I am Marcus Carlsson and this is why I shoot film
Today we’re sitting down with Marcus Carlsson, Swedish large format aficionado, sometime digital shooter, obsessive DIY-ist and more recently, app developer.
We’ll be telling you more about his Analogue App a little later. For now, let’s see what he has to say for himself.
Over to you, Marcus.
Hi Marcus, what’s this picture, then?
This image is of my little boy – William. It shows in two ways who I am and what I have become.
First, when I took the image, I really understood that it’s a pure joy to take portraits with such a big camera and specifically children’s portraits.
Second, the image was made by my own self-built 4×5” camera. At the time I didn’t have that much money to buy a view-camera off the shelf, so I built one.
I actually also built an 8×10” camera, as well as the tripod, but that was merely because it was great fun to do!
The 4×5” camera above was made in teak wood and worked really well. I even made the ground-glass too. Sure, it wasn’t as sturdy as the Sinar F 4×5” which I now use, but it was both fun to build and to use. I used this camera for one year before buying the Sinar.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I my name is Marcus Carlsson and I live in Sweden with my two kids Ellen and William who you see in the photos.
We normally shoot during summer-time and during the winter, I convert my kitchen to a darkroom. As you probably understand from reading the above, I am a kind of DIY-guy and have been whole my life. But I don’t only build camera-related stuff. Naturally, I photograph too.
I have tried several cameras and formats, over the years, from 4×5” and 8×10”, to Hasselblad, Kiev 88, Polaroid (Land Camera 250) and a Canon G-III , just to mention a few!
To mention something more about my DIY-knowledge, I once built two flash-strobes using the capacitors from lots of disposable cameras I got for free from my local camera-dealer.
The strobes are around 400W each and every time I use them I’m scared that they will pop! Thankfully I mainly shoot outdoors nowadays. [EMULSIVE: more space to flee the explosion, perhaps?!]
I say as they say on TV: Kids, don’t try this at home.
Besides building camera-equipment I have also built three bicycle-frames using carbon-fiber from my own drawings. I can assure you that it’s very scary to ride a bike downhill at 40 mph wondering if I added enough material the frame.
Luckily I haven’t crashed yet.
When did you start shooting film?
I’ve been taken photographs since 1996 when I saw Anne Geddes (who dresses small babies up like flowers, etc.), on an Oprah Winfrey Show episode. I was so stunned that one could make such cool images, so I bought my first camera the following day.
At first I just went around shooting everything I could and learned how to both develop film and make prints. I actually tried to copy Anne by putting my newborn Ellen in a box, but it looked more like a tomb…
What about now, why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
For several years I shot lots of photos of models – mainly with my Hasselblad. But it was when I stepped up to the self-built 4×5” and started to take portraits of my kids that I really felt at home.
It was then that I started on my own long-term project to capture children’s portraits year after year. Kids’ appearances change so much during their younger years and I wanted to capture that.
I also noticed that when using the large-format, it really slowed down the work. I started to really think more on how I framed the picture.
I never pose children for portraits. Sometimes I just put up the camera and observe them. When I see something beautiful, I simply say stop and they stop. They know that it takes some time to take the picture but are used to that after all these years. I also never take the same photo twice. It may sound stupid, but I don’t think a moment should be repeated. By thinking like that, I concentrate much more when framing. Importantly for me, I enjoy the picture so much more when we nailed it in only one shot!
On a normal ”session” I take maximum 12 photos and it usually takes some 2-3 hours until we are done. This slow process is what I really love about large format-cameras.
Any favourite subject mater?
Easy peasy; children of all ages.
The youngest child I portrayed with my large format was three years old. It was funny, because I told her how the camera worked and what I had to do before I could take the picture – things like focusing and putting in the film-holder. But when I had focused and put in the film-holder she just ran away to her mother (who stood some 30 meters away), shouting that it was so fun to be photographed. In the end I got some great pictures of her!
I really love that a kid can in one second go from full of life and running around and then when they are in front of the camera, just standing absolutely still.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
It won’t be hard, since I have only used Kodak Tri-X 320 4×5” film. But the reason for that is that it’s what my film-dealer often has in stock, so I have just learned the intricacies of that particular stock.
