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I am Lisa DeShantz Cook and this is why I shoot film

After last week’s lifting of the curtain with my interview of myself (meta!), it’s back to business as usual with this week’s interview.

Well I say business as usual but Lisa DeShantz Cook’s photography is nothing of the sort. Settle in, this is lovely.

Over to you, Lisa.

 

Hi Lisa, what’s this picture, then?

Nature takes over, Minolta X-700, Kodak Tri-X 400 in West Michigan

Nature takes over, Minolta X-700, Kodak Tri-X 400 in West Michigan

LDC: It’s an old farmhouse I’ve been watching decay my entire life. When I was a kid, we used to climb in the first floor windows and explore. First the vines and growth started their takeover, then the first floor collapsed into the basement, and then the roof deteriorated and the walls began to list inward. The decay has been really quick in the last few years.

Since I’m away from where this house is in the winters, I’m always eager to get back to it and see what, if anything, is still standing. Last winter took a whole side of it down and I expect this winter will finish off what remains. It almost looks as if the vines are pulling this wall earthward. I am always impressed with the way nature takes its time, but eventually takes over.

 

 

Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)

Lake Michigan sunset, Pentax K1000, Kodak Ektar 100 in West Michigan

Lake Michigan sunset, Pentax K1000, Kodak Ektar 100 in West Michigan

LDC: I’m a writer and copy editor. Photography just makes me happy. I’m enjoying the process of creating and learning and trying different cameras.

I live just outside of Detroit part of the year and in a small cottage on Lake Michigan, where I grew up spending summers with my family, for the other part. I work from home so my job goes where I go. My husband and I have somehow managed to usher two kids into young adulthood, and we’re all so far (mostly) unscathed by this experiment.

 

 

When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?

Bella and Lost Lake, Kodak GC 400, Minolta SRT-102, West Michigan

Bella and Lost Lake, Kodak GC 400, Minolta SRT-102, West Michigan

LDC: I grew up pre-digital and I always had some kind of film camera available to me, but used them mainly for documenting parties, trips, friends. When I got interested in photography a few years ago I didn’t even consider film, but then I saw that there were still plenty of people using it so I revisited an old Minolta X-700 I bought used in the mid-1980s. I’m not exactly nostalgic, but there’s something lovely about holding and working with a camera made 30, 40 or more years ago.

I like the imperfections of film. And I especially appreciate how it makes me slow way down. I have to consider the light more, choose the right settings the first time, think about the best angle or viewpoint, my camera’s quirks and my film choice. I have to work more slowly and I have to simplify. And then the waiting to send the film off, have it developed and sent back again. It’s an exercise in patience. And in a time where you can get almost everything instantly, I appreciate this forced slowdown. It makes the surprise of seeing what you end up with that much sweeter.

 

 

Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?

Sunflowers and barn, Olympus Pen EE3, Agfa 200, West Michigan

Sunflowers and barn, Olympus Pen EE3, Agfa 200, West Michigan

LDC: When I first started, it was a weird spot in my life with kids growing up and moving out and daily life changing in the way that it does when you’re not caring for young children in your household anymore, and suddenly time outside of work is your own again, you’re not shuttling people around to dance or sports or any of that. There’s this odd quiet, not in a bad way, but more of a space to pursue creative interests.

What influences me right now is a drive to document my surroundings, to see everything there. There’s constant change, always a new way of looking at the same thing or finding something I missed in exactly that spot the day before or the last time I was there. That constant but sometimes very subtle change intrigues me endlessly.

 

 

Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?

Lighthouse and fog, Mamiya 645, Kodak T-Max 400

Lighthouse and fog, Mamiya 645, Kodak T-Max 400

LDC: I very much am a mixed medium photographer. I’m still learning, so I still rely on the immediate feedback of digital. But the more I work with film the more I tend to reach for a film camera more often than my digital.

Mostly I’m so fickle that I just throw everything into a bag—my digital gear and one or two film cameras. Sometimes I make choices in the moment based on light, where I end up, what I brought or didn’t bring, how confident I’m feeling about my subject matter and surroundings. Weather has a bit to do with it, too… I’m less likely to want to use the digital camera in rain or fog or snow as it’s more finicky in those conditions and I’m more afraid of ruining it.

Shed, Minolta X-700, Kodak GC 400, West Michigan

Shed, Minolta X-700, Kodak GC 400, West Michigan

I fell on the beach a few months ago and plunged a Minolta SRT-102 into the sand, which got into the lens and the film advance lever. I love that camera and would have been sad if it was ruined, but it would have been devastating (and expensive to fix) if I’d done that with my only digital camera.

 

 

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?

Bella, dunegrass, Kodak GC 400, Minolta SRT-102 in West Michigan

Bella, dunegrass, Kodak GC 400, Minolta SRT-102 in West Michigan

Detroit alley, Fisher Building, Mamiya 645, Fuji Acros 100

Detroit alley, Fisher Building, Mamiya 645, Fuji Acros 100

LDC: I just want to keep learning and trying techniques, formats, films. I’ve started working with 120 film and I’m taking a class in black and white film processing right now. I’ve starting a class this month in black and white film processing, too. I’m not sure I’m destined to build my own darkroom just yet, but it’s a start in taking more ownership of the outcome and learning how to develop and print.

I’m also trying to get more comfortable photographing people. I’ve been collaborating with a friend who is a dancer. She’s very attuned to her body and movement and I’m experimenting with putting her into natural spaces, capturing her move and interact with sand dunes, pine forests, dappled light, wind. It challenges me but we always end up with some interesting results; working with her really pushes me creatively.

