I am John Crane and this is why I shoot film
Certain readers may recognise today’s interviewee as the man behind www.nikonf6.net. I prefer to call him John. It’s easy to downplay john’s contribution to both film photography and the the film photography community but you won’t find any of that here.
There’s more to come on that front but for now, it’s over to John for this thoughts…
HI JOHN, WHAT’S THIS PICTURE, THEN?
JC: This photograph is from a recent outing to southern Wyoming, part of a larger project I call 4042n – focusing on the region of land straddling the Colorado – Wyoming border. We’ve had an active sky this Spring and its made for some dramatic backdrops to Wyoming’s rustic character.
OK, SO WHO ARE YOU? (THE SHORT VERSION, PLEASE)
JC: Growing up, I was the friend everyone probably has that cared more about getting the most from every adventure than worrying about cleaning up the mess waiting when you got home. I’m the guy who took his graduation money after college and hitch hiked to Alaska with my dog because I’d spent so much time listening to Paul Winter Consort and reading Barry Lopez’s ‘Arctic Dreams.’
Today I’m a husband, dad, and artist living and working in Fort Collins, Colorado. I’ve studied art my whole life and journalism in college. I come from a long line of engineers which no doubt contributes to an active left brain balancing out the creative thought process.
I started my career at a photo studio in Chicago and for the past 22 years have made a living as a 3D illustrator and animator, with photography always in the background. I also curate a couple of blogs: The Nikon F6 Project and Blue Hour Journal.
I shoot 35mm and medium format film, and work in both color and black and white – though I’m mostly in a monochrome phase now.
WHEN DID YOU START SHOOTING FILM AND WHAT ABOUT NOW? WHY DO YOU SHOOT FILM AND WHAT DRIVES YOU TO KEEP SHOOTING?
JC: As a young teenager in the early 70’s my parents gave me a Canon AT-1 for Christmas. From that moment on I’ve had a camera in my hands.
As to why I continue to shoot film well…along with the often stated reasons of slowing down and the look of film, there are other significant factors.
I worked in film for a long time before first exploring digital photography in 2006…but there was this sense I’d never really quite ‘gotten it right.’ Digital photography provided a short feedback loop, immediately revealing the results of small adjustments in technique. Armed with this knowledge I had to go back to my first love, film, and put it into practice.
Then there are the attributes of film-recorded images. The look of a film image to me is more pleasing than a digital image. There’s an organic vs. a sterile quality to it.
Then there are the mechanics of actually working with film. At first I thought it was a nostalgia thing but it’s more than that. There’s a focus necessary when working with film that’s not necessary with a digital camera. One could focus as intently with a digital camera but because we don’t need to we don’t. With film, you have X number of shots; a boundary. We love to hate boundaries but the truth is they’re good for us.
This boundary forces me to be selective in what I turn my lens to facilitating closer observation and really considering what it is I’m photographing – and why. Film facilitates this selection process and forces more of the photographer into each frame produced. This contributes to authenticity of an image and could be argued infuses greater value.
There’s the tactile/haptic nature of film. I spend so much time in front of the computer that when the time comes to get away and enjoy photography – the last thing I want to do is pick up another computer. At the end of the day, holding a roll of film or negative in hand is more satisfying than 1’s and 0’s stored on a computer.
Then there’s the archival nature of film. I have binders on my shelves containing nearly every frame of film exposed since opening that AT-1 so many years ago. It represents zero dependency on electronics, requires no back up and will never be lost in a crash. Not long ago I was transitioning computers and moved 8Tb of work content from one computer to the next. I realized that – without a computer – my ‘life’s work’ would vanish. This freaked me out a little.
Another aspect to shooting film is the delayed gratification of viewing the image. When we shoot film there’s no temptation to directly compare a tiny image blinking on the camera’s rear LCD to the real scene before our eyes. Instead, the photographer applies thought, technique, intuition, knowledge, experience and talent answering the question: what’s the the best way of translating the 3-dimensional real world before you into a 2- dimensional photograph, preserving what you think and feel that very moment. If you don’t take the time to pay attention to what you think and feel – the resulting image is empty.
The anticipation of waiting for a roll of film to develop is – besides from the moment you release the shutter – one of the most exciting times of film photography. Lifting the spool from the tank after final rinse and seeing the first frames is exhilarating. There’s this feeling that you’ve once again created something with your hands – and there’s nothing like it.
Then there’s “The Value of Unique Pictures.” In my work on the F6 Project I came across an interview with one of the lead developers on the F6 team, Tomohisa Ikeno called “The Value of Unique Pictures”, and pretty much sums up how I feel about this discussion.
There’s the idea of matching the media to the subject matter. Wyoming and Colorado aren’t slick, polished subjects. They’re raw, gritty and unrefined. Film as a medium on which to record such images fits my vision well. I believe there’s such a strong cultural current flowing towards a convenient, ‘digital society’ that the tactile components we rely on to fully experience the world around us are slowly being reduced from our collective senses. Shooting film is a definitive stance against it.
Another aspect of authenticity is image integrity. While not bound by the stringent requirements of photojournalism – I do highly value the authentic image. My goal is always to get everything right in the camera so when you hold a negative or transparency up to a light box and compare it to the print – or image on a computer screen – you’re looking at the same picture. I use digital tools to realize tone/color and clone out dust and hair – but that’s it. The frame of film serves as the plumb line for the image.
