I am Kristen Smith and this is why I shoot film
It must have been near on a year ago when I first nudged today’s interviewee for her time over on Twitter. As happens sometimes, she wanted to have a think about it all, as she wasn’t sure what she would actually talk about.
Well, twelve months later and her time has finally come; and I’m incredibly glad she got over her writer’s block.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s none other Kristen Smith, aka, KristenWithACamera!
Over to you, Kristen!
Hi Kristen, what’s this picture, then?
KS: This is actually one of my favorite images I’ve ever taken. I would describe this as a good representation of “home.” Where I’m from in Upstate, New York, this style (white house with green trim and shutters) is common.
This house has charm – from the large wrap-around porch with a single rocking chair on it to the patched up roof. If you look closely at the windows, some of the shades have even begun to deteriorate. From the road, the leading lines of the property and the trees make the house appear enchanting.
There’s just something about this house. I would buy it if I could.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
KS: The basics: I’m a 24-year-old female living right outside of NYC and permanently weekending in the Catskill Mountains, at least, for now. I am very active on social media, organize a local Meetup group, create zines and have a fairly new podcast called WithACamera. [EMULSIVE: go subscribe now!]
The not-so- basic: It has taken me so long to do this interview because of this question. I’m still not quite sure I have a better answer than “the basics.” My life has been characterized by a lot of sadness, loneliness and loss. I can’t pretend that those things haven’t shaped both my photography and myself tremendously. Those “hard knocks” have also made me kind, generous and patient. I root for the underdog in every way that I can.
I’ve got big dreams and I’m working my ass off to make them a reality.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting?
KS: I was one of the last high school classes to learn black and white film photography before the school it phased out in schools. I picked film back up in college when I worked at a local lab and was able to process my film with the Fujifilm minilab there.
I think that there are a few factors that play into my love for photography:
One, my last Christmas gift from my mother before she passed away was a Canon camera. (Digital. I wish I’d shot film then.)
Two, I am and have always been close with my high school photography teacher. My connection with her is a strong motivator of mine. I have nothing but admiration for her and constantly have her in mind when I push the envelop with photography.
Three, I love it. I have been consistently excited about photography for 6 years.
I still feel the same excitement over seeing my negatives as I did when I first started shooting and would take 1,000 images of nothing on my Nikon DSLR and would stay awake all night uploading them to Flickr. I am constantly experimenting with different films, cameras, processes, etc.
However, now I am honing in on specific styles/processes as I begin work on a more “serious” long-term project.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
KS: Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
When I first started, I was inspired by a photographer named Garrett Faber – garrettfaber.tumblr.com. I could never get enough of his images of his life in Pennsylvania. I also remember being inspired by the notion that time is fleeting and being well aware that things were changing and would never be the same again.
What inspires me today? Well, there’s: Sally Mann, home, my teacher that I’ve mentioned, love, life, death, good lightning,
color, contrast, passion, excitement, magic, social media, (the #believeinfilm community) inspiration and the ability to inspire others, impulse and expression, to name a few.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
KS: Yes and no. I do have a few digital cameras and find uses for them occasionally. I try to save film for things that are more meaningful and important to me, whereas I’d shoot digital for an event or for less meaningful occasions.
That being said, there are times when I’ll shoot digital just because it’s convenient. This is a tough question. Most of the time, I’m shooting film.
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
KS: When I finish my current stash of film, I would like to focus on shooting with one black and white film stock and one color film stock. I may also consider lessening the amount of cameras that I am shooting with and limit my formats.
I think this will improve my technique because there will be more consistency. I lack that now and it is bittersweet.
I like to experiment with different types of film, but that isn’t the style I aspire to have. For the project that I mentioned vaguely, I am planning on just that – one color stock, one black and white stock.
I don’t want my tones to be all over the place when I’m trying to put together this body of work in particular.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
KS: My favorite subject matter has always been “home,” which for me is Upstate, NY in the Catskill Mountains. I love photographing the landscape, the abandoned buildings and when I have the opportunity, the people who inhabit this history-rich area.
A lot of different photographers talk about how you have to photograph what you love. Some say that is the only way to make truly remarkable images. I believe this.
I recently had some vacation time and decided to go home instead of going away on vacation. I dedicated my entire days to taking images of the landscape, my grandmother’s house and other subject matter that was personal to me and the images came out much better than if I’d taken a vacation to, say, Disney World or some tourist destination and took 250 photos of Mickey Mouse.
