I am Nick Skinner and this is why I shoot film
Today we’re sitting down with 23-year old Nick Skinner from Newcastle in the North East of England.
Nick’s been shooting film for about two years and has a rather interesting background which, as you’ll see, imparts itself onto his photography with some beautiful results.
Over to you, Nick.
Hi Nick, what’s this picture, then?
This is my favourite photo out of the first roll of film I ever developed myself at home. It’s of a place called Aldeburgh in Suffolk. My family have been going there for decades since well before I was born and it’s a very special place to all of us.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m a 23 year old Half-English/Half-Aussie Film and TV graduate born in Essex and living in Newcastle, UK but I grew up in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
I work as a website designer/developer but also do photography/videography for a company called DigiPro located in Newcastle, UK.
When did you start shooting film and what about now, why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
I had older friends who had Canon and Nikon DSLR’s when I was about 14 and the only camera in the house that looked like them I was allowed to use was an Olympus OM-10 my Dad bought in Melbourne in 1981 which I later lent to a friend and then asked for it back after I’d got my IKON ZM and just missed that connection to my first proper camera.
A few years later, I started shooting video with my friends and had shot and edited short films on a Canon 550D and iMovie which got me back into shooting still photography, but from doing video I got a place at UAL London College of Communication. I saw a lot of the photography students were still shooting on film and I had friends on that course who could get me into the darkrooms, so it made me miss my OM-10 and it was then I knew I need to get hold of another film camera and quickly.
So, I bought a pretty well smashed up OM-10 with a scratched 50mm from a market and used that for a few months to relearn shooting on film
My next birthday was my 21st, which in my family is a special occasion. I had gone back to Dubai a couple of months before it and had been discussing with my parents about what I would like as my lifelong present. They had talked about a watch or a trip of some kind but I just asked “could I maybe get a really good film camera?” I think I called every camera shop in the UAE looking for an M6 or M7 and came up with nothing, except for one shop that said they may have one so we all went to look at them.
Turns out the guy had got the M7 and M9 wrong on an inventory and they had no film Leica’s left. But, in the back of a cabinet behind a stack of Zeiss Accessories they had what would become my camera. A 2012 Zeiss IKON ZM in black, apparently the last one imported to the Middle East.
I knew the name Zeiss and the IKON model from the 50s and 60s so I knew I was getting something pretty special and I’ve always been a bit against the grain, so I quite like the idea that it wasn’t a Leica but everyone had told me “if you want a really good brand-new film camera, get one with a red dot on it” so instead, I went for a blacked-out Zeiss.
I shoot film because of what I do for work. It distracts me and trains me. I like the process of it. Of having to wait to see whether what I saw in my head actually worked. It teaches you patience. I spend the majority of my time at work using digital photography and digital imaging software, so the fact that I can shoot with film in my spare time for my personal work gives me a release.
I also just find the whole process incredibly fun which keeps me shooting and gives me the drive to try different things, sometimes I’ll get frustrated but it’s ok. I’ll just load up my camera with whatever I’ve got, walk out the door and take pictures of just about anything. It also allows me to work on and hone skills that I can use professionally.
I will shoot just about anything, as long as its celluloid. 35mm, 120, Black & White, Colour (I’m yet to try E6) I really don’t care as long as I am taking photos and enjoying taking them. People will probably say, “well then it seems you really don’t care about anything you’re shooting” and thats not quite true, I do care what I shoot but I really don’t care if you or anyone else likes it.
I shoot for me. If people do like it thats great, If not there are lots of other peoples photos to look at. I’m currently working on pushing and pulling different films, I pull the cheap Poundland AGFA Vista 200 (my girlfriend got me a load for christmas) by 1 stop on my Canon EOS3 with an EFS 50mm F/1.8 to overexpose it and try to capture the look of what my early colour heroes like Ryan Muirhead, Jonas Peterson, and the colour work of Gordon Parks have done. Just for myself to learn a new skill and aspect of photography.
