I am Michael Bitaxi and this is why I shoot film
Some call him, Mr. Polypan…That’s Polypan F, the black and white cinecopy film.
Others simply call him by the slightly less catchy Michael Bitaxi. Personally, we like both.
Over the past few months we’ve come to learn that Michael is an absolute goldmine of information on Polypan F, as well as many other films outside of the usual Kodak / Fuji / Ilford circles. We’d recommend a long read through his extensive library of tests and reviews as much for the technical data contained therein, as for Michael’s dense and excited writing style (more on that later).
We asked Michael to sit down and tell tell us a little about his own journey with film and where he sees things going.
Over to you, Michael.
Hi Michael, what’s this picture, then?
MB: That is a great question. This is a photo that I was dying to take from the first time I ever visited the derelict and abandoned Kodak Facility here in Toronto. When I first visited it back in 2011 I couldn’t help but notice how sad it made me feel, and the fact that the architecture was something quite lovely to behold inside inside the facility – albeit severely decayed.
I remember wandering through the building with my Pentax K-1000, snapping shot after shot after shot of the building as it was crumbling around me. I took this shot when I revisited the building in early 2014. I remember it was a February afternoon, around 2 or 3pm, with temperatures hovering around -10°C! Regardless of how cold it was, it was still a very enjoyable experience! Inside the building I was away from the blowing wind, at least.
I did also take a PINHOLE shot outside of the building, but screwed it up somehow during development and lost a quarter of the frame. This shot here is Kodak’s #9 building and is in an area of Toronto known as “KODAK HEIGHTS”. The facility employed up to 8000 employees during its hey-day and was essentially a small city. I remember coming home in the Minivan during my youth and seeing the trucks coming and going; the lights on at all hours of the night and the amount of people in general.
In early 90s the world had begun to crumble around Kodak and Kodak Heights had started to shrink. It was no longer the bustling city within a city it has once been (much of which was due to automation) but then the new millennia struck and digital began to really take its toll of Kodak.
Kodak began to close its doors one by one, selling off the land, knocking down buildings and sending its employees to new facilities across the globe – those that were taking new positions, at least. By 2005 the entire plant was closed and by 2009 demolition was basically complete…aside from this solitary building. Kodak #9 was still standing.
Today it is boarded up and has become a home for firebugs. The place is falling apart at the seams. Weather, water and neglect has all taken its toll on Kodak #9 but still it stands, albeit with a very uncertain future. I would love to see it revitalized as a Kodak Museum and restored to its former glory but I am certain that will not happen.
The building was originally slated to become Condos but that project since come to a halt due to contaminated soil and a big chemical retention pond. Nobody really knows what to do with Kodak #9.
This photo shows the current condition of the building. This used to be a grand, sweeping staircase complete with brass rails and beautiful craftsmanship…well, it was. Today it is as you see it here…incredibly sad but a reminder of what has become of our beloved Kodak.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
MB: By trade, I am an Electrician. I love to shoot film like you wouldn’t believe! I don’t always get out as often as I would like but I still truly enjoy it. There is nothing like the feel of a camera in hand and just getting out and shooting.
When did you start shooting film?
MB: When did I start? Well that all depends…! I first started shooting film back in the 80s when my dad gave me my first 110 camera but I didn’t really think much of photography then. I was still a bit on the young side.
However if you are meaning, when did I start shooting film on a regular basis. That would be in around 2010 when I got my dad’s old Canon AE-1. Yeah that camera was from 1977 (brand new) and still working! However it (very sadly) jammed up on me in 2012.
I had it serviced and brought back to working condition again. I still use it today and it’s still 100% functional. I use it whenever I can. That said, it does take a bit of a back seat to the Canon A-1 and Bronica SQ-Ai…oh and my Kodak Reflex TLR!
What about now, why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
MB: That’s a matter of personal preference. I believe that photos should be shot on some kind of film medium instead of a digital medium. The only reason I really feel that way is for the enjoyment of looking at the photographs and the longevity of the photographs.
A properly kept film negative will keep for 100+ years. With CD’s I’ve yet to find one that still works from the 90s. In fact I have had to make backups of backups every couple of years just to make sure that the dye in the CDs doesn’t decay to the point that it is no longer readable!
Ever had a HARD DRIVE crash? Non-Recoverable errors and suddenly all those photos you had, well…they are long gone!
Pure and simple, it’s the sheer enjoyment of it that drives me to keep shooting film. I believe that the only way to make memories that are long lasting for your kids and their kids to enjoy is to take a photo of it. Let’s face it, in this ever changing (and rapidly changing) world we live in, every photo we take is a slice of history.
Do you ever imagine what the world will look like in 50 years? Well in 50 years we’ll wonder what it looked like 50 years prior. Even today we are amazed at how the cities we lived in looked 30.. 40.. 50.. even 100 years ago!
