I am Jacopo Brancati and this is why I shoot film
My short interview hiatus is over and I’m very happy to bring you the words and pictures of a wonderful man and past contributor to EMULSIVE, Jacopo Brancati! I’m going to leave my thoughts on the man himself until the bottom of the page. In the meantime, I’d like to invite you to scroll down, open your mind and feast your eyes on what lies below.
Over to you, Jacopo!
Hi Jacopo, what’s this picture, then?
JB: This picture is the scan of a negative 6×9 taken during the early ‘90s with a camera I inherited from my grandfather, a Zeiss-Ikon Ideal 246 (9x12cm), dating back to the 1930s.
I was intrigued by the big format but I couldn’t afford it; I modified the camera’s glass photographic plate holder chassis in a way that I could insert a 9×6 negative (the only sheet film I was able to find downtown). The process was a bit complicated and intricate but the experiment was successful!
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
My name is Jacopo Brancati. I’m 50 years old and a full time professional photographer; an ethnologist, historian and journalist, and a storyteller. I’ve been living in Brittany for a few years and as my life and work has spanned across Italy, France and Scandinavia, I genuinely feel like a true European.
The picture above was taken in 1990 in Genoa. During that time I was studying for my Master in Political Sciences at Genoa University but was also dreaming about leaving my hometown to go and settle in France, earning a living as a photojournalist. I was still unaware how the road would turn to be so long and complex but also so rich in experiences.
It took a long ten years long to get to my first personal exhibition in Paris, invited by the Italian Cultural Institute as “young” promise. Since then I never stopped taking pictures, travelling and exhibiting my work in museums.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
JB: My first camera was a Pentax Super-A, built in 1983, which my father had bought with the idea to replace his old Agfa. He never managed to use it, anyway, because I claimed it for myself. I was seventeen. During the same period, a neighbour who wished to share his passion about photography began teaching me the first, rudimentary secrets of the dark room.
I witnessed the emergence of a positive image on the white surface of a sheet of photographic paper that was bathing in developer. It was then, under the dim red light of the lamp in my neighbour’s makeshift darkroom that I understood I had the ability to tell all the stories I wanted.
At that moment I fell hopelessly in love, and that love has endured ever since.
I keep using film because it has a soul which deserves to be explored and understood before you can extract something from it.
Because using film implies following a long and deep process where a lot of different expertise and knowledge are required.
Because photography is not only light but also time; and by using the film you really do understand what ‘time’ means.
Because the film is fair: it rewards you when you do well, it punishes you when you fail. But it always helps you progress through the art of photography.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
JB: In the 1980s and 1990s – in a provincial town such Genoa is – the great exhibitions were quite scarce. I got my first real ‘electroshock’ from an Ansel Adams exhibit at the local Natural History Museum; and thanks to the efforts of a small but resourceful photographic art gallery, I soon met the work of Cartier Bresson, Rodchenko, Evans…
…their images were so powerful and extraordinary but at the same time so evanescent: I was sadly unable to visit the gallery every day to study them! Finding books about photography was not so easy in those times, and they were expensive.
Before turning to full time photography I was a teacher, a marketing counselor and a logistic manager but I’ve always tried to use photography in my work. During that time I had been living in Paris for many years.
Of course, living in one of the world’s capital cities of photography means something: you can meet other professionals, sharing and confronting works and experiences (when possible), and you are able to visit exciting exhibitions of the highest level.
Among them it was one in particular, which excited me as almost as the Adams’ exhibition from my youth. It honestly changed my professional life’s course once again and was exhibition of the Finnish photographer Ismo Hölttö’s pictures of Finland in the 1960s.
Seeing and absorbing that work spurred me to explore that country and to work the portraits.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
JB: My point of view is that there is only one medium: I don’t want to hear about analog versus digital. This is a difference made by the market, not by photography.
To me the choice of the camera that I’m going to use is dictated by the subject I want to depict: first, I think about how the images have to present themselves so to express exactly what I feel, then I take into consideration what kind of camera can enable me to achieve that and eventually I consider the final utilization: should they be fine-art prints or magazines or whatever.
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?
JB: To get to the essential, to the very core while telling the story of the people I meet and of the places I visit. Humanistic photography is not dead!
