I am Nils Karlson and this is why I shoot film
Hailing from “rainy” Germany, todays interviewee is a man of strength, compassion and talent. Not happy with lugging around his huge Mamiya RB67 and (lovely) Pentacon Six, Nils Karlson is also to be found walking around the beaches and countryside of Europe with one of his dogs strapped to a harness (that’s the strength bit). As far as compassion and photographic telent are concerned, read on. There are some wonderful things to see and read.
Over to you, Nils.
Hi Nils, what’s this picture, then?
This image is a statement about the love I feel towards my furry companion, the quest for quiet and silent places, and finally how I project my imagination of a world worth living in onto a physical medium.
Ok, so who are you?
I will let you know as soon as I know – though this might be an ever-changing subject anyway. Some facts: I live in Germany and make a living as a social worker. In ten years (tops) I want to be able to do photography full-time, and make a living off it. I am kinda crazy about dogs, and travelling my dogs is quite easy when you have a camper van, which I will do (very soon!)
Being around people and the noise they create is exhausting, so I seek silence, serenity and peace of mind when going out into the landscape. Photography creates a safe place for me, it feels like listening to shadows coming from a primal place filled with a soothing placidity and devoid of blinding noise.
When did you start shooting film?
In 2012, after two years of failed attempt using a DSLR – it just never felt right. I moved over to use a couple of 35mm cameras just to find out if it was the aspect ratio that was driving me insane, and then stepped up to medium format, hopping from 6×4.5 to 6×7 and then eventually to 6×6.
The square format is pure bliss. I started with slide film, which was a great – and an often frustrating – experience to get a good exposure. Since 2013 more and more colour negative film has entered into the scene. Moving to color negative film was quite a relief for me, as it shows results which match my imagination.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
While in the landscape, I embrace silence. Slow and clunky medium format cameras devoid of automation make me take time for each frame, dwell in the moment and miss lots of photos (usually the boring ones). The physics of the medium is important to me. The way the camera is loaded with film, the haptic sensation in my hands, the smell of it, the sound of the mechanics – the whole process leading to the final print.
Any favorite subject matter?
Not to sound hippie-esk, but most probably peace of mind. Deceleration. Silence. Vastness. Light…
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
Fuji Pro 400h, and I’d certainly use it with my dogs.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
Easy. These days it would be the Pentacon Six with the 80mm lens and a roll of Fuji Pro 400h. I am selling tons of gear to fund a “new” Mamiya 6, so maybe my answer will be different in a couple of months.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Take a pick from my bucket list… I’d love to spend more time in Britanny, the light there is spectacular, and the land has many faces…the ocean, barren landscapes rocks, cliffs, dunes, forests.
Or Alaska. Since reading the chapter about light in Alaska in Barry Lopez’ “Arctic Dreams” (don’t let the title fool you), I feel the urge to explore this light.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
There are many miconceptions – film is easy, it is hard, it is for everyone, it is elitist, it is art, it is arty crap…
It is at once all and none of the above. Film is film is film. To set any record straight I’d say, “let’s meet for a coffee and talk about it – as long it is not purely technical…and you can bring your dog.“
Finally, in your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
It is an everlasting ebb and flow. Right now demand seems to be increasing, as film is getting a little hipper each day but it will peak and ebb; and then start all over again.
I am afraid we will see less variation of emulsions, higher prices, and tech geeks telling about “superiority” and “inferiority” on all sides. Let them talk and just do what you love.
In the long term, film might be perceived as a medium of dedication, like vinyl records. And when all manufacturers start to suck, we’ll start making our own film and using older recipes like wet plates.
～ Nils Karlson
I’ve been looking at Nils’ images for weeks and just can’t stop myself from going back over and over again. They are truly beautiful pieces that leave me gobsmacked and wondering how it’s at all possible to capture light like this. I’m going to be trying to…a lot.
People often talk about reflecting or representing emotion with photography and whilst it is (of course) possible to do this with models, props and other objects, it’s much more difficult to do so using simple nature, knowledge of the medium and mastery of the light. NIls’ “Deceleration. Silence. Vastness. Light…Love” completely translate for me and I can’t help but smile each time I look at one of his beautifully constructed and framed images.
I won’t bog down this little outro-duction with any more wooden words and simply leave you to scroll back up and take another look at Nils’ images.
We’ll be back soon with another film photographer for you to learn more about. In the meantime, if you’d like to get featured, please drop us a line using the details below and remember, 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.