Also, I keep shooting film because I watch a lot of YouTube videos and tutorials in my spare time, I became exposed to different visual ways of thinking and visual languages thanks to guys like the wonderful Ted Forbes and thinking about new techniques with my film photography from Matt Day. So, in a way its educational therapy for me, thats why I keep shooting.
Any favourite subject matter?
I don’t do portraits.
I really don’t like taking portraits, I guess it comes from I don’t like having my own photo taken and I find it very hard to communicate well with people I don’t know. I’m much happier behind the camera than in front of it.
At the moment, I seem to taking a lot more street photography because of watching every single video on Eric Kim’s YouTube channel but I try to take pictures of empty streets with no one on them because I’ve had issues where people think I’m taking their picture and get quite angry or shooting somewhere I probably shouldn’t be and then get some very weird looks when I have to explain I cant immediately show them the picture.
I shoot mainly on Black & White at the moment because I can develop and scan that very quickly. If someone asked me if I had a favourite subject to shoot on film at the moment, I’d have to say no, it depends on what camera and what size film I’m using just as long as its not portraits.
What’s the next challenge…your next step? How do you see improving your technique, or what aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
The next step, is probably learning to develop and scan my stuff to a better quality and standard on different types of film (I currently can only do 35mm Black & White) and also with this, begin to develop and scan my own medium format films.
This part of my plan for the next 12 months involves me improving my shooting and not just shooting for the sake of it but to maybe try and work on a project.
As well as photography, I’m a car guy and pretty big petrolhead, so I follow the amazing work of people like Amy Shore, Laurent Nivalle and Peter Aylward and wish I could do that. So, I’d like to shoot more car photography on film over the next 12 months. For this, I need to go and find some cool cars locally and see what I can do.
My 16 year old VW Golf isn’t particularly cool but I’m gonna use that to learn how to shoot cars from angles to techniques so I can emulate my heroes like Shore, Aylward and Nivalle in that field of photography. And maybe try and take pictures of people I know. but that is a massive maybe.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
My last roll would probably be this really weird Greek export Kodak Colour Plus 200 I started shooting colour on. It was the only film I could get for a long time growing up in Dubai and have got very great memories of shooting that for quite a long time and taking it to the local PhotoMagic to get developed and waiting for that phone call to say my negatives were ready.
For sentimental reasons, I’d have to choose that film and I’d go back around the UAE and Oman to try to recapture the places I remember from when I was young and where I would go back and shoot when I would come home from university. I would have to say that would be my final film, it in a way is my EKTACHROME.
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?
I’d have to take my Zeiss Ikon ZM. That camera means the most to me and in my opinion is the most bulletproof 35mm camera with the 50mm Zeiss F/1.5.
I’d choose that lens because its the only lens I have for it and I shoot all wrong with it so it’d be perfect for me if I don’t know what I’m going to be shooting, it just tends to make me think differently when I don’t have a world of choice and just make it work with what I have. In terms of film, I’d have to take one Black & White and one C-41 colour.
For B&W it would have to be Ilford HP5+, its a versatile medium speed film that I can push or pull depending what it needs to be used for and I’ve shot with it since the beginning so I really enjoy it at both box speed and pushed 1 stop.
For colour film, I’d probably go for Kodak Colour Plus 200 so I can pull it back or push it if I have to just and because I know what that film can do and have got some great results with that film, lens and camera combination in the past so I know what to expect no matter what the subject matter
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
As a location I’d probably say I’d go to North America with an unlimited supply of film and my ’81 Hasselblad 500CM and the IKON ZM because I love the pictures I get from them.
