I am Jessica Hobbs and this is why I shoot film
This week’s interview is with talented Montrealian (Montrealite?) Jessica Hobbs. It’s been a busy 12 months for Jessica, she’s recently finished her Montreal Festival project – 225 festivals in Montreal in 12 months…I’m guessing she’s in need of a bit of a rest.
Anyway, enough from me. It’s over to you, Jessica!
Hi Jessica, what’s this picture, then?
JH: Sometimes the best photographs are the ones you almost don’t take.
This was taken a few years ago in the woods surrounding my fiancé’s farm, my favourite place to shoot. It was a hot, late August afternoon and we took to the woods to cool down after working hard in the fields all day. I sometimes have a hard time to make sense of the chaos in the woods, so I had initially walked past this shot and disregarded it. My fiancé encouraged me to stop and find a composition in the fleeting light. I finally settled on this view and had just enough time to get a meter reading and take the shot before the light faded completely.
I almost didn’t take this shot, and now it’s one of my favourites. I can still feel the warm breeze on my skin every time I look at this image.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
JH: My name is Jessica and I am a film photographer, blogger, and part-time organic farmer based out of Montreal, Quebec. Although I grew up in the outskirts of the city, I still have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. On the one hand, it has a good art scene, and it’s a great place to practice street photography. On the other hand, it is dirty and smoggy and I prefer the company of trees and wildlife.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
JH: My parents bought me my first camera for my 9th birthday, a little plastic Vivitar point-and-shoot and a box of Kodak Gold 400. I was always bugging them to let me use their camera, but they were afraid my grubby little hands were going to break it (with good reason, I was a bit of a klutz), so they bought me a “dummy proof” camera to play with. I was obsessed with shooting rolls and rolls of film of my everyday life, and I would anxiously await the packages of processed negatives and 4×6 prints.
Since my first camera I have gone on to collect many more, venturing into medium format as well with plans to purchase my first large format camera soon. I love cameras, I love film, I love the darkroom, and I love seeing my imagination come to life in my prints.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
JH: When I was younger I didn’t realize the potential I could have had as a photographer. I had my little point-and-shoot that I carried everywhere with me, but I never had any real drive or purpose, I just wanted to document my childhood and adolescence. The internet wasn’t a thing when I was growing up, so I had no exposure to photography other than the shots my parents took. I didn’t study the masters, I barely even knew their names at the time, and I had never held an SLR until I was in my 20s.
When I went to university, I was studying History and Sociology when I discovered that I could take a few beginner photography classes. It was then that I started to look to the masters and study their work. My favourites are Ansel Adams, Andre Kertesz, Mary Ellen Mark, and Henri Cartier-Bresson… they have all very distinct styles and have produced fascinating bodies of work that I could stare at for hours on end. I obviously try not to copy their work, but every now and then I see a little glimmer of their influence on me in my own work and it makes me smile.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
JH: I do own a digital camera, but I rarely use it… in fact, I barely even know how to use it except for in manual mode. I do shoot the occasional wedding, but otherwise I could go months without touching it. I never really connected with digital the way I do with film, I just don’t enjoy shooting and processing digitally. I would rather spend hours in the darkroom than hours on a computer.
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?
JH: My next challenge is to keep myself motivated and to shoot more. Having just finished a major year-long project, I want to keep my momentum going, wrap up a lot of other projects that have been sitting on the backburner for far too long. I would also like to experiment more, to push open my boundaries and be willing to try new things.
The best way to improve myself is to get out there and practice, practice, practice…
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
JH: I’m definitely drawn to nature photography. When I need to disconnect and lose myself in my viewfinder I often head to the woods on my fiancé’s farm, spending hours composing shots with my cherished Mamiya RB67.
I am also fascinated by the documentary aspect of street photography, although I chicken out of a lot of shots.
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?
JH: Canon F-1, FD 50mm f/1.4 lens, Ilford HP5+, Agfa Vista 400. The F-1 is my main workhorse (despite my love for my RB67), it is the setup that I am most comfortable shooting with. Both films are ones I have shot on extensively, I know how they will react in multiple settings. They both perform well at either box speed or pushed to ISO 1600, so I would have all of my bases covered.
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?
JH: That’s an easy one! I would spend the rest of my days photographing on my fiancé’s farm. With 200 acres of woods, fields, lakes, and gardens I would never get bored. I would absolutely bring the RB67 and Ilford FP4+. I find the 6×7 negative size perfect for landscapes, and my favourite feature on the RB67 is the rotating back if I ever want to shoot portraits. I’m a big fan of Ilford products, and FP4+ is one of my favourite films, it’s not too grainy and has nice contrast while preserving details.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
JH: Oh boy, this question kind of bums me out, I just can’t imagine a world without film! Even though I shoot mainly in black & white, I think I would like my last roll to be Cinestill 800. I have never actually shot with it, but the results I have seen online are phenomenal, and I would love to have a go at it. I would shoot it as the day turns from evening to night in a festival or carnival setting, I could just imagine the bright, colorful lights against a darkening sky, maybe a few faces peeking out of the darkness.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
JH: I hate it when people comment on film being a “hipster thing”, like it’s a fad that will disappear one day. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against hipsters, but to belittle something with an incredible history as film and see it as a passing trend is ludicrous to me.
I think the best way to set it straight is to just keep shooting and enjoy each others’ results, instead of focusing so much on the method.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
JH: I think we have a bright future ahead of us. Kodak is bringing back a beloved film emulsion this fall, New 55 are working hard to keep peel-apart film alive, Impossible has their foothold firm in instant film, and new-to-market films (like JCH400 from Japan Camera Hunter, for example) are popping up left and right. Bergger, Film Ferrania, and Cinestill are creating some exciting emulsions, and there is still room for more.
Today’s technology has never made it easier to shoot film, as scanners and digital printing have seen major advancements, allowing photographers to share their work with wider audiences in online communities. Film isn’t going anywhere, at least not for a very long time.
~ Jessica Hobbs
“When I was younger I didn’t realize the potential I could have had as a photographer.”
I don’t think this statement should be limited to a specific age range!
For those of us who aren’t professional, or (formally?) accomplished photographers, it’s easy to dismiss what we do as being fun, or some kind of throwaway past time.
Sure, there may be elements of that in what we do – photography should be enjoyable after all! – but I feel very strongly that we should all try to realise what we could achieve, regardless of if we manage to snag a single keeper from a roll of film, or a dozen.
Call me wishy-washy but I believe we all have the potential to be great photographers. It takes time and patience; and for some, the right time and environment. Most of all, it requires a self-belief that the potential exists within you and getting your work out there.
For all the great photographers we look to today, how many of them simply had the luck of being discovered by the right person at the right time? How many others were and still probably are out there having produced or being in the process of producing unseen masterpieces?
Believe in yourself, develop as a photographer and in today’s world especially, share your work people.
Thanks to Jessica for her time in getting this put together. Photographing over 200 festivals in 12 months is an incredible feat and no doubt exhausting.
Please take a minute to head on over to her website (jessicahobbsphotography.com), and to the Facebook page for her Festival Project (facebook.com/festivalprojectmtl_). Great words and pictures on both!
That’s it for fresh interviews this week but you can always catch up with past interviewees right here on EMULSIVE, or over on social media, where they’re regularly reposted.
Next week’s interview (if it’s finally pulled off) will be something of a break from the norm. Head back on Wednesday to see it for yourself.
Keep shooting, folks!
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