And finally, the tools. Photographers have a complex relationship with their tools. The intangible qualities of working with old, high-quality, made-to-last-forever film cameras brings a joy to the process of picture making. There’s a partnership there that for me, today’s modern digital cameras simply can’t match.
At the end of the day the decision to shoot film is a personal one based on an individual’s creative objective.
ANY FAVORITE SUBJECT MATTER?
JC: I’m an outdoor photographer with a particular fondness for the Rocky Mountain West, especially northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. I remember once looking at a map of Colorado and seeing the little compass on the page, placed in an uninteresting portion of land in the north west corner of Moffatt County – obscuring what few features lie beneath. These are the places I want to visit – at least in part because they’re deemed worthless by others.
The height of joy for me is discovering someplace new; someplace I’ve never seen before – preferably some place with few people around. I love to explore; to discover what road connects with another; what lies between the gaps in the maps, or where a road ends. As I do so, anything along that route is fair game.
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?
JC: I’m more concerned about vision and connection than technique. For me the most important part of photography whenever I go out is looking for that connection. It can come from anything: the land, the sky that day, or four deer walking across the road.
For me, photography is really a tool that facilitates discovery. I won’t pretend my technique can’t improve – but it’s more about putting to use whatever technique and tools I have, and learning from mistakes. I’ve gone through periods hung up on ‘consistency’ – but now believe its more of a trap then a benefit.
I think sometimes we can get stuck in the formulaic, tending to go with what works – and stop employing creativity or imagination. We stop seeing because we’re looking for the same, old thing.
Recently I’ve started developing my own black and white film again. I’m enjoying experimenting with developers, times, dilutions, etc. After so many years of not doing so the creative reinvigoration is wonderful. Ultimately my goal is to get back in the dark room to wet print.
YOU CAN NEVER USE FILM AGAIN. WHAT’S YOUR LAST ROLL?
JC: In the right light Fuji Velvia is rich, detailed, contrasty and gorgeous. I’d probably nurse along a roll of Velvia in my F6 as long as it took to populate 36 worthy frames.
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?
JC: Without hesitation – my Nikon F6 and the Nikkor 28-70 1:2,8D would be the hardware. The media would be a roll of Kodak Portra 400 and a roll of Ilford Delta 400 Professional. The reasons are simple: they’re fail-safe, reliable, dependable tools I know like the back of my hand.
YOU HAVE AN UNLIMITED SUPPLY OF FILM TO SHOOT IN ONE LOCATION. WHERE DO YOU GO?
JC: At the moment I’d have to say back up to Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Between the rainforests, mountains and shore lines I imagine I could keep busy the rest of my life photographing that country.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS PEOPLE’S GREATEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT FILM PHOTOGRAPHY AND HOW WOULD YOU SET IT STRAIGHT?
JC: That it’s hard, expensive, and no longer available or viable – none of which are true. It truly is a great time to be a film photographer. Never before has photography had so many avenues with which to experiment and explore your creative vision.
One of the greatest things today is how simple and inexpensive it is to get started. Once you get rolling it’s also easy to get into high-end film photography. In the past much of this exquisite gear was priced well out of reach of mere mortals. Today they’re easily obtainable; a gift given to us by digital photography, thank you very much.
Today we also have the option of a hybrid work flow; shooting analog and editing/printing/archiving digitally. It really is a great time to be a film photographer.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT’S THE FUTURE OF FILM PHOTOGRAPHY?
JC: I think film will always be around, at least in my lifetime. If you think of digital cameras as a gateway to photography, film represents the next step. Many talented photographers grow bored with digital and turn to film for creative invigoration.
The good news is, I believe film sales bottomed out several years ago and are now on the rise. Every place I visit that sells film I ask: ‘how are your film sales?’ Almost to a shop the response is the same: ‘we can’t keep it on the shelf.’ Now whether this is because they’re under ordering, or there really is an enormous demand for what little film is on those shelves is another question. But the simple truth is, people are still buying and exposing a lot of film. This demand fuels the supply. As long as we keep shooting they’ll keep producing. It’s a great time to be a film photographer.
~ John Crane
Where to start…where to start?
Theres so much to work with here it’s hard to know where to begin. Or should I say, it’s hard to decide where to begin. The idea that going to digital helped inform John’s film photography, his joy at the delayed gratification of film; the fact that as film photographers, we must wait for that moment of satisfaction, or dismay…his idea that film represents ‘the next step’. It’s all a little too much to take in.
I ask each and every one of the photographers featured here to be as verbose as they can, to describe their thoughts and feelings in as much detail as possible and most importantly to try and impart their passion for the medium of film. It’s partly because of a feeling that if they do, I don’t have to do as much work (selfish, I know), but it’s also partly because a feel that my own commentary is largely redundant and unnecessary. After all, it’s only about what I feel and the important thing for me is to allow you come up with your own conclusions.
It’s been a while since I last thought to myself, “there’s nothing more to add”. Well John, you’ve succeeded in shutting me up.
Please make sure you head on over to the Nikon F6 Project and John’s Blue Hour Journal, or track the man down on Twitter at johnbcrane1. He’s an exceptional individual and in my opinion, his 4042n Project is exceptional.
We’ll be back soon with another film photographer for you to get stuck into but in the meantime, keep shooting, folks.
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