I am Jeff Hao and this is why I shoot film
Continuing our theme of bringing you film photographers both long and not so long in the tooth, we’re incredibly pleased to be able to introduce you to 19 year old photographer Jeff Hao and his work.
As per the norm, we’ll keep the intro short, so you can scroll on down and see for yourself.
Over to you, Jeff.
What’s this picture then?
JH: This picture is my very first double exposure and from one of the first few rolls I shot in my SLR. I had always thought double exposures were some of the coolest looking photos out there and I wanted to create my own.
I remember using some stupid method that involved actually rewinding the film back after taking the first exposure, which meant that I was just guessing how far to wind it back. It would’ve been so easy to mess it up and get two exposures that were completely unaligned, but somehow it came out perfectly.
I figured out a much more efficient method to doing multiple exposures not too long afterwards, and I also learned about evening the exposure settings so the photo isn’t blown out, but this one always sticks out to me. It’s because of this photo that I got obsessed with the idea of double exposures and what’s possible with film.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
JH: I’m 19 years old and right now I attend a community college in the Bay Area. I had no experience with photography before picking up a film camera so that was an interesting learning curve for me. I’ve never owned a digital camera before and I don’t have any plans to get one anytime soon.
If you ever run into me in person, you could probably find my little point and shoot in one of my jacket pockets or stuck in-between the textbooks in my backpack. You never know when you’ll run into something interesting.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
JH: I picked up my first film camera on a whim over a year and a half ago. I had just gone through a break-up and also fractured a bone in my foot skateboarding right after that. I was hobbling around on crutches and needed something new to preoccupy my time and mind.
I had stumbled across this local photographer’s work online and became infatuated with the images he had taken on his little Olympus point and shoot (an Olympus Stylus Epic).
I had an irrational need to get the exact same camera so I spent a few days combing through eBay until I managed to get lucky bidding on one. I got started shooting rolls of film in it as fast as I could.
I had no idea what I was doing and those first few rolls were pretty terrible, but I was hooked.
To be completely honest, part of me still shoots film because it appeals to my need to be different. There’s no denying that one draw of film is the cool, hip, artsy image it gives and I’m guilty of buying into that. But that’s not the only reason I haven’t adopted digital yet. Shooting film still has a huge unpredictable element to it for me. I might’ve used the same camera and film combinations countless times but I still can’t tell you exactly how an image will come out.
The feeling of getting a roll or two back and seeing all these pictures for the first time was a huge reason I kept shooting film in the first place and that feeling hasn’t faded at all for me. On top of that, there’s still so much I haven’t even touched on in the world of film.
There are so many different kinds of film I still haven’t shot, different styles of camera I’ve never handled, and different darkroom techniques I’ve never attempted. I probably won’t ever shoot large format film or make a daguerreotype, but knowing that all these possibilities exist is enticing.
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?
JH: Well, earlier this week my Canon AE-1 broke and then my Olympus Stylus Epic was stolen the next day, so my next step would be getting new cameras. It sucks, but I don’t want to let that stop me.
After that, I want to work on scanning and editing my own film. I already do it for black and white, but I get lazy about color film and pay my local camera shop to do it for me.
It’s a huge part of shooting film in a digital age and I should learn how to do it well for myself. I want to get back to printing in the darkroom too, it’s a tedious process but it’s rewarding in the end.
Lastly I want to find someway to gain more exposure for my photos. Whether it’s making and selling my own little zine or somehow being a part of a show, I want my work to reach a bigger audience.
I hope that doesn’t come off as conceited at all!
Any favorite subject matter?
JH: Without a doubt, it would be people. I started off by taking candid snapshots of my friends, and I still constantly stick my cameras in their faces today. I liked the idea of capturing something for the sake of the memory. It doesn’t have to be people I know either, some of my favorite photos are of complete strangers.
After going through all of my folders of photos on my computer, I’ve also noticed a theme of strangers with their backs turned to me in many of my photos. It pops up so much in my work and comprises of some of my favorite shots. I think it gives a level of mystery that leaves much of the image up to interpretation.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
JH: Definitely just a plain roll of Fuji Superia 400. It’s the consumer film you can still get from most drug stores and grocery stores. It’s what I started shooting with and what I still shoot to this day.
I’ve actually been buying expired rolls in bulk off eBay for a while now. It’s insanely cheap and ages decently. There are tons of films that are much better and will give you finer grain or more vibrant colors, but there’s a certain nostalgia around that film for me.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
JH: I’d definitely have to go with my Canon AE-1 with the standard 50mm f1.8 lens. I know that thing like the back of my hand now, and I’m very comfortable using it. Film-wise I would pick Kodak Portra 400 and Ilford HP5+.
I’ve shot a decent amount of both so I know what to expect with them. Portra 400 is the most versatile color film I’ve ever tried. You can under or overexpose it by a couple of stops and still get a useable image. The tones and colors are smooth and respond well to any color and all sorts of different lighting situations.
HP5+ is also a super reliable film. It responds well to pushing and the contrast and grain have always been my favorite out of most B&W films. In a case where I have no idea what I’d be shooting, I would definitely want only a camera and films I have a lot of experience with.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
JH: This is a hard question because I don’t travel as often as I would like. I think that out of anywhere, I would want to do a trip through China. I was born there, moved to the US at the age of 4 and I’ve only been back twice.
I would love to get to see and photograph the huge metropolises there. Cities like Beijing and Shanghai have so many different things going on at once and it would be amazing to wander around them for a few days.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
JH: That it’s this intensive process that’s impossible to wrap your head around. I think that people are a little spoiled by the ease of digital photography.
The process of shooting film is actually pretty simple in my opinion. You take the photo, develop the film, and then print or scan the negative. Sure that’s a few more steps than shooting digital, but there’s more than enough resources and information out there to learn from.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
JH: I struggled with answering this question. On one had you have major names in the business like Kodak and Fuji slowly phasing out certain films and raising prices on the remaining ones. On the other had you have companies like Lomography and Cinestill that are bringing new, fresh ideas to the table.
I’ve also personally noticed there are more and more people that are beginning to pick up film for the first time.
I think that the majority of these people start shooting film because it fulfills a certain aesthetic they are attracted to. It’s a great thing that more and more people are diving into it, but I doubt that they will all stick with it.
Overall, I think that film has a bright but somewhat rocky future ahead.
~ Jeff Hao
This is going to have a bit of an “in this day and age” slant to it. You have been warned.
In this day and age, how many people do you think have their photographic experience (not counting camera phones), on a film camera? One or two per hundred thousand people? Per million? More?
It’s not something I’d really considered before Jeff first mentioned it and it’s gotten me thinking. I’ve often thought about giving film cameras to digital-native photographers, and then documenting their progress – it was one of the first article concepts I had for EMULSIVE – but I’d never considered giving a digital camera to a film-only photographer like Jeff.
I wonder what he’s make of an equivalent P&S to his departed Stylus Epic, or a more recent Olympus OM digital SLR? It’s be interesting to see his results (and reaction) after shooting on both cameras.
Naturally, the LCD would need to be taped up to avoid chimping.
You can see more of Jeff’s work over at his Flickr page and Instagram account. Please take the time out to visit both; there’s a sea of wonderful low-light photography, double-exposures and candid shots. Great stuff.
We’ll be back again very soon with another film photographer but in the meantime, keep shooting, folks!
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