I am Pierluigi Tolu and this is why I shoot film
Well then, who do we have here? I’m incredibly pleased to welcome today’s interviewee and new (re)entrant to the film photography world. It’s Pierluigi Tolu, hailing from Tuscany, Italy.
I’ll let Pierluigi tell you all his story in his own words. Grab some biscuits, this is going to be good.
Over to you, Pierluigi.
Hi Pierluigi, what’s this picture then?
This is one of the first successful pictures I took with my favorite camera, my Rolleiflex 2.8. It was a “self-portrait” session, a whole afternoon spent alone: me, my film stuff and nothing else.
I can admit that this one is not really a classic self-portrait (and certainly not a “selfie”, to use today’s terms), but I’m an admirer of Arno Rafael Minkkinen and, if you know him and his work, or just take a look to his portfolio, you’ll know what I mean…..
This picture represents a milestone in my photographic method, and was a big confirmation of the capabilities and potentiality of film. This shot “happened” whilst I was still in the fullness of my personal digital era.
OK, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m Italian, 46 years old, full time employee, husband of a very special woman, father of two marvellous guys (11 and 8) and, finally, an amateur photographer in my spare time.
I’m also co-founder and President of a photographic club that involves about 10 people. Seems that I’ve not so much spare time, right? Well, it’s true, but when I can, I find a couple of hours to cut out everything else and go out with some photographic gear. When those times come, I’m ok.
When I’m out shooting, everything from my daily life is magically erased; I’m completely immersed in the photographic world, and nothing else. It’s a sort of parallel world that has the ability to relax me and free my mind. It’s something magical….
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting?
Really from the beginning?! I was photographically born with film. I started in 1990 with my own first camera (a Vivitar v2000 model, K-mount with a 50mm f/1.9 lens). It is still in my collection! When I graduated from University in 1998, my relatives gave me the most advanced consumer digital photographic gear available at that time (a Canon Powershot 350). Conversely, at the same time, I bought a completely mechanical TLR (a Seagull 4B-I model, without light meter!), which opened up the medium format world.
I was reluctant to move to the digital, and film was still more attractive for me but some years after, I decided to enter digital properly with a Panasonic Lumix FZ-18 bridge camera (Zeiss lenses, raw files, manual settings included, etc.). It was this camera helped me to understand digital photography in terms of gear and shooting modes, as well as the digital developing process. A couple of years ago I moved to DSLR (Nikon D700) and began shooting digital more seriously – weddings, ceremonies, personal projects.
Over the years I’ve collected more film cameras than digital ones. For different reasons, I’ve collected other two TLR’s (Rolleiflex 2.8 and a Rollei Baby), one medium format SLR (Mamiya 645), two folding cameras from the 1930’s (Ikonta 520/2 and Nettar 515/2, both in 6×9 format), and much, much more. So, it’s still unclear to me if I’m digital or film photographer. I think that I’m just a photographer, full stop.
The gear I use doesn’t matter. Someone once said “Photography is not about gear”, I think this sentence is what “Photography” means for me.
In all honesty, I’ve taken a bit of a break from film over the last few years. My last roll (up until very recently), was exposed three years ago. I shot this challenging roll on my father’s “Bencini Comet II”. It’s an old 127 film camera I had repaired some years ago thanks to an expert technician that still has spare parts for just about every old camera! (There’s a little review here)
After the repair, I didn’t have a chance to check its working condition but decided to put a roll in and go out anyway! The film was Agfa Rollei Retro 80s (not so many choices, unfortunately), and I shot it on a sunny day back in February 2013 at Bagno Vignoni and Vitaleta church (see above).
After this session, I had a total of seven rolls left undeveloped. I’d also started my digital work with the D700 and had the feeling that the digital word was turning me away from film. I made a decision that this would be my last roll until the seven were all developed; my intention being to avoid shooting film instead of having it pile up without being processed.
Back when I was shooting a lot of film, I used to develop and scan myself, although I never got to starting the darkroom printing process. After moving home a few years ago, my darkroom stuff was packed away and I’ve still not set it up again. Time and life have gotten in the way and I’ve pretty much been shooting on digital exclusively.
Now, thanks to a lab still working in B&W near to where I live, I’ve had those 7 rolls finally developed and I’m ready to restart shooting film and build my darkroom again, which will also include the ability to print! The shot above – Old Stairs – is from the first roll of my film photographic rebirth!
The feeling from starting film photography again? …..WOW……so funny!!!!!
So, what drives me to keep shooting…or restart shooting film?
Well, I think that we are living in a busy and crazy era; we are always too busy rushing to do something (work, commuting, travelling, family, etc…), and we never have time to stop things and reflect on where we are and where we are going. And the more we go on, the worse we are on that front……
Shooting film for me is something that can stop this madness; it’s something that picks me up and throws me far away from everything; it gives me the opportunity to think about something else, with a completely and absolutely different beat; and understand that when we rush, we lose the opportunity to taste life
Did I come back to film looking for different results from digital? Maybe. Film photography is another story vs digital photography…..another look and feeling. I don’t intend to paint myself as an artist, but maybe I also came back so I could explore more aspects of this art….
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?
Well, I’m planning to have a very interesting and challenging year, as I’ve a lot of goals to reach!
First of all – as already mentioned – I want to set up my darkroom again. This is a two step plan: first step (short term), restart developing film on my own in my little bathroom – arranging some stuff to do it. Second step (long term), build a little room in the garage, which will be fully dedicated to darkroom work, including printing.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to completely fulfil this plan this year, but let’s try…!
