I am Joseph Gamble and this is why I shoot film
Have you ever seen an image that stopped you dead in your tracks?
It last happened to me about a year ago, maybe more, maybe less.
I was browsing an online gallery of desktop wallpapers, looking for something a little abstract to fill my monitors when I stumbled on a picture of an industrial ruin, or so I thought.
It seemed to me that I should know what it was but I couldn’t quite place it. Once I was finally done staring, thinking and trying to recall where I’d seen something like it before, I mentally put the image to one side to come for a later reckoning.
Since then, that image must have popped up on my screen a hundred times. Sometimes in plain view, sometimes partially obscured by windows – always making my eyes flick and causing me to think, think, think.
Fast forward to few weeks ago and I was contacted by today’s interviewee, Joseph Gamble. We struck up a conversation and upon looking at some of his work, I realised that it was his image I’d seen and become entranced with.
I won’t tell you which one of the half a dozen shots below it is but I will say that I’m incredibly glad that Joseph got in touch and to learn that this iconic image (for me), was also captured on film.
Anyway, enough from me. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.
Over to you, Joseph.
Hi Joseph, what’s this picture, then?
During the summer of 2004, I spent a season with a minor league baseball team documenting the behind-the-scenes component of this road-weary life as part of my art school studies. This image was a discovery at the very end of the process.
Editing through stacks of contact sheets, this image leapt out at me and quickly found a place in the final edit. One of my professors said that if Lee Friedlander took one photo at a baseball game, it would look something like this image. So, this photograph became a totem of photographic vision for me, a realization about the importance of discovering your own voice with the camera.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
A Colorado-based photography professor and fine art photographer. Guess that’s my elevator pitch. I’m also a fly-fisherman, a lover of Triumph and BMW Motorcycles and I tinker around with a Tumblr site devoted to the Leica M6 called Ilovemym6.com.
When did you start shooting film?
Twenty-one years ago, I began shooting Kodak T-MAX in a Pentax K1000. During that summer, I studied photography in Boston at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts under the documentary photographer Roswell Angier. I certainly shot personal photographs with film prior to formal photographic study but I cite that class as my real beginning as a film photographer.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
When I started teaching “Intro to Photography” at the University of Tampa in the Fall of 2011, I rediscovered the darkroom. It was like reconnecting with an old friend. I began shooting monochrome for personal imagery and eventually got back into medium and large format.
There is something powerful and slow about film that seems like a spiritual antidote to this technology-driven culture of instant web-based gratification. Personally, I missed the craft of the medium, the tactile experience of printing imagery and the hand-made result.
Any favorite subject mater?
I definitely love travel and street photography but those are subjects that tend to work best for me in color. As I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, I’ve found it difficult to make these types of photographs with any regularity so I’ve been working lately with a Hasselblad panoramic camera shooting panchromatic film for use with landscapes. Working within the constraints of 24x65mm has proven to be creatively very liberating.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
I would likely purpose this roll (Kodak T-MAX again) and make portraits of my immediate family, especially my parents. Life is impermanent and I would have the satisfaction of knowing that I was creating images of great personal significance.
Lately, I’ve been printing some of my grandfather’s images from negatives that are 70 years old and the process has connected me to him in a way that I never thought possible.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject mater. What to you take with you and why?
Leica M6 with 35mm Summicron and a roll of T-MAX 400 and 3200 (provided I can find some). The resolving power of Leica’s glass is unmatched and I’ve spent the requisite time to learn how to use rangefinders to make images suited to my vision as a photographer.
T-MAX has been with me since the start and it pushes well but if I found myself in some type of low light scenario, the grain of the 3200 has an unmistakable unique look that I would favor and use.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
As much as I would love to head to Paris and decamp in St. Germain with my Leica for a few weeks of street photography, I would likely purpose unlimited film in the service of my current project “Forgotten Space: Abandon in Place.” It is an ongoing body of large format color landscapes that explore the early US space program launch sites.
There are great costs associated with this decision to work with large format color film so I would have to consider an opportunity with unlimited film as a means of continuing this body of work and moving it forward.
I’m constantly applying for grants and fellowships to aid in the execution and completion of this body of work. Sadly, the film divisions of manufacturers seem to no longer provide sponsorship for long-term documentary work in exchange for credits with exhibitions. If you’re out there Kodak Alaris, I’d be happy to put a few boxes of Ektar to good use.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
That it is a gimmicky “look at me I’m different” strategy by hipsters who are somehow dissatisfied with digital. I think film fosters a more deliberate methodology in working behind the camera and I’m confident it creates a greater awareness of subject in students and young photographers.
It’s no surprise that my strongest students are the ones who have worked with prime lenses and film. The mistakes they make with their images tend to be more instructive, more lasting in the way they function as signposts to future shooting situations.
Certainly, the cost of film and the time commitment prohibit you from being lazy and relying on technology to compensate for poor technique and craft. I’m not anti-digital by any stretch as I consider it just another tool in the arsenal alongside differing film formats, collodion, etc.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
I’m no expert qualified to pontificate about where it is going but just recently, Kodak demolished another one of its former film production laboratories. Fuji announced it is dropping a number of its long-standing film lines and raising the price on the ones that remain.
I had a conversation with Mark Osterman at the George Eastman House a few weeks back and he spoke convincingly about color film likely coming to an end during our lifetime, as a result of the motion picture industry going totally digital. Perhaps we owe a measure of thanks to directors like Christopher Nolan, Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino that color film still exists for 35mm photographers.
The silver lining seems to be that creative films like Arista, Lomography or the Impossible Project can survive and I think monochrome gelatin emulsions will endure as an alternative process that thrives in photographic curricula and community-based darkrooms and photo centers.
Harvey Wang’s new film “Darkroom to Daylight” really explores these ideas and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it.
~ Joseph Gamble
By way of a belated introduction, we should say that Joseph Gamble is a professional photographer, educator and writer, currently based in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Joseph is a professor of photography at the Isaacson School for New Media at Colorado Mountain College and his work has appeared in a variety of commercial, editorial and fine art contexts. His schedule is busy to say the least, so I’m doubly glad that he took the time to reach out and be interviewed.
You can find out more about Joseph’s work at his website, http://www.josephgamble.com or see the lighter side of his obsessions at http://www.ilovemym6.com. We’d also recommend giving Joseph a follow on Twitter.
That’s it for now. Until next time, keep shooting, folks.
EMULSIVE needs you. If you’d like to take part in this series of film photographer interviews, please drop us a line, or get in touch in the comments. We’re featuring to photographers young and old; famous and obscure, so get in touch and let’s talk.