s this picture, then?
CP: This photo is Image 1472 – Inside The Kiva, April 2006. This was technically challenging to say the least; it was hard to focus in the low light, and it was hot and stuffy in the Kiva. In fact, the shadows made it almost too dark for me to see my eventual composition.
What makes this image really special to me though, is that although you could say that there is a Kiva close to most ruins, it is incredibly unusual to find a Kiva in the ruins. Additionally, finding an intact and accessible Kiva is amazing.
I had a lot of time to think about how special the find was while I composed, focused and exposed. Even now when I think about it, I can recall the smell, the heavy air, the heat, the sweat and feeling anxious while waiting for the film processing to be finished, so I could see what I actually had on film.
I used Fuji Across 100 Quickload film. (Acros for the excellent reciprocity characteristics for long exposures and quickload to combat the ever present dust problem when photographing ruins)
[EMULSIVE: for the curious amongst you, you can read about Kivas on Wikipedia]
Ok, so who are you?
CP: I am a large format fine art photographer, a long distance motorcycle rider, a maintenance and reliability consultant, and a horrible golfer. Good or not, I am passionate about these things. Everything I do, I think I probably do to excess; such as shooting in 8×10 when others are satisfied with 4×5.
Fortunately for me, my wife Katie has been incredibly supportive of my photography since we met in 1980. There has been a lot of sacrifice on her part, but she has never complained. She has been my cheerleader and my toughest critic. One significant birthday she gave me a Linhof Technika IV camera. (It is a toss-up if that was the best birthday present ever, or if the driving lessons for Indy style race cars was the best – the jury is still out).
When did you start shooting film?
CP: I started shooting when I was in Junior High School in the 1960s. Part of our mandatory art class was photography. I was horrible at painting, drawing and sculpture…but photography seemed right to me. My parents gave me a 126 Revere camera for my birthday after that, and I keep striving to improve.
My sister is a terrific painter, My Brother is an incredible cartoonist, and I photograph.
I made a significant commitment to photography in 1979 when I sold my 1965 corvette convertible so I could buy a Mamiya RB 67, a few lenses, a few backs, a prism finder…as well as the sturdiest tripod the camera store had. The image above is just one of many I captured with that kit.
What about now, why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
CP: In spite of the incredible improvements in digital imaging since its inception, the final product does not have the feel nor the emotion of film. When I create an image, my goal is to make a pleasing print for display. For my eye, no digital print matches the depth, clarity and feel of a silver print.
Also, holding an 8×10 negative is a much more satisfying experience than holding a memory stick with a thousand images of the same thing.
I recently was fortunate enough to visit Kim Weston’s home in Carmel California, and he let us hold and examine Edward Weston’s 8×10 negatives, including a Pepper negative – one of the first black and white fine art images that really struck a chord in me back in the 1970’s.
The Pepper images were created in the late 1920s, and we can still hold the negatives and could make prints if required. I doubt the digital imaging formats used today will be in use in 20 years, let alone in 90+ years. I have a horrible feeling that many, if not all of the digital images being created now will be lost.
Film has Heart, Soul, Feel, and Longevity. Why would anyone use anything else?
I keep shooting film because the desire to create images is still as strong as ever, and the film photographer’s tool box is better than ever. My desire to photograph has never been driven to create the “One Definitive Photo” and then call it good.
Photography has always been a journey for me. It has always been an adventure of continuous improvement and learning. Always striving to be a better photographer, and always better in the darkroom. I have thousands of negatives in my files, and some of them are worthy of better prints than I have ever made of them. When I can no longer carry the camera, I hope I can make the prints the images deserve.
Any favorite subject matter?
CP: The Anasazi Ruins and Rock Art on the Colorado Plateau has long been my passion. I used to be able to make two extended trips per year to the area to photograph. My schedule for a few years now has made it very difficult to do that. Eventually, as I cut back on my consulting work, I will have more time to be back in those canyons and washes. Something about the Red Rock and Pinion Pines rejuvenates the tired soul.
I am most passionate about my “Never Forget” project. I have photographed every September 11 at 6:45 am Mountain time since the cowardly terrorist attack. I will continue that project as long as I am physically able to point the camera at something interesting.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
CP: Since my favorite camera is 8×10, I will assume I do not get a roll, but only one sheet. The image would be of a special ruin I know. It has an incredible ceiling in the alcove where the ruin is situated. This ruin is a long hike, but as it is the last photograph I will make, it is worth the extra work. My pack only weighs 65 pounds, so it should not be that tough!
The red rock and varnish make the green filter the best choice and I will probably need to use an N+1 development…like I should have done the first time I was there 15 years ago, with my 4×5.
I will need to bleach the handprints above the ruin in the final print to make them more visible.
[EMULSIVE: Since you were so eloquent and because the question was geared to mere mortals shooting 35mm or 120, you get an extra few sheets]
Being a really clever large format photographer, I will have an additional sheet of film loaded on the other side of the holder (a rule breaker to the end!) and will be able to go down canyon less than a quarter of a mile and make a second photograph…….. another ruin.