Yes, photography has given us a glimpse at what history looked like in our ever changing world. For that, it is a constant drive to keep shooting to remember and to give memory to what will be lost forever.
Any favourite subject matter?
MB: Of course! I absolutely love to shoot portraits. However I still have a lot to learn about poses…there is something about capturing a person. Architecture and landscapes are fun, but portraits? I don’t think anything else compares.
Funny though, that the majority of my work is landscape photography! But when I get a chance to work at portraits and people…well, I love it!
That said, street photography is a whole lot of fun, but it is fraught with anxiety that some people just cannot get over…
Street Photography is definitely not for everyone!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
MB: Perish the thought!
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?
MB: One camera, one lens and two films. That’s super simple! …Kodak Tri-X and Kodak Portra 400.
Tri-X is just so versatile and so amazing that you really cannot pick a better B&W film. Portra 400? Oh well you see, I have no idea of the subject matter and it might look great in colour too! Simply put, 400 gives you the ability to shoot at 100EI through to 1600EI without a push/pull and some spectacular colour!
Tri-X is superb for pushing and even pretty good at pulling, so why not?
Camera wise, well, I’d have to go with my Bronica SQ-Ai. Interchangeable backs, a fairly big negative and the 80mm ƒ/2.8 lens – super sharp even wide open.
Short and light, but great for portraits and landscapes alike and fast enough for low light. The camera, well it’s great for low-light too, as it’s hand-holdable down to 1/15 sec with its in-lens leaf shutter – not to mention that it is an excellent system!
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
MB: Honestly, I’d have to pick Germany. The birthplace of Zeiss Optics and Zeiss Kamera Werks. It’s just the place to go! It is so rich with history and a place I would love to visit!
Sure, there are some negative sides to Germany but let’s face it, everywhere has some negativity about it. History for us all is quite bloody and quite dark. Just because history is so violent doesn’t mean that the modern country has to suffer for it! Besides, wouldn’t you all like to visit the birthplace of modern photography? Leica… Zeiss…. Pentacon…… yes so many wonderful places to visit, so Germany would be #1 on my list!
Err, then Iceland…because Iceland is a vast wilderness of amazing!
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
MB: A lot of people think it is both archaic and dead. It is neither! Film photography is still very much alive and growing.
The advent of the cellphone camera killed so many Point and Shoot cameras that the market for the digital point and shoot is essentially…dead! Yet film lives on while digital continues to die off in one form or another. Amazing, right? Digital is killing itself!
People are obsessed with the idea of flipping out their cellphone and capturing image after image after image on a 4” screen and sharing it around the world, no matter what the image is. Yet here, with a film camera I can flip through the images I took, slowly and methodically…and really enjoy what I took.
I don’t conform to what everyone else is doing because I want to be different. When people are spending hundreds of dollars on the newest tech because they believe it to be even better than the previous generation, I buy another roll of film because I know that every image I take will be there for the next 100 years on that strip of acetate and silver.
When the world’s digital devices are dead and gone, film will live on. I truly believe that digital photography has gone to the point of stupid. With selfies and photobombing becoming the norm, those who shoot film will be looked upon in awe and amazement in the future. I cannot deny holding my cousin’s Yashica 35-ME in front of me and saying “1-2-3 SELFIE!” as a pure joke and taking a few selfies. It was hilarious, and honestly, we both got such a laugh out of it that it became a bit of a game for us.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of things, when we got the film processed, well…let me rephrase that…when I developed the film, perhaps I did something wrong, because I really cannot remember seeing the images on there…
The joys of expired film with unknown storage!
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
MB: I believe film photography shall live on for at least the next 5 to 10 years. Film Ferrenia made an amazing move to return to the market; ILFORD is going strong and Kodak is invested in film. ADOX and Rollei-Agfa are still going very strong, too.
Thanks to people like the Film Photography Project and Lomography, we are seeing a strong resurgence in film. I expect this to continue.
Fuji with their Instax line (which they continue to expand on) is going very strong…in fact, it has become one of those cameras that is synonymous with the new “Party Camera”.
~ Michael Bitaxi
Michael doesn’t give himself credit enough for the work he’s done playing with and documenting films of all types from Svema Blue, to Polypan F, to Kodak’s TRi-X 400, to Kodak 2366 duplicating film…and that’s not to mention his cameras. So. Many. Cameras.
Michael is a bit of a force of nature when it comes to his body of work, knowledge and range. From the smallest formats, to the largest, if you have a question, or need a fresh perspective, this is the man to ask.
Thanks very much for sharing, Michael!
Well that’s us done for another interview. Please take a few minutes to check out the links above, or browse our the other interviews in this series.
Oh, and 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.