How to do this? Studying a lot, practicing a lot…feeding my soul with the arts. I usually bother everyone at cultural institutions; trying to convince them that we have to work now to have a past to talk about in the future.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
JB: To me photography rhymes with adventure, sea voyages, findings, discovery. After having told sea tales for fifteen years, I recently turned to the countryside to talk about the lives of French crofters and farmers.
What I like the most is to meet new people, to describe their world and to tell their stories.
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?
JB: This is quite an unusual situation for a professional…on the spot like that…
I’d take my Nikon F6, 35mm/1.4 lens, one roll of Kodak Tri-X 400, one roll of Agfapan 25. Because I see in black and white and that stuff is just the best.
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?
JB: A location I can choose…unlimited supply?! I already packed everything! My Hasselblad V-series, 3 lenses and Kodak Tri-X 400.
I’d go to Iceland. Straight away! Wild sea, wild mountains, cold weather, warm people. That’s all I love.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
JB: Oh please, resurrect Kodachrome 25! It was such a demanding film…but what a beauty! I would go to the extreme South of America to do the job right!
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
JB: I do hate the film-digital contrast. Being able to choose is what freedom is, and photography is freedom. Recently I’ve read: “Luckily enough, film is dead. Hopefully it’ll stay dead forever”. Such a stupid statement that really got on my nerves. I regret the great variety of films we had in the past, I even regret Kodak is no more the giant it was before and I regret Agfa and Polaroid being dead.
We had a choice variety and a freedom of expression that it doesn’t exist anymore. Nowadays we can count the digital cameras’ processors producers on one hand. The market is made by the mass consumers but masses are easily directed where deemed necessary and surely not towards a freedom of choice.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
JB: We’ll never go back to the “golden age” of film. Film will remain just a niche product in the market, more or less vast. But film photography will always be a reference point to whomsoever wants to be free to choose their own means of expression.
Creativity needs new stimuli and film photography, in virtue of embracing different disciplines, such as chemistry, optics, physics, and mechanics, just to mention a few, will keep on being truly fascinating to those who will be able to understand and to proceed further.
~ Jacopo Brancati
There were two things that stuck with me when putting this interview together. The first was Jak’s answer to the question about being drawn to a particular subject matter where he says, “What I like the most is to meet new people, to describe their world and to tell their stories.”
Hand on heart, this is the distillation of Jak into 19 words.
Look into the work on his website and you’ll begin to understand what I mean by that. He is a man driven to tell the stories of the people he meets; stories that don’t simply stop at the surface. His projects are much more than a few days of photography tied into a “reportage” that pulls together pieces of conversation and anecdotal information to create the illusion of substance. The man embeds himself into his work and it shows. Having gotten to know him a little over the past few months, I’m not afraid to say that his commitment to telling those stories is both admirable and something I aspire to on a personal level. Thank you, Jak.
The other aspect of this interview that stuck with me is something that those of you who are familiar with me know resonates very deeply: freedom of choice. Jak says:
“I do hate the film-digital contrast. Being able to choose is what freedom is, and photography is freedom. Recently I’ve read: “Luckily enough, film is dead. Hopefully it’ll stay dead forever”. Such a stupid statement that really got on my nerves. “
Yes I know, back to that digital vs. film debate and back to me saying that the only debate should be the one about which device and medium best suits the vision of the photographer. Everything else is pointless.
In short, regardless of what you shoot, you shout just get out there and shoot it.
Thanks again to Jak for taking the time out to help make this interview a reality. And, after lightly suggesting you look a little deeper into Jak’s work, I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to four things:
First off, there’s his prizewinning book “Pilota a Bordo!” which covers a year of Jak following sailors at the port of Genoa and was shot on his Mamiya 7II and Fuji Provia 100F and 400X.
Second is a small photo exhibition covering Jak’s documentation of the Viapori dockyard. The exhibition runs from June 8th to October 8th 2017.
Third is his website.
…and fourth is his presence over on Twitter. Go give him a follow!
Thanks again for reading and with my break over, I’ll see you again next week with a fresh film photographer for you to get stuck into!
As ever, keep shooting, folks!
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