Belle Isle, Detroit - Canon SureShot (my mother’s camera - I unearthed it last winter and it gave me one roll before it gasped its last breath) with Lomography Earl Gray film, on Belle Isle in Detroit)

Belle Isle, Detroit – Canon SureShot (my mother’s camera – I unearthed it last winter and it gave me one roll before it gasped its last breath) with Lomography Earl Gray film, on Belle Isle in Detroit)

Otherwise, I’m still so much in the honeymoon phase of this and in love with the learning process, but not in any rush to learn everything all at once. I like the idea of having something to grow into. And I don’t really want to refine my voice just yet or put parameters on what I’m doing. I want to have the freedom to explore a technique or a camera or a project or new skill as I become aware of it or interested in it.

 

 

Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?

Wild roses, Kodak Portra, Pentax K1000

Wild roses, Kodak Portra, Pentax K1000

LDC: I am drawn to things outdoors, nature, found or unexpected things. I think my style is pretty simple. I like to take long walks or bike rides on the back roads where I live in western Michigan and document the growth and changing seasons there. I just never get bored with that. There is always something in a state of growth or decay there—orchards, fields, old farmhouses, the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the dunes. It is infinite inspiration and beauty.

 

 

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?

Wild roses, Kodak Portra, Pentax K1000

Wild roses, Kodak Portra, Pentax K1000

LDC: If you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have taken my Pentax K1000 with a 50mm lens, Kodak Ektar 100 and Tri-X 400. I’m comfortable with it, it’s simple and bombproof and I know what I’m going to get from it. Ektar because it just looks so lush and velvety and Tri-X because I’m just really liking it right now.

Most recently however, I haven’t touched it and I would have to say the Mamiya 645 1000s with 80mm lens, my current crush, which I have on loan from my son.

For color film, I would still chose Ektar 100 but for black and white, maybe Kodak T-Max 400. And still, I bet I’ll have a completely different answer a year from now. Too many cameras and films to explore.

 

 

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?

Sand creature, Ilford HP5+, Pentax K1000, sand dunes in West Michigan

Sand creature, Ilford HP5+, Pentax K1000, sand dunes in West Michigan

LDC: Probably somewhere I haven’t been where there is plenty of open space to wander. No humans in sight, preferably. And whatever camera I own that is clean and happy and operating nicely will do just fine.

 

 

You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?

Cinema lobby shadows, Kodak Ektar 100, Minolta SRT-102, metro Detroit

Cinema lobby shadows, Kodak Ektar 100, Minolta SRT-102, metro Detroit

Forest bird, Olympus Pen EE3 Ilford HP5+, western Michigan

Forest bird, Olympus Pen EE3 Ilford HP5+, western Michigan

LDC: I am still experimenting with films so I don’t think there’s any way I could choose a final one just yet. I think I’d want to be surprised, so my answer is whatever someone hands me.

And I’d want to use it up somewhere I’d never been before, maybe on a subject completely out of my comfort zone, too, because if it’s my last roll of film I’d be out of excuses for not tackling that subject. And then maybe I’d use a half frame camera so I’d get double the images and really make the most of it.

 

 

 

What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?

Lost and found, Kodak GC 400, Minolta SRT-102, West Michigan

Lost and found, Kodak GC 400, Minolta SRT-102, West Michigan

LDC: That no one uses it. People always tell me they didn’t think you could still buy film and I have noticed that just in the last year the drugstores around me, which always used to carry at least one or two brands of color film, no longer carry it.

I don’t think I need to set anyone straight, but when someone asks I try to encourage them to bring out their old cameras or ask their parents or grandparents if they have any cameras laying around.

Although the inconvenience of developing tends to shelve some of the curiosity, there are still a few local places that develop and plenty that develop by mail, so I try to be an ambassador when I’m talking with someone who is genuinely curious.

 

 

In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?

Vase and shadows, Minolta X-700, Kodak Tri-X 400

Vase and shadows, Minolta X-700, Kodak Tri-X 400

One Woodward Avenue, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak Ektar 100

One Woodward Avenue, Minolta SRT-102, Kodak Ektar 100

LDC: As long as there’s a market for film and old cameras, I don’t think it’s going anywhere. There are so many great cameras available inexpensively, and so many that still work beautifully. I hope interest remains and I don’t see why it wouldn’t because it’s such an intricate art and learning experience.

Maybe it’s our job to be vocal, remain excited and interested, and be teachers just as much as we are students?

~ Lisa DeShantz Cook

 

 


 

A huge thanks to Lisa for stepping up with her thoughts and pictures. You should remember Lisa from her excellent article, “Permission to create” in December 2016. Give it a read if you missed it!

This section of Lisa’s interview really resonated with me:

What influences me right now is a drive to document my surroundings, to see everything there. There’s constant change, always a new way of looking at the same thing or finding something I missed in exactly that spot the day before or the last time I was there. That constant but sometimes very subtle change intrigues me endlessly.

I’m often paying more attention to the world around me than the people I’m with and have been told that it can be a rather frustrating experience – someone once described it as my reveries. I’ve learned to pay more appropriate attention but documenting my changing surroundings is still a huge driver for my photography, to the point where I think there’s a particular motorcycle seat I’ve manage to capture from new some years ago, to the torn up, deteriorated mess it is today.

Perhaps that’s a poor example and it’s certainly a little more macro than Lisa’s approach but her words resonate nonetheless!

Please take a moment and head over to Lisa’s website: sumacandmilkweed.wordpress.com and be sure to catch Permission to create once you’re done.

That’s all for now but you can look forward to another photographer on these pages very soon – next ween, in fact.

Until then, keep shooting, folks!

~ EMULSIVE

 

 

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About The Author

EMULSIVE

Self confessed film-freak and filmphotography mad-obsessive. I push, pull, shoot, boil and burn film everyday, and I want to share what I learn. It might not all be right but it's a start.

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