I am Jon Wilkening and this is why I shoot film
UPDATE: Check out the addendum to Jon’s interview
Grab a tall drink and make yourself comfortable. It’s time for a little look into the journey of Jon Wilkening, producer and purveyor of the strangest and most mesmerizing pinhole photography I’ve ever been lucky enough to see – this coming from someone who finds it rather difficult to get into the pinhole aesthetic. High praise? See for yourself.
Over to you, Jon!
Hi Jon, what’s this picture, then?
This shot changed how I approached pinhole photography. I abandoned the tripod for the first time and handheld my f/192 pinhole camera as the pair waited to cross the busy street in the heart of Philly.
The blur combined with the pinhole aesthetic gives the image a painterly quality that captured my imagination.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I am a misfit photographer who loves doing things the long hard stupid way.
When did you start shooting film and what about now, why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
My roommate in college convince me to take the Intro to Black & Film Photography class my senior year. It definitely was the highlight of my academic career.
The next semester, I became a darkroom lab assistant helping the next crop of students in the same class.
I stopped photography for 7 years after college while employed in the financial industry until the misery of the job forced me back. I initially chose to use digital but I returned back to film about year later.
Film forces me to be present.
With digital I struggled remaining in creation mode — it’s so easy to switch to editor mode as the image appears on the back the camera. The real price of each shutter click and the delayed gratification of film seems to have propelled my work in a way digital hadn’t.
The switch back to film made me a more creative photographer. It imposed limitations that I had to manoeuvre around to create the images that I wanted.
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?
The next challenge is learning to control the style to produce images that match the idea right before pressing the shutter. I only discovered that I could hand hold a pinhole camera last summer.
For the last 9 months through trail and error, I am figuring out what elements combine together to produce a pleasant image. The process still feels like magic.
In a way, I hope I never completely lose that sense of awe but with more control, I could produce even better images.
For a little comparison, here are two pinhole images from right before I began the current technique and another two from recent rolls of film.
Any favourite subject matter?
My favorite moments are those ordinary moments on the street that are often forgotten or ignored. I love taking those moments and transforming them into something interesting.
To take the forgotten familiar and elevate into art.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
Kodak Aerochrome Infrared film. I never used it before but I would love to see what it would look like in my pinhole camera.
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?
I struggled trying to answer this question.
My pinhole camera requires a ton of light to produce the images that I create and since I don’t know the assignment before hand, I would probably pick my Bronica ETRSi with a 75mm f2.8 lens with a roll of Ilford HP5+ and Kodak Portra 400. The setup gives me the flexibility to handle everything.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Kodak Ektar 100 and India. I spent a couple years living in India as a kid and the combination of bright colors and tons of people presents a perfect playground for my pinhole work.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
My choice to shot film is not a judgement on those who shot digital.
I use film because it works for me. Use what ever gear or process that works for you to create the image you want. Just do me the favor and create your own work not just imitate another photographer.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
Film photography has a bright future. It will never reach the mass production levels of the past but that’s ok.
The old players might be struggling a little but new boutique companies are starting to spring up. New films keep being introduced. The internet has had a tremendous impact lowering the knowledge barrier for new photographers.
Thanks for the insight into your journey so far, Jon and good luck for the future.
I’ve recently tried to pick on the words and thoughts of my interview subjects and from the small treasure trove here today, I’ve decided to go with this: “I use film because it works for me.”
I was recently introduced to an old friend of a friend over dinner. We talked about this and that but nothing much of substance was exchanged until our mutual friend pointed out that I occasionally take photos and happen to use some pretty old cameras. This seemed to pique the newcomer’s interest and I inevitably ended up giving him my camera to look over (a Yashica TLR). He looked at it much in the way that a child might look at a rotary telephone and then ask-told me that I must shoot it because it looked so cool.
Much to my chagrin, I agreed that “yes, I like shooting it because it’s cool”, something that couldn’t be further from the truth. Naturally, I spent the rest of the night kicking myself that I had in no way been able to express why I love my Yash, or why I specfically choose to shoot film. Thanks to Jon for belatedly giving me the words I should have used.
That’s it for another interview but we’ll be back soon. In the meantime, please take a few minutes out to connect with Jon via Twitter, as well as setting aside some time to absorb much more of his unique work at his web site: jonwilkening.com
As ever, keep shooting, folks.
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