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?
Since my main camera for the last ten years has been my Sinar F 4×5”, I would choose that. I have only one lens on that camera, a Caltar II-N f5.6 180mm. The film would naturally be the Kodak Tri-X 320, or Ilford FP4 Plus, since that’s what I use with my Hasselblad but if I cannot shoot children, the image will be just bad.
I have tried to do some landscape work but I have hard time doing it. I need a child in front of the camera!
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
I would definitely go to Montalivet, France. I have been there for two summers and brought the Sinar with me each time. Montalivet lays on France’s west-coast and the during the evening, the beaches are around 200 meters wide and go on for some 100 km. The strangest thing is that for some reason you can have the whole beach to yourself. I don’t know why the locals don’t seem to walk down by the sea that often.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
I think that many of today’s purely digital shooters don’t believe that you can get a great photograph unless you see it straight away on the LCD.
I think that today’s photographers lack two things, which I also believe is due to the digital era.
First, most people today cannot wait for the result. Second, they need the image almost before it has been taken.
I also think that many lack the belief that what they saw in the camera is what actually will end up in the negative. The LCD-screen has ruined the ability to really believe in oneself that one got a great image.
I think that if most digital photographers just had the guts to try film and to start believing in themselves that they are good photographers, they would notice that when using film, their photography will be total different.
At the same time, how often is it that when you develop some film, you forgot that you had taken a specific shot? It’s like getting a surprise whenever you develop the film.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
I don’t think it will go away. There will always be people like us who love it. Maybe less film will be produced, but I don’t think it will just go away.
In that case, people will start manufacture it, just like the Impossible Project.
Some years ago, when I first started looking into large format photography I was amazed at the complexity and variation in cameras, build, appearance and most of all, price. Horseman, Linhof, Sinar, Graflex “bodies” and countless number of lens manufacturers – some stretching back more a century or more – it was confusing to say the least. Circles of confusion left me well, confused.
An unexpected area I fell upon wasthe Build-it-Yourself movement. I’ll be honest, I had no idea that it could be done and while it all makes sense to me now, it still amazes me that almost anyone can build a camera “just like that”.
Fast forward a few years and seeing Marcus’ home build 4×5″ got me thinking about it all again. I’ll be honest, a rather large smile crept across my face.
Anyway…back to the photography. To take portraits of children – good portraits – takes patience, understanding and heart. To do the same with a large format apparatus is beyond my comprehension and leaves me rather dumbstruck.
I’m glad he was able to share just a small selection of his work with us today, as well as some of his insight into his process. You can see more of Marcus’ work on his website, as well as on Twitter.
Before I sign off, there’s one more, rather important thing to tell you about. Marcus recently released an iOS photography app, Analogue, which I’d like to tell you all about. In fact, I’ll leave it to the man himself:
I have used large format cameras for a long time and I think it’s too bad that most of the population haven’t tried one!
I wanted to create an app that helped to emulate the feeling of shooting large format in a digital environment and trust me, if you use the app on an iPad, the feeling isn’t that far removed from staring at ground glass…although you might get some strange looks from passers by staring at your tablet on a tripod!
I also feel that it’s a bit of a shame that most of today’s digital photographers just add some Instagram-like filters and think that the image is done but you know, as I know, that pretty much every image needs some dodge and burn to be perfect.
Since the vast majority of today’s photographers haven’t tried a real darkroom, I also felt that I wanted to add those aspects to the app. Things like selectively dodging and burning, adding tone and generating test strips!
The main reason for creating the app was to help everyday people to learn more about photography, slow down and enjoy the whole process and not only the final image. It’s aimed at film photographers, digital shooters and even those without a phone.
Perhaps it’ll help some people to hone their existing skills, perhaps it’ll help digital shooters learn more about what goes into the darkroom process…perhaps it’ll even inspire some iPhone-only photographers to go pick up a film camera and do some real-world analog experimenting!
If you haven’t downloaded the app yet, give it a shot. It’s inexpensive, beautifully put together, intuitive and has some wonderful features.
We’ll be back again very soon but in the meantime, 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.