In the states I’d work my way from the East Coast to the West Coast through the South, then up the West Coast and back across to the East Coast then probably onto Canada. I would try to stop in every single town, trying to capture everything onto film forever. But…
…the world is a pretty big place and I wouldn’t mind seeing some of it. I’m half Aussie so I it’d be fun discovering my other home with my favourite medium to look back on forever. Just spending a few months (years maybe) driving and travelling all across Australia and meeting people and just taking my photos that are of nothing to some and everything to me.
…or maybe back to Dubai/UAE/Middle East and go on an adventure. I don’t know to be honest. It’s a hard question.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
It’s not all about hipsters. If you’re a high school kid with your dad’s old OM-10 like I started with, then I salute you for capturing moments in your life you can’t delete unless you literally destroy them. Most importantly it doesn’t matter what you’re taking photos of, just as long as you feel like you’re capturing what you need to, and if someone tells you that you can’t do it, tell them to mind they’re own business as they’re trying to enjoy life by trashing peoples ambitions and dreams to make them feel better about themselves.
Shoot whatever the hell you want on whatever the hell you want and don’t answer to anyone.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
In my opinion, the future is up in the air. With Fuji being pretty shitty and hiking up the price of their films year upon year and then announcing that they are to stop selling Pack Film, it will make people go to its main competitor Kodak (not for pack film, that would be cool if Kodak did pack film though).
But in the same argument it may make Kodak increase their prices because of demand to the point where it just becomes another stupidly expensive hobby like Golf and nothing wants to be Golf or even compared to it.
But this in turn leaves the door open for smaller manufacturers of film to fill in the gaps or to start producing new films for new generations, such as the Brothers Wright at Cinestill who have re-engineered Motion Picture Stock and have made something that I think could become an all time great film.
If I could afford it I would start shooting on that and as much as most people in photography like to hate on them, people like Lomography are doing something great for people entering the hobby or for people who just like what they do. I have used a lot of their colour CN400 stock in both 35mm and 120 and have always enjoyed the results.
For me personally the future of film photography has become worrying, because of Poundland here in the UK with the rumours they won’t stock AGFA Vista any longer one week and then the next week they have full shelves of it. This is troubling when you are shooting for yourself on a very tight budget and because of a love for the format and it’s seen as obsolete by a buyer and their marketing team.
My use of Black & White film will be ok until people like Ilford and Kodak decide that making a range of films isn’t what they want to do anymore but then that won’t be for a while since Kodak announced their own profitability for the first time in several decades from the recent sales of Motion Picture Stock, and Ilford will always make their range of fantastic films, it seems – even if they scaled back to only a few selections which will always include HP5+, as it seems to be their mainstay and is my favourite black and white film of all time.
In terms of the medium’s future, there are enough dedicated, passionate and intelligent people who love this way of life enough to make sure that film has a future, it just might not be how we think it will. None of us can see the future, but I really hope I can get it all on film.
Nicks sentiment that, “Most importantly it doesn’t matter what you’re taking photos of, just as long as you feel like you’re capturing what you need to…” Is one that rings true for me in many ways.
When I first started getting an itch for film photography’s a good friend of mine who had an established background in photography in general told me that my idea of buying a film camera to learn my own preferences for framing, exposure and style was in essence a stupid and costly endeavour not likely to bear fruit and result in me jumping back to digital and relearn. Needless to say, I didn’t listen and he was wrong.
Jump forward a while and someone else happened to mention that all I did was shoot roll upon roll of rusty bikes. At the time, he didn’t know that I was playing with depth of field and texture on fast, wide lenses. There are many other examples I could give but that would be boring for you and needlessly stretch the poi the: shoot what you want, when you want, how you want, with what you want, on what you want.
I’ve yet to meet a photographer who claims they’ve learned everything they need to master their art and also yet to meet someone who doesn’t make mistakes.
We’re always learning and should all follow our own paths. If this comes across as strange, or pointless to others, then let them feel strange. It’s all about you after all. Taking a photograph for your self is not and should never be a group effort.
We’ll be back with another interviewee very, very soon. In the meantime, keep shooting, folks!
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