I am Michael Jackson and this is why I shoot film
Some of us take up a photographic study of a particular form of photography; perhaps focusing on macro images, animals, insects, portraiture. What’s the longest time you’ve spend on a singular study? A few weeks? A few months? Perhaps a year?
How about eight years…and counting?
That’s exactly what Michael’s been doing over at Poppit Sands, near Cardigan in Wales. Michael’s a multiple time Hasselblad Masters Award finalist, who has toured and exhibited extensively. We’re really rather pleased to have been able to grab him for a quick chat, so without further ado, it’s over to Michael.
Hi Michael, what’s this picture,then?
MJ: This photo is the last image that I took at Poppit Sands this year before the holiday makers arrived. It was literally the last photo on the roll. I find that it takes my eye a while to get into the groove of things on the beach.
It is an almost physical change that happens – one minute I struggle to see anything of interest, the next the whole beach comes alive with possibilities. When I took this my eye was in that place.
OK, so who are you? (the short version, please)
MJ: My name is Michael Jackson. For the last eight years, I have been living in a very rural community deep in a valley in West Wales. For the past eight years, I have been studying a single beach, Poppit Sands.
It is probably my best known work, but I also think up ideas during long periods of playing in the darkroom.
When did you start shooting film?
MJ: I started shooting film back over 12 years ago. I spent years studying landscape painting and apprenticed under my tutor in his old cowshed of a studio. Eventually I set up my own studio in a local stately home. My approach has always been one of tone, composition and texture rather than colour, so I slowly moved away from oil paint and towards charcoal.
Then, one day, I saw a Holga image on the internet and some Type 55 Polaroid work in a magazine. I was hooked. I bought a Holga and took some medium format images of my dog in the garden. Such simple stuff, but holding up the negatives to the light had a definite effect on me, so I moved to using film for all my work.
What about now, why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
MJ: I have no individual preference to any process. I think that you choose the medium to suit the idea. I use film, digital, and sometimes just pure light with no camera at all. You cannot limit yourself by using just one medium if the work you desire to make would be better made in a different way.
However, once I have chosen a medium for an idea I more often than not stick with it. I have always used film at Poppit Sands and I expect that I always will. My work there has been a growing experience for me. It has made me learn how to work my eye and mind to find what more there is to see.
The very fact that I use film has definitely helped shape the work and the beauty of the negative has inspired me to turn towards the negative image at Poppit – and that in itself has opened up a whole new room of unusual ideas for me to explore.
I am driven to shoot at Poppit Sands because the process of discovery is an addictive one – you realise that there are so many new wonders to discover. Not only visual wonders, but methods and ways of working that feel as though your are discovering the new – in a similar way to how scientists are driven to discover.
Any favourite subject matter?
MJ: My favourite subject matter is something that is simple but not yet fully explained or discovered by anyone else.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
MJ: If I could never use film again I would use my last roll to take pictures of my children. I can imagine them holding the negatives up to the light to show their grandchildren. I use Kodak T-Max 100 and make sure that I develop it for 16 minutes in order to give the most detail possible. For my last roll, why break with tradition?
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?
MJ: If I was given an assignment I would take my Hasselbald 500CM, a limitless amount of film and a screwdriver for when the old camera jams!
I only have one lens for my Hasselblad, the 50mm Distagon. I find that lens replicates what my eye actually sees perfectly and I have used it for nearly every visit to Poppit Sands.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
MJ: You have just described the last eight years of my life at Poppit Sands.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
MJ: I think that film has been picked up as some kind of elitist art medium. People like to stand out from the crowd and they often use film as a kind of verification of their superior skills or artistic ability.
It doesn’t make you a better photographer. Your photography is as unique as the thoughts that you have about your photography. Film is just a medium – it is wonderful, but it does nothing of any worth on its own.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
MJ: I think that the future is bright for film photography. I think that its possibilities as a creative medium have hardly been discovered yet – and that is so exciting.
~ Michael Jackson
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