My second main goal is to improve my street photography skills, as this is a genre that is catching me more and more.
The third goal? As I’ve not so many film cameras to use (……only about 15…… maybe….), I want to start with some pinhole photography. It is so fascinating for me and my concept of photography.
Last, but not least is to improve my technical and composition skills, practising as much film photography as possible. My dream is to reach a place where I am so comfortable shooting a photo that it doesn’t matter which camera/film/sensor I’m using; that the result will be the same, the one that I want.
I’m currently quite confident when shooting digital but I want to have the same level (and more) confidence with film.
Any favorite subject matter
Currently I’m captured by geomety, color and detail…if we talk about color photography; contrast and tiny light shapes, if we talk about B&W.
However, photography for me is like music: I listen to everything that sounds good to my ears and touches my heart. As I mentioned above, I’m heavily studying street photography at the moment and I’m viewing a lot of portfolios and reading about the careers of others that play with this genre.
In order to start practicing, I feel that I still need to improve some technical and personal skills, and this is why I’m planning some personal projects that can help me on that front. I’m currently immersed in a 365 project, but a lot of ideas are crowding my mind……
You can never use film again, what’s your last roll?
I’m stuck between two completely different films: Fuji Velvia 50 color slides and Ilford HP5+ B&W negatives.
I love the colors that Velvia slides return, they are so saturated and brilliant, even if the exposure is a little bit tricky. HP5+ it’s so flexible in its latitude and I think is the best B&W film I’ve ever used.
But finally, if I had to choose, I think that my favorite is the first one, in medium format (120).
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject mater. What to you take with you and why?
Well, that’s easy for me. Rolleiflex 2.8 Planar and the two rolls mentioned above (Velvia 50 colour slides and Ilford HP5+ B&W negatives).
I’ll take the films for the reasons I mentioned above but for the camera, well…..I think that in my hand, it is the best camera I have.
It’s incredible how a completely mechanical and apparently simple piece of equipment like this can be both funny and amazing to use. It’s simply perfect!
The fact that you don’t need to think about anything else other than framing and shooting makes it a wonderful tool that allows you to be totally focused on what you are seeing through its waist level viewfinder.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Wow……this puts me in a little bit of a confusing state…… I’ve never traveled a lot, so any place around the world will be perfect for me.
But If I think about a special place to have fun taking pictures, maybe New York city will be my preferred choice. Why? Other than being the biggest (I think) city in the world, there I’ll have the possibility to practice a lot of street photography, maybe one of the best places to do it (IMHO).
…but I’m open to accept other suggestions… 😀
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
Well, I’ve read a lot of comments about that while surfing the net as well as reading thoughts from your other interviews saying that the most common cliché is that film is “hipster”, or “elitist”, or “niche”. But in the meantime, I’m also reading that many digitally-born photographers are now discovering the beauty, glamour and appeal of film.
To me, this means that film is not something that comes from the past, but is something still alive. It’s something that has a special and unique energy that can be touched only when working with it.
Every time that I look at my film and print archives, I understand why I’m so passionate about photography, and my mind goes immediately to the day of the shoot, remembering the entire situation, environment and a lot of other things about that time.
I think that the only way to correct all of those misconception is to diffuse and share as much as possible these things, these feelings, these emotions that all of us know and have in our minds.
Social networks and the internet is a special place to do it. And we are doing it right now…… aren’t we?
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
I think it is a brilliant one.
After the big “depression” due to big production decommissioning (Kodak’s own being the most famous), we are seeing more and more initiatives that are rebuilding a future that will support film. It’s a sort of “resurrection” in the digital era, but we’ll fail if we consider film and digital as opposite mediums.
The digital vs film debate…it’s just against photography. They are only a different way to express what we see and what we feel. Again, photography is not about gear, and I believe that this is also true for the medium that we use.
The Impossible Project and Ferrania (which I’m a backer of), are only the first – I think – of a lot of – I hope – initiatives that will once again offer a large amount and variety of films for all of us.
And we are here ready to use them!
~ Pierluigi Tolu
“The gear I use doesn’t matter. Someone once said “Photography is not about gear”, I think this sentence is what “Photography” means for me.”
Pierluigi isn’t the first photographer to appear on these pages and express this sentiment but (if memory serves), he is the first to say so from such a recently heavy digital background. It’s also a sentiment he reiterates throughout his story and one that I know he feels very passionate about.
When it comes down to it, it’s about the final results and if the photographer is happy that they satisfy whatever visualisation was present at the time of taking the shot, that’s the main thing. On a personal level, I’ve been happier with some shots I’ve taken using a phone camera over those I took (of the same subject), with film – simply because one result better met my expectations and visualisation of the scene.
I also especially like Pierluigi’s story of coming back to film, and his head-first-both-feet-in plans for building out a dedicated darkroom and developing his photographic style and focus. It’s heart warming and inspiring to see someone who never really left photography, coming back into film as a medium of personal expression, especially when it’s also to further explore physical processes which intrinsically connect them to the work he will produce.
Sorry to the digital post-producers out there but I simply can’t get excited about firing up Photoshop, or backing up my Lightroom archive.
Thanks again to Pierluigi, especially for sharing so much of his unpublished archive. Please do take the time to find and get to know him on Twitter, as well as via his Flickr stream. There’s a world of beautiful imagery waiting for you just a couple of clicks away.
We’ll be back again very soon with another photographer…much sooner in fact, as we’re switching back to a twice-weekly interview format for a while.
In the meantime, keep shooting, folks!
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