I am Greg McKnight and this is why I shoot film
Today’s interviewee sold all of his digital camera gear in 2015. Some say it was a fit of rage, others suggest it was more a case of him coming to his senses.
Whatever the reason, it’s time to hand over to the one and only Greg McKnight.
Over to you, Greg.
Hi Greg, what’s this picture then?
GM: I took this while driving home from class at night. I’ve lived in the DMV (D.C. Maryland, and Virginia) area for my entire and frankly I’m pretty bored of it, so photography has helped fight that boredom. This was a bulb exposure.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
GM: My name is Greg McKnight and I’m a 20-year-old college student. I’m finishing up my associate’s degree this spring/summer and this fall I will attend Boston University.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting.
GM: I started shooting film in 2014, the same year I started taking photography seriously. I started off with a Canon T3i, which I purchased because I want to make short films but I ended up loving taking stills.
A close friend of mine suggested I try film out and I was immediately hooked. What drives me to keep shooting is I think I’m honestly addicted to the process.
Opening the camera and feeding the leader through. Cranking it back and hearing that shutter go off. It’s sublime.
When I had my DSLR I was intrigued for sure, but when I bought my first film camera, a Canon AE-1, I knew I was falling down a joyous rabbit hole.
Any favorite subject matter?
GM: Probably people. I love when I see a photographer shoot something that I normally wouldn’t be interested in and they turn that scene into something I’d love to hang on my wall.
Alec Soth is really good at that. He helped me get out of a visual slump. Landscapes to me pretty but I couldn’t shoot that everyday.
I think I’m pretty terrible at shooting posed shots of people. It’s a handicap of mine. Maybe I’m only good at capturing people when they don’t know they’re having their picture taking or they’re not giving any instruction.
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?
GM: My next challenge is to do an exhibit of my work. I live about a 35 minute drive from Washington D.C. and I’m lucky to have a Leica store within my city. Leica is really great at hosting galleries of people’s work and because of Washington D.C.’s Leica store I’ve been lucky to see the work of Matt Stuart, Glen Craig, Vincent Ricardel, and Eli Reed.
Going to all of these events have allowed me to meet photographers and inspired me to push my photography into something more personally engaging.
Sure it’s awesome that we have Instagram and Flickr to share our work, but I definitely wouldn’t want that to be the final destination for my images. To me whenever something is on a screen it’s ultimately just a file composed of 1’s and 0’s, it’s not a photograph until you can hold the print in your hands.
Beyond doing an exhibition I think making a book would be the ultimate stamp when I can really feel like a photographer. I was really inspired to set that goal after looking at Trent Parke’s “Minutes to Midnight”, Eli Reed’s “A Long Walk Home”, and Street Photography Now.
You can never use film again, what’s your last roll?
GM: My last roll would be Kodak Kodachrome 64 (like there’s any left out there in the world) just for nostalgia purposes.
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?
GM: Fuji Superia 400 because it was the first film I ever used and it’s very underrated. I would also bring Kodak Tri-x 400. Ilford film stock and I don’t get along well but I’m curious to try Ilford Delta 3200 Professional out.
My camera would be my Leica M4-P and a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4. I’m very comfortable with that camera now and I love the freedom of shooting without a light meter.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
GM: I’m going to cheat on this one but I would go to a movie set. I love the behind the scene shots Mary Ellen Mark captured on the films Apocalypse Now, One Flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and Satyricon for example. I think shooting actors while they’re working would be great.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
GM: Biggest misconception about film is the quality. I think when people think of film all they think about are disposable cameras from drug stores from the 90s-early 2000s.
I think a lot of people don’t realize how much insane detail you can get from a 35mm negative that’s been printed correctly, put in a nice frame, and placed in nicely lit room. Some of the crispest pictures I’ve ever seen have been film.
I think digital is fine for most of the world’s practical uses, you know like sharing images for sake of information but if you wanted to set down and become a photographer for the sake of craft, hobby, art or whatever word you want to use I think you should at least shoot one roll of film.
There’s a load of people out there only using film for that high grain basically Instagram filter look, but I think there’s a happy medium between grain and sharpness. Pictures with no grain and you can see the smoothness of every thing almost make me uncomfortable.
Even if you hate the look of film and you’re all about the quickness of your DSLR system I think by learning film then going back to a DSLR you’ll learn so much about how things work.
When I started to shoot without a light meter I felt so jubilant that I could walk into a room with camera in hand or not and call out the necessary shutter, aperture, and ISO settings using just my eye.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
GM: I want to say film will be around forever but I’m not positive. Knock on wood that Kodak will stay in business for another hundred years at least. I think film will stay around because to some people that’s just what they want to use.
Those people who want to use it, the artists, hipsters, and lover’s of things antediluvian, should always have it as an option. Overall I feel pretty positive about film’s future. All we can do is spread the word and maybe we will see a big revival of the medium sort of like how vinyl has had big reemergence over the past few years.
A big thanks to Greg for standing up and taking part, as well as sharing so many wonderful words and images with us!
I don’t cite a lot of photographers as being an inspiration to me. Not because I have my head stuck up somewhere the sun doesn’t shine, mind you. I largely got into film in a sort of isolation as to what else and who else was out there. Sure, I was aware of the work of some iconic images, such as Neil Leifer’s legendary aerial shot of the Ali – Williams knockout but on the whole I wasn’t what you’d call informed by any stretch of the imagination.
It has it’s upsides and downsides; In the beginning I largely shot in isolation and shot for myself (I still do), but I wasn’t particularly aware when what I was doing was becoming derivative. One might argue that I’d merely discovered a style I liked but that doesn’t really cut it for me.
So on to the point…when someone fresh into film photography drops so many references to photographers that have inspired them, it more often than not makes me take a step back and smile.
Some people will say “don’t copy others, don’t be derivative, walk your own path and don’t pay mind to others, etc.” but I say go look, absorb yourself. If the style appeals, then try it; pay attention to light and composition…just appreciate the work for what it is. To me, it’s all a point of reference and I love it listening to people cite those that have inspired them to do what they do.
We’ll be back soon with another film photographer but in the meantime – and as ever – keep shooting, folks!
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