I am R E Hengsterman and this is why I shoot film
We’re lucky to have perpetual film photographer R E Hengsterman with us today – you can call him Rob if you’re nice.
Rob has a lot to say…a LOT to say, so grab a cup of coffee or cold jug of beer, turn off any distractions and get stuck in.
Over to you, Rob.
Hi Rob, what’s this picture, then?
When I struggle with creativity, this mantra bumps about in my head… “Shoot what you love…” “Shoot what you love…”
Above is my daughter Abby, candidly captured. I prefer portraits to be unexpected, unrehearsed and largely unpolished. Pure human emotion can be whimsical, raw, heart-wrenching and very often difficult to reproduce.
I much prefer the flaws as they enhance or exacerbate the feeling within the image.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
Short, how glorious. Father | Lover of Beauty | Self-Experimenter | Black & White Film Photographer | Nikon | Voigtländer | Never Photoshop | Plant Based | Fuck Digital
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting?
Six or seven. My grandfather was a casual photographer. He did some pin-up work back in the day. He had a complete darkroom in his basement. The ambiance was magical, like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia.
I wish I had taken greater advantage. Unfortunately, appreciation is often acquired in