I am Joe Smith and this is why I shoot film
Here’s something a little different. Welcome to the wonderful abstract world of Joe Smith and his pre-exposures, multiple exposures and ingenious use of light and textures.
Hope you’re hungry, it really is a feast.
Over to you, Joe.
Hi Joe, what’s this picture, then?
JS: Kodachrome through my Canon EOS 50e twice. Exposed once in Manchester and then a second time in the Lake District. I’d wanted to merge the two contrasting landscapes and definitely lucked out with the frame alignment for a first attempt.
I’d made a conscious effort to orient the camera different ways the first and second time the film was exposed. I consider this to be the starting point of where I’m at now stylistically with my film work.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
JS: Photographer. Manchester. England. Too short?
…I’ve lived here for 10 years now. I came to study at Salford University and never really left. This city is a special place to me and has played a huge part in shaping me as a creative. I feel my journey taking photos properly began here. I take a broad selection of images using analogue and digital cameras. This series is a sample of images I’ve shot on film over the past two years.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
JS: I would say I started taking an interest in film properly in my first year at University after discovering cross processing. I was briefly distracted by a DSLR I bought after graduating but then after learning to develop black and white film a while later, I was hooked on film again.
It’s the reward I feel from executing an idea using an analogue process that keeps me going back to the medium. I have a design/illustration background from university and where the brief permitted, I would nearly always strive to produce work in a way that didn’t really incorporate a computer for much or any of the creative process.
In my most recent film work I’ve been trying to work in a similar fashion, Swapping my sketchbook, for cheap macro adapters and film emulsion. Analogue image making 10 years on. Finding ways around working digitally has helped me explore the origins of digital effects and techniques that are available with only a few clicks of the mouse.
Discovering the work of film photographers Davis Ayer and Jessica Eaton has been an amazing insight into what’s possible with film and has led me to start experimenting more than ever. The number of post digital whipper snappers asking Davis Ayer what app he uses to create his polaroid images on his Instagram feed makes me smile.
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?
JS: Currently the biggest challenge I’m facing is finding time for the more creative aspects of my practice in amongst the day to day stuff. I’m about to leave a business I’ve been co-operating for a while now to focus more on my photographic work, so I’m very caught up in the transition.
As it stands though I feel I’ve introduced elements to my image making process that should provide me with plenty to work with. Until I start anything completely new I plan to continue exploring this and will carry on incorporating it into my portrait work.
I’ve been making sure I take at least one pre exposed roll of film that generally contains a series of abstract colours/textures when I go to a wedding shoot in a bid to create something a little different for my clients.
The film images have definitely stood out amongst the digital images.
Any favorite subject mater?
JS: Recently I’ve been focusing on creating more abstract work, experimenting with multiple exposures, light and textures thrown out of focus. The abstract images shown in this series often bring about quite a few different elements like stencils, painted acetates, paper and integrally a light box.
I’ve now arrived at experimenting with the prints themselves. I plan to see how far removed from the original image I can take it through analogue manipulation.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
JS: That’s difficult, I want to say Ilford HP5+ as it’s what I feel I owe my enthusiasm for film to. But I’ve been using colour 35mm exclusively for about a year now and often from the bargain basket at my local camera shop. So if it’s the last then, I’d like to think I had taken an idea to it’s conclusion so I’d say Kodak ColourPlus. It’s great value.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject mater. What do you take with you and why?
JS: I’d have to say a Nikon FM3A and the Nikon 85mm 1.4 AIS. I’ve not owned the camera but have been lusting after one for about 10 years. I did own the lens but I foolishly sold it to pay the rent. It’s a beautifully engineered monster that I never really got chance to use properly before I had to sell it.
As for films it would have to be Ilford HP5+ 35mm for sure. I shot nothing else for a year after learning to process black and white film. It’s really flexible and seemed pretty forgiving of my sloppy home processing. My second choice would be Kodak Portra 400 (You’re paying right?).
Two of my favourites.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
JS: America. It’s a vast & fascinating place that I’ve only seen small percentage of.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
JS: A surprising number of people I speak to about taking photographs with film are unaware it’s still quite readily available let alone that it’s use is seeing a resurgence.
Also, that it’s better/worse than digital or a waste of time.
Personally I find the process much more fun and in many cases the aesthetic more pleasing than digital but each to their own. With regards to the abstract/experimental side of it, there are things you can achieve with film I wouldn’t dream of trying to emulate digitally and just wouldn’t find nearly as rewarding if I did.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
JS: I watched a really insightful talk on Youtube from Michael Bain one of the guys from Ilford just this afternoon and if that’s something to go by things are looking strong, certainly for them at least (EMULSIVE: see the foot of this page for the video!). I would hope recent support from Hollywood and Kodak’s 8mm movie camera announcement will go towards boosting interest in film photography.
Who knows maybe we can expect to see investment in new film/hardware from the major players.
~ Joe Smith
The thought of new film and hardware from the “major players” Joe mentioned above is enticing to say the least. Sure, we have new film, lenses and cameras from Impossible, Lomography, Cinestill and (hopefull soon), Ferannia but there’s still room for more.
I’d personally love to see a new film SLR from Nikon, or Canon, maybe a new M42 body or even (pretty please), a new medium format monster. The important thing in my opinion would be to make it accessible in both price and scale of distribution. Not all of us are willing, or able to purchase a $4000 film rangefinder – or in fact have the desire to do so given the opportunity – so pretty please, can we have something that we can all buy and use?
Anyway, on to Joe. I first saw his abstract work (I think) a couple of years back and I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what I was seeing. I knew I liked it but I had no idea that one could obtain such results using film. It literally blew my mind. So, I was incredibly happy when Joe got in touch at the beginning of the year and I’m very pleased to have been able to feature his unique brand of abstract photography and approach to portraiture. I hope you love it as much as I do and with any luck, the images above will have inspired a few of you to go and try your hand at discovering your own style.
Thanks very much to joe for being such a good sport and stepping up to show us his work. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; it takes guts and I appreciate each and every shot each every interviewee has shared.
We’ll be back VERY soon with another interview but in the meantime, keep shooting, folks!
Oh, here’s the video mentioned earlier. Enjoy.
Contribute to EMULSIVEEMULSIVE NEEDS YOU. The driving force behind EMULSIVE is knowledge transfer, specifically engendering more of it in the film photography community. You can help by contributing your thoughts, work and ideas.
Help drive an open, collaborative community - all you need do is drop us a line and we'll work something out.