Most people who see the scenes that I gravitate toward would most likely related them with grim topics, like darkness and death, but it is in those things that I see the opposite: light and life. I shoot cemeteries to remind myself that life is finite and abandoned buildings because I can call on my imagination to picture a time when they weren’t that way. I shoot the Catskills because the mountains are my home.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What do you take with you and why?
KS: Fujifilm GA645 with a roll of Neopan 1600 and Portra 800. I’ve actually never shot either of those two before, but I think they’d be versatile for pretty much any subject matter.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, where do you go and why?
KS: I have to say Upstate, NY. Sure, there are places I’d like to visit. I’ve wanted to visit Route 66, Montreal and several other destinations, BUT it is back to what I said before – I’m very interested in shooting “close to home” subject matter right now.
Anyone can drive Route 66 and take the same pictures that have been taken a million times before, but no one can take the images of my home that I can take.
I’d shoot for consistency. Right now it looks like I’m leaning toward permanently adopting Fuji Acros 100 and a Kodak color film. Either Ektar 100 or Portra 400.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
KS: My last roll would be Kodak Aerochrome. I originally said Lomochrome Purple, (the “poor man’s” Aerochrome) BUT on second thought, why not shoot the real deal if it was my last roll? I’d pray for it to be a 35mm roll with 36 exp. and then I’d “cheat” and shoot it in a half-frame camera, getting the absolute most out of it that I could.
I thought about purchasing Aerochrome in the past, but it is so expensive and risky. I can’t claim I’d actually know what I was doing and that I’d know enough about it to even choose the right filters/etc.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
KS: I think that many people (who don’t shoot film) are unable to see the “point” since digital is so prevalent now. People are focused on the “cost,” but as everyone who chooses to shoot film knows, it is more about interacting and connecting with the subject/world around you and that does not mean that it is going to cost a fortune either.
It can, but it can also be more economical than purchasing certain digital cameras. Film cameras have stood the test of time whereas the majority of digital cameras are victims of planned obsolescence.
The experience of connecting is: looking down into a waist level viewfinder and seeing the exact shot you’re going to take right before your eyes, pulling a roll of film out of a developing tank and seeing your negatives, having strangers approach you on the street when they recognize your camera because “a family member used to have one just like it,” the #believeinfilm community on Twitter, handling a camera older than your grandparents and imagining the history the camera has, getting scans back from the lab…
There are so many ways.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
KS: I mentioned my adoration for my photography teacher. I think it was more that connection than my love for photography/the class. I didn’t exactly excel in photography and looking back, I wouldn’t have said it was my favorite subject. (Or anything close to it.)
Sally Mann is a remarkable photographer that I admire. I will have met her twice in the span of a week by the time this is posted. Reading her memoir Hold Still, I felt so connected to her, like I was reading about myself. How she photographs landscapes of the South reminds me of how I photography landscapes of Upstate, New York. I don’t mean the style, but the passion and connection behind the images and the process.
I also loved Lee Friedlander’s book Family in the Picture. It is a powerful series of images.
If you could see how many photography books I’ve taken out from the library in the past year, I’m sure they’d be the equivalent of at least 2 books a week.
I’m heavily influenced by film photographers that I interact with on social media.
~ Kristen Smith
I don’t often take stab the why’s and where’s of interviewee’s personal viewpoints but I feel Kristen is a rather special case and I hope she allows me this little indulgence.
In short, I feel she sometimes does herself a disservice.
As someone who also cites his major influences as the film photography community, I can completely understand how holding up work to my own can often be a disheartening experience – especially work that I consider to be exceptional. I largely get over this by trying to bring my own work up to what I consider to be “an acceptable or comparable level”.
It doesn’t always have an immediate effect but progress is something that must be earned in small improvements and they really do build up over time.
Don’t get disheartened: always forward.
The dozen or so images above are probably the most highly concentrated examples of Kristen’s photography in one place right now and like me you’re probably thinking, “these are beautiful, I wish she shared more”. So this goes out to you, Kristen. Please share more. Don’t sit in the shadows absorbing but never pushing anything back. Your work deserves to be seen and you should be proud of it. Critique yourself – mercilessly if you have to -but don’t deprive us of seeing the results of something that so obviously gives you joy.
That, and keep up the great work on the podcast; they’re a joy to listen to!
If you’re not doing so already, please make sure you connect with Kristen over at Twitter or Instagram, and make sure you listen to her podcast interviews over at Soundcloud or iTunes Podcast – the latest one is out today!
There’s another film photographer waiting in the wings but you’ll have to wait another week before the curtain raises once again. Quick hint: mixed media 😉
In the meantime and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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