I am Gary W Smith and this is why I shoot film
We’re sitting down today with with Liverpudlian turned Londoner, Gary W Smith. You might recognise some of the images below from his Zones 1-4 and London Street projects. His night time work is beautiful to say the least and whilst he mostly tries to snap off a couple of shots with his TLR, he’s been known to get out of his comfort zone from time to time.
Over to you, Gary.
Hi Gary, what’s this picture, then?
So this is one of the first images I took when I moved to London. The main reason this jumped out when I was asked to select an image is mostly because it’s shot on 35mm.
I didn’t and don’t ever shoot on 35mm SLRs on the street but I was made to use it as part of a university brief.
This probably doesn’t seem like anything major, “Surely its just a film size?” but oh god no it was much more than that to me. In fact, I felt like throwing all of the toys out of my pram! Let me explain; while on the street I shoot with my trusty medium format TLR. I find that as I am looking down into the viewfinder, I can blend in and not be as intrusive but now all of a sudden I was being forced to not only put a camera up to my face, but also to a camera I had never used before.
New film, new camera, new framing, new way of shooting….it just felt like I was wearing a suit made of lights! But despite these new challenges, I came out with images that I was very happy with. The images I got are ones that I would never have captured if I had not been forced to use that 35mm SLR.
In my normal workflow I would very likely have been closer to the subject and possibly shooting from the front. These changes would have likely changed the whole feeling of the scene.
So, overall this image reminds me that I can overcome problems. It reminds me that I shouldn’t be such a fussy so-and-so and that I should get out and shoot!
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I am a 28-year-old street and documentary photographer originally from Merseyside, UK and currently living in London.
I have had many different jobs including door-to-door sales, car sales, recruiter, McDonald’s Big Mac maker, sales assistant and process technician but after all of this I found myself back in full-time eduction studying photography and then moved to London to continue studying.
I haven’t looked back since.
When did you start shooting film?
Being 28, I was a child of film and I remember having all sorts of novelty cameras and plenty of negatives of the wildlife on my street, stupid images of friends and many, many other random things.
Nearly every time I had got my roll of film developed, I found myself more interested in the negatives than the images but I had no idea why.
After many years, I moved away from film and had become Mr Digital. I lost the love for film, photography became an object to simply document, I would just snap away capturing images without much thought and very little craft.
I knew I loved photography and wanted it to be my full-time career, so I jumped in and went for it! I left the working world and went back into full-time education.
Back in college I was reintroduced to film. Not Coke can shaped novelty affairs but stunning Rolleiflexes and Hasselblads. To be honest I think it was the beauty of cameras that got me back onside at first…I just wanted to shoot with them!
It was only when I first held a set of freshly dried negatives to the light – like a young Simba – that hooked me again.
The excitement that builds as you watch that timer is like nothing else. I can sometimes forget what I have shot, as the time between shooting and developing can be quite long. Its this excitement about the unknown that makes me become a kid on Christmas morning again.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
Film is part of my life now; I think I just feel more connected to my photography with something physical. I feel like I am crafting images and “craft” is the right word for my film workflow.
With film, everything has to be precise; the loading, the focus, the framing.
I don’t consider myself having the luxury of holding the shutter down to capture the moment 1000 times before picking the one that has the best light and framing.
When I shoot, I think along the lines of only having one shot available. Film really makes me think and that is worth every penny!
Any favourite subject matter?
Without a doubt, people on the street. I love the dynamics, you can stand in one place and watch a hundred people doing a hundred things walk past.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
It’s got to be Ilford PanF 50 ASA, I know it’s not the most exotic roll but it’s so smooth and sharp. I would be tempted to look at the Fuji Provia 100F but there’s something about B&W on the street that draws me down to the basics.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject mater. What to you take with you and why?
Well straightaway I know I’m taking my trusty Mamiya C330 along with my favourite lens, the Sekor 80mm f/2.8. With this camera I can do everything, it’s an extension of me.
The two films will have to be a huge kop-out, as I’d use the super flexible Ilford HP5 Plus 400 ASA B&W and a risky colour Fuji Provia 100F 100ASA. The Fuji Provia can be hard work sometimes and a limited ASA of 100 could be risky but when its good, its great!
[EMULSIVE: In case you’re not familiar with the term, you’re welcome]
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
I would have to say drop me off in Calcutta. It’s a place that is constantly changing and the amount of people there is breathtaking. I could go missing for months with my big bag of film!
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
I believe quality. When I speak to people they are shocked that the images I show them are on film. There is a misconception that people shoot on film to be “cool’ and its just not true, the dynamic range in large format photography is unrivalled!
Yes, it’s hard work but you’re never going to find colours and light like it with digital cameras, they just can’t render them.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
With a new DSLR coming out everyday – and becoming more and more expensive with each version – I think we will see more and more people head back to film.
You can pick up a film camera for a couple of hundred pounds that can trump DSLRs that cost thousands!
Plus you just can’t compare a pixel to a grain, there’s no competition!
~ Gary W Smith
Forget what we’re going to say below, just head on over to Gary’s website and check out his work. His project “Will you miss me” is worth a long lingering look. When you’re done, head back.
In a world where absolutely everyone with a camera can call themselves a “street photographer”, sometimes the only thing differentiating images in this genre are the environment. People are easily interchangeable and if you strip away street signs and familiar landmarks, a single shot could be tagged as having been taken in London, Berlin, New York or LA and no one would bat an eyelid in disagreement (naturally, we’re talking about similar cultures here and wouldn’t suggest that photo of a vegetable market seller in India could be mistaken as having been taken in upstate New York).
I love Gary’s street photography, especially his London series. The way he uses heavy, occasionally oppressive shadows in his black and white work is reminiscent of past interviewee Mike Fraser and makes me (a Londoner born and raised), feel back in the thick of things.
That’s all from us for the moment but we’ll be back soon.
As always, keep shooting folks.
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.