I am Dave Bias and this is why I shoot film
Today’s interview is a bit of a treat, as well as a precursor for things to come. If you don’t know of Dave Bias, I’ll say this; he’s a vocal and active advocate of film with a purpose, having previously started US operations for The Impossible project and now running global sales and marketing for a little upstart called FILM Ferrania (that name might ring a bell).
It’s time to step into the words and pictures of a man better known for shouting about film, rather than shooting it.
Over to you, Dave.
Hi Dave, What’s this picture, then?
DB: This is the photograph that changed my life.
I was 35 years old when I made it, but it was the first time I had used a fully manual film camera in my entire life – and a Hasselblad at that! These are my friends Rachel and Max and they needed photos for their newly formed band, The Sad Little Stars. I was a graphic designer in the music business at the time, and Rachel had rented the camera as a prop for her day job, so we met in Battery Park on the lower tip of Manhattan and shot a roll. I think this was the second or third frame.
To this day, I think it’s one of the best photographs I’ve ever made.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
DB: I’m going to be lazy and go with what it says on my website. I am creative. I am a communicator. I am an entrepreneur. Basically, I have always tried to find creative ways to sell people the things I love – first music, then design, and now film…
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
DB: I’ve been shooting film all my life, but I didn’t get serious about it until that day in Battery Park.
Often, I feel like I have a very confusing mixture of motives driving me to shoot. Sometimes, I just want to play with a new antique camera I’ve just bought. Very infrequently, someone hires me to take photos. Occasionally, I get an idea and pursue a specific project.
Most of the time, I simply feel compelled to share the beauty I see in entirely mundane things.
This photo from my trip to Paris has become another one of my favorites for just this reason.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
DB: Like many things in my life, I had to find my own way into photography. I spent many years in the music business and began to note the distinct styles of certain photographers who were popular with record labels – my favorites being Danny Clinch, Michael Lavine and the chief photographer for an obscure label called Shimmy Disc, known only as Macioce.
When I moved to New York in 1997, I met Michael Macioce and he quickly became a friend and mentor, which he remains to this day. I have taken his advice and carried a camera to every music event I’ve been involved with. Below are just two of my “rock” photos that I really love.
Macioce introduced me to Ralph Eugene Meatyard and had a big role in opening my eyes to the history of photography that I had largely ignored up to that point in my life.
Simply by living in NYC, I’ve seen hundreds of exhibits – and in a few cases, met or even worked with a wide array of photographers whose work I admire. Among these are Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Patti Smith, Adam Goldberg, Diane Arbus, Mark Sink, Gregory Crewdson, Timothy Green eld-Sanders, Todd Hido, Bruce Davidson and Alec Soth, just to name a few.
Assisting Mary Ellen Mark while shooting early Impossible film during her annual Dog Portraits party was a truly amazing experience. Mark Seliger making small-talk with me while we mutually admired my antique Voigtlander Vito was a memorable moment. Interviewing Danny Clinch for the now-defunct Lightleaks magazine was another highlight. Being introduced to Vivian Meyer by Pat Sansone of Wilco, in one of the first exhibitions of her work at the Solid Sound festival, was truly inspirational.
I’ve also taken vast inspiration from the global analog film community who have gone the extra mile to share their images on Flickr and Instagram, as well as innumerable websites and forums. I’ve been fortunate to share close contact with this community in my jobs since 2008, and the raw passion pouring through this work is the fuel that drives me every day.
If there is a single photographer I look to for continued inspiration, it’s Henri Cartier-Bresson.
The purity of his approach, the simplicity of his images, and his talent for seeing the beauty (and sometimes, depravity) in everyday experiences is central to my own philosophy. In my own small way, the images above and below are in homage to Cartier-Bresson’s idea of the decisive moment, and simply seeing what is right in front of you every day.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
DB: I use my iPhone occasionally, if I find an image that is especially suited to the iPhone’s abilities, or which I simply want to share quickly online. But I shoot film about 95% of the time. I prefer the process of shooting film. I like the difficulty of figuring out a proper exposure. I like that the cost alone helps me to edit before I shoot. And I have a deep fascination with the gear – the older, the better.
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?
DB: The primary challenge for me is to begin working on the projects I see in my head. The projects I most want to pursue are fairly grand in scale, requiring sizable crew, casting, permits in some cases, and, of course, money to execute the vision. In the next year, I hope to improve my large format technique by picking one of my less-ambitious projects and really nailing it.
The challenge in front of me at this precise moment is simply processing and scanning the nearly 150 rolls that sit in a box beside my desk…
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
DB: I have a fascination with flea markets for a variety of reasons. At first, it was to find old cameras to try, but as I began to carry a Polaroid camera with me at all times, I started a body of work that could be seen as my first fully fleshed-out project.
It’s called “Castaways” (three selections shown above and below – the full series as of today is on my website) and it consists of loving portraits of flea market items. Like the old cameras I use, these items have been deemed worthless by some former owner and now live among the jumbled junk, often in foul weather and with little care.
These were things formerly loved and I hope only to honor that in these photographs. It was the first proper project I ever published and it encapsulates so much of what I try to accomplish in my photography.
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 to you take with you and why?
DB: That’s easy. I’ll take my Yashica-Mat, one roll of Kodak EKTACHROME 100 and one roll of Ilford Delta 3200 Professional.
I’ll take the Yashica-Mat because it’s square format (my favorite) and has just one lens, and those two films because they are flexible and I love the look of both in almost any situation.
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?
DB: I would stay right where I am. New York City provides limitless opportunities to capture the photographs that are important to me.
Plus, my camera collection is here, so I can take whatever I want!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
DB: I must say that I’ve worked quite diligently since 2008 to ensure that this scenario never happens – first by starting US operations for The Impossible Project, and now by running global marketing and sales operations for FILM Ferrania.
But I’ve already faced the “last roll” scenario with Polaroid film. I shot my last pack of Polaroid 600 film more than a year ago and the photograph you see below was from that final pack.
In your hypothetical scenario, I would hope that I would choose not to be precious and labor over the idea for months like I did with the last pack of 600 film, but simply go out and shoot it with the same mix of care and abandon that I’ve shot every other photograph in my life.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
DB: In the public view, the obvious misconception is that film is dead and gone. Part of my day job for the last 9 years has been to dispel this myth and to ensure that photographers have choices when making their work.
My friend Sean Tubridy and I started savepolaroid.com in February of 2008. This led to me working for The Impossible Project and “saving” film for Polaroid cameras.
The image below is from my first pack of the first new product ever released by Impossible, TZ Artistic film.
After leaving Impossible, I began working with FILM Ferrania, but during the downtime, I became fascinated with old box cameras and put together a website – mfbox.co – to highlight the inherent usability of these very simple cameras for photographers in the modern day.
This photo was one of the first images I shot after launching that site. In this single photograph, I used a primitive camera and modern film, while walking the streets of Manhattan to find an elusive moment in time when beauty visited a mundane garbage truck depot. It really captures many aspects that I seek in my work.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
DB: I left my old life behind to play a role in the future of film, and so I have a very different perspective now than I did when I began shooting film. I cannot say that the future is entirely bright because there are very hard realities in the manufacturing of film that will be extremely difficult to overcome.
With that said, I’m quite encouraged by recent announcements from Kodak, Bergger and Adox – and none more so than FILM Ferrania.
Of course, I’m quite prejudiced in my judgment because of my involvement with FILM Ferrania, but I truly believe that our company IS the model for future viability of film manufacturing. I’ve spent the last three years of my life working diligently to get this company off the ground because the promise that it provides is very real, if not yet fully realized. This image represents two firsts – the first time I’ve used a Widelux camera, and the first roll of pre-production film from FILM Ferrania.
In my wider point-of-view, the future of film photography is about maintaining choice – whether that’s wet-plate, tintype or other alternative process, instant film, roll film in various formats, cinema film for movies, archiving and preservation, or digital capture.
Photographers today have the widest variety of choices in the history of the medium, and it has become my personal mission, as well as my day job, to ensure that every photographer existing today, and for generations to come, can make the choice that best represents their vision.
~ Dave Bias
For once, I’m going to let the words and photography above stand alone, and instead focus on the man himself and his actions.
Don’t underestimate the power of purpose and passion, they can take you to places you never thought of. I don’t expect that Dave had himself pegged as part of one of the more famous and widely documented analogue photography start-ups in recent years, much as I don’t imagine he ever thought himself being at the forefront of of bringing back Ferrania.
Say what you will about slow progress on that front but the effort is apparent, ongoing and reaping results. We’re seeing progress through their updates, as well as the recent announcement of the resurrection of P30.
One more thing before you go. As you may be aware, a new Community Interview is in progress, this time with the wonderful folks at FILM Ferrania. Please take a minute to head on over and submit your questions to them – don’t be shy…
As ever, keep shooting, folks!
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