I am Justin Rhody and this is why I shoot film
Justin Rhody is part photographer, part musician, part travel-nut and polymath is the first word that springs to mind when you see the breadth of his body of work and consider his hectic schedule.
You may already be familiar with his books and exhibitions but Vernacular Visions, is the one which might have stuck in your mind. It’s Justin’s travelling monthly show of slides found at flea markets, thrift stores, and junk stores from around the US.
There’s an impressive breadth to his work, which as you’ll see from the images he’s chosen to share with us today, has something of a “modern classic” look about it. What do I mean? Hopefully you’ll see for yourself below.
Over to Justin.
Hi Justin, what’s this image, then?
I made this photograph recently in New Mexico while traveling across the US on a book tour. On this trip I spent a month in the Southwest developing upon a photo series titled The Western Lands. Adding extra days of general wandering without obligations into the schedule and a map of back roads has dealt some incredible discoveries and acquaintances.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m the guy wearing a white t-shirt and glasses who was born in the Midwest, but is currently living in California by choice. When I’m in town on Sundays, I usually stop by the flea market on my way to the horse track. At home the oven is on and the windows are open.
When did you start shooting film?
I began using film in a dedicated and consistent manner in 2006. It very quickly became the major tool in my life to explore my surroundings and thoughts. I was in my early twenties and was traveling across the country on a regular basis while playing in bands or visiting friends.
Around this time I discovered a way to scam free film processing and prints from a large corporation, which allowed for me to freely explore technique without much concern for the cost of my “education” beyond the price of the film itself. However after a few years my desire for higher quality led me to the use of better film, professional processing and dedicated Nikon scanners at home.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
I respect the quality and archival nature of film, but what’s led me to be such a heavy user more than anything else is the experience of engagement that film creates. Without the possibility of immediate review, I’m drawn into the process of composition in a more attentive and meditative-like state. I think it’s imperative that the process of the artwork be with and in the reality of the setting, rather than behind a large dark curtain.
Any favorite subject matter?
I try to maintain a democratic approach and open mind, but there always seems to be subconscious elements that continually surface along the way. Even in the most barren setting, the residue of human action seems to dot the landscape and the passing of time seems to mirror my own ability (or lack thereof) to perceive it. The referent always lies outside of the frame.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
A can of Kodak Ektar 100. I’d either shoot it infrequently enough to make it last a long time or (more likely) I’d go for a long walk and not return home until it was used up.
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’d bring a Nikon F5 with a Nikkor 28-105mm lens, some Kodak Ektar 100 & Portra 400 film. This setup is my regular rig and feels versatile enough to handle most conditions. I love the deep saturation of the Ektar film but it doesn’t handle skin tones very well. So the Portra will come in handy if that obstacle comes up…
If I were able to sneak in another camera, I’d bring along a Contax TVS II. Its discreet size is often a major asset when I’m shooting in potentially dangerous areas or need to remain incognito for other reasons.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
The exact geographical center of nowhere.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
In high school I was dissuaded from pursuing photography because it seemed overly mathematical and difficult. There are in fact a multitude of ways that you can navigate a camera through the world.
In the past, people have spoken about how a camera can be used in the style of different firearms (rifle vs. shotgun), but I’d like to add that it can also be used like a knife or a bullhorn or a whip.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
“I don’t know.” In general the future seems uncertain and precarious at best, but these are situations and circumstances that most artists have dealt with on a daily basis for some time now.
Remember that comment I made about Justin’s “modern classic” look up at the top of the page? Do you see what I was getting at?
If I didn’t know that these images were taken within the past decade, I could happily place any of them at any time over the past 30-40 years. Perhaps it’s because of the influences Justin’s picked up along his travels, or perhaps it’s the result of rummaging one slide too many along the way. I’d like to think it’s a mish-mash of both.
He’s no more a conventional photographer, as he is a conventional human being. His work ranges from wide-open and close up, to landscape and nature…often at funny, oblique angles. What might be perceived as a mistake in framing on first glance, the viewer realises to be intentional on the second, third, fourth, fifth…you keep wanting to go back.
Following that, there’s the downright strange and inspired. The brilliant Horse Track Portraits is a great example of his mad genius and very worthy of your time.
We’ll be back with Justin very soon, as we’ll be running a little feature on his current project, Zona Urbana. Please check it out, it’s a stunning compilation of his work. In the meantime, we’ll leave you to scroll back up to the top of the page and check out Justin’s images again.
As ever, 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.