This particular ruin is in less pristine condition and with less precise construction. It was probably a granary that was hastily built when the harvest was better than expected and exceeded the available storage. This ruin is hard to find because it blends into the canyon wall so well. A diamond in the rough, and worth every bit of effort. I will use my 121mm Super Angulon lens to emphasize the placement of the ruin in the canyon, and will include a lot of the alcove for reference.
And if I could never use film again, that would probably be the last image I would take…but then again, I would have more time to finish all of the dark room work I have put aside so I could make more photos!
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What to you take with you and why?
CP: Easy- Mamiya 7ii with the 65mm lens. Kodak TMAX 100 and Ilford HP5+. The Mamiya 7ii is an excellent rangefinder camera that is quiet and sturdy. The 6×7 negative size is adequate for at least 11×14 prints. The 65mm lens is razor sharp and the wide angle fits my vision.
Although I tend to lean toward the 43 mm for this camera, not knowing the subject matter, the compromise between extra wide and normal is probably safest.
Kodak TMAX 100 is a very sharp film with long scale when developed in XTol. And the reciprocity departure is easily managed.
Ilford HP5+ has a fantastic tonal range when developed in D76 and has better speed than most 400 ISO films.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
CP: One of my wife’s greatest fears is that I will want to move to Bluff Utah at some point! For me that is the photographic center of the universe. There are ruins, rock art, canyons, streams, vast panoramas, tiny flowers, and open access to almost all of the area, although local Utah lawmakers are trying to spoil that part. It is a land of unimaginable beauty.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
CP: That film is dead and has been replaced by digital imaging. I see awesome images being created on film every day on Twitter, Flickr, and other social media sites. The fact that we see more and more images being created on film is an indicator that film photography is still very much a part of our life.
Photo sharing has changed. It used to be that photographs were only seen in print or in galleries. Now there are photos everywhere, and film is a strong part of that. Companies are creating new films and photo papers. Other companies are working on more environmentally responsible chemistry for photography. Film is not dead!
Finally, in your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
CP: I believe the demise of film photography has been greatly exaggerated. A few years ago, film photography equipment was very inexpensive and easily purchased on eBay, etc. These days that market has rebounded. There are galleries that advertise (brag) that they are selling exclusively silver based prints.
Photography with iPhones and Droids is becoming the first step for many new photographers – much like the 126 cartridge camera was for me. As these new photographers develop the love for photography, some of them will transition into film.
I believe film photography will continue to grow and survive. I do not know that it will ever be what it was in the 80s and early 90s, but the outlooks seems great to me.
Wait, there’s more!
It was our first time sitting down with a (nearly) full-time large format shooter, so we decided to ask Craig the following additional question:
“How do you feel your approach and methodology towards large format photography has affected the way you shoot medium format and 35mm? In fact do you shoot 35mm at all?”
CP: Great Question! When I transitioned from the RB67 to 4×5, I really tried to shoot the large format the way I had used the Medium Format…it did not work at all. I made so many mistakes it was horrible. Back in those days I would work from 7am to 3:30 pm, then go photograph until dark, then go home and develop film. I did this nearly every day, and almost every night I went to bed disappointed.
Finally, a photographer that lived in the little town I worked in told me – very bluntly – that I needed to change how I made photographs. I think he was the one that told me they do not make motor drives for view cameras. He was 100% correct and my images improved instantly.
This new way of photographing has become so second nature that I have a very difficult time photographing without a tripod, even with point and shoot digital cameras. I have modified my process slightly for smaller cameras, but the core of what I do is constant.
I visualize the final image before I look through the camera. With medium and large format cameras I use cards with format proportionally correct openings to determine camera position, cropping and help with lens choice. With smaller format I use the camera to do this, but it is important to make the choices before moving to the technical choices.
Once the camera is in position and the lens choice has been made, I determine the technical options. Aperture, shutter speed, rise or fall, swings, shifts and tilts. With medium and small cameras, the choices are fewer but still just as important.
Finally, one thing I have noticed is that I make far, far fewer photographs than those I photograph with. I seldom make duplicates with the 8×10. I make a few more duplicates with the 4×5 and medium format, but I have never seen the advantage of making the same mistakes twice. If I determine I made a miscalculation I will correct it and make another exposure, but due to the forms I use to record exposure information, that does not happen often.
I use the same basic record keeping forms for 8×10, 4×5, and all my medium format cameras.
When I use 35mm and DSLR, I do not work as hard at keeping exposure records of individual exposures, but I have noticed I make far fewer images than most.
In summary, I believe that my large format work has made me much more deliberate, but in return it has greatly increased my success percentage. Some 35mm shooters have told me that they are happy if they get 1 “Keeper” per roll. That is just not acceptable to me, so I work hard to be better than that.
You can also follow Craig’s very active Twitter feed to connect with the man himself.
With his permission, we’re hoping to feature more of Craig’s work soon, so keep an eye out in the near future!
Finally, we’d like to wish Craig and his wife a very happy wedding anniversary (celebrated just a few days before this interview was published.) Wishing you both many more happy years together!
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.