I am Phil Harrison and this is why I shoot film
Readers with even the shortest of memories will remember today’s interviewee from his guest review of FILM Ferrania’s FERRANIA P30® emulsion back in April. I hope those of you who’ve started hearing packets of the Alpha stock hit your doormats found have it useful.
Phil is a veteran professional photographer with a wealth of experience and knowledge and I’m honoured to have him here on these pages.
Over to you Phil!
Hi Phil, what’s this picture, then?
PH: The photo is a scan from a print I made in the seventies. It’s a shot of the steam engine that, in the late 1970’s, was still powering my Uncle’s mill in a town called Padiham in the north west of England.
Progress Mill has sadly now been demolished, replaced by a supermarket. I felt it was important to document one of the few remaining steam mill engines in existence at the time. I used a Sinar P with Schneider 90mm Super Angulon lens and 5×4 film.
The engine made the whole building shake when running, so I shot this at lunchtime. I came back to the mill a few years later with a small movie crew to make a short film of the engine and mill in operation.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
PH: My Name is Philip John Harrison. My age is 63 and I am retired. I live in Rochdale, in the North West of England, near the City of Manchester. I have a partner, three children and seven grandchildren. In 1998 I was made redundant after 25 years as a professional photographer and decided not to pursue a further career in photography, becoming a train guard until my retirement.
During this time my partner Brenda, having enrolled in a photo course at our local college, needed a film camera. I bought one too, I had been playing around with digital but buying the film camera put me back on track.
Pottering around Manchester I realised I needed a rangefinder camera. The Voigtlander Bessa R (Voigtlander’s seem to figure a lot in my life), was with me for quite a while until I could afford my Leica M2.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
PH: I was around 10 years old (1964) and I found my Grandfathers 1938 Voigtlander Bessa camera and his darkroom equipment in the attic. I loaded the camera with some old film and learnt how to process and print the negatives using the old paper and chemicals.
I imagine the results were awful but I’d found a hobby with which I was keen to get involved. I was later allowed to use my Grandfathers Voigtlander Vito B 35mm camera. It had a separate rangefinder and meter, you soon learned the hard way how to expose film correctly. (Both my Grandfathers had been keen photographers and both had Voigtlanders.) I joined the photographic club at school and it was there that I decided on a career in photography.
I am a member of the UK Leica Society and participate in postal print portfolios. This keeps me taking photographs together with the fact that I have been taking photos for 54 years and I guess it’s hard to stop something that I have loved doing for most of my life.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
PH: During the 1960’s it was Amateur Photographer magazine. I was an avid plane spotter so my main interest was photographing aircraft at the Manchester airport with the Vito B then a Zenit B.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
PH: I use both. For fun, it’s the Leica Sofort Instax camera. Four years ago I bought a digital rangefinder and for a couple of years film took a back seat. I then started to redress the lack of film usage. Recently I’ve been using more film than digital.
Not being a big fan of grain, I use medium speed films and only take a 50mm lens. If I’m doing work at high ISO’s, or if my current digital camera‘s fixed 28mm lens would be best, that will be my choice.
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving you technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
PH: I have made a couple of books for the family. I believe leaving a legacy of prints, not digital files, is the best way for my images to survive into the future. I would like to get more involved in self publishing.
Mastering a panoramic camera around Manchester is something I’d love to achieve, I just need to find someone to lend me one!
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
PH: An area in Manchester called Castlefield. Over the past few years I have been trialling a number of films, trying to find a replacement for Kodak BW400CN, a film I used for many years, which is sadly no longer available. Castlefield is the ideal testing ground with canals, many bridges and people.
I attempt a reportage style.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What to you take with you and why?
PH: Hasselblad 500CM with 50mm lens. It’s a versatile combination I used for many years on many assignments. Two rolls of Kodak Portra 400, speed in case of poor light, lovely colour or excellent digital conversion to mono.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, were do you go and why?
PH: It would be Kodak Portra 160. Photographing Switzerland and the small mountain railways.
My parents have an album of photos taken by my Grandfather in the 1920’s of a holiday in Switzerland. It has stuck in my mind all these years and I would like to produce my own album as a book.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how do you expose it and why?
PH: FILM FERRANIA P30®. I have spend a lot of time photographing the streets of Manchester, I would do this one last time trying to capture life in the city.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
PH: I’ve lost count of the number of people who do not know that film is alive and well. When I explain, some cannot understand why I bother when there is instant digital.
There are also the memories of terrible colour labs producing shocking prints, this was the more often than not, certainly in my case. The labs nowadays are hugely improved, I never worry about what’s coming back from the lab.
I tell them I have been using film for over 50 years and it is in the blood. The careful shooting of film together with prime lenses made me a better more thoughtful photographer and the anticipation as you wait for the results back from the labs is wonderful.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
PH: The Fuji Instax instant mini photo system is extremely successful, bringing photo prints to the young phone photographer generation. Since I got my Leica Sofort two family members have bought Instax cameras.
The future of film manufacturing will need to be in small factories making small batches.
I think the large factories will struggle, like Kodak and Fuji, if the movie film industry moves more to digital origination. Fortunately worldwide there is a huge amount of old film cameras, as very few new cameras are available. In the UK alone there are a many dealers making a living selling film equipment, together with many busy laboratories.
So worry not, film has a long future, but perhaps with less choice and the majority of printing digital.
~ Phil Harrison
Phil’sm comment, “I have made a couple of books for the family. I believe leaving a legacy of prints, not digital files, is the best way for my images to survive into the future. I would like to get more involved in self publishing.” is something of a current topic for me and one which has been discussed in various shapes and forms over on the Facebook EMULISVE Film Photo Chat group these past few days (pardon the shameless plug).
Conscious of a recent lack of printing my own work, I’ve had a number of conversations these past few weeks with family and distant friends about their own plans for protecting their digital legacy (to borrow from Phil) in print. It’s worth saying that am a aberration in terms of my approach to film photography; the only one of the people I spoke with who has an attraction to silver halide.
The sad answer is that only one person I spoke to could specifically remember the last time they held a printed photograph in their hands. Most of the responses I received were along the lines of, “oh you know, when we were kids looking through XYZ’s albums”, “after graduating from XYZ university”, or “we got those prints from XYZ’s wedding when they had those cool disposable cameras on the table”. These events were at the very least 15 years ago.
I made a decision to send off for a few prints and send each person I spoke to a small sampling. Just one or two 6×4’s with a note on the reverse asking them to think about the feeling of holding a print and to send one back to me. I’m not sure if it’ll work but it makes me feel good and to get back to Phil’s comment, got me thinking about what, if anything I’ll pass along.
Should I stick to making a few albums? Should I put together a couple of books (I have some ideas on that front)? Should I just leave stacks of unorganised prints for someone else to sort through?
I’m not sure right now but the seed has been planted and reading Phil’s interview has had the effect of adding Miracle-Gro.
Thanks very much for reading. I’m afraid to say that Phil doesn’t have a website or social medial presence that I’m able to share but I will make sure that he heads back to read your comments, so please don’t be shy and leave your thoughts below.
Another interviewee will be back on these pages but in the meantime, please take a minute to scroll back up and read Phil’s interview.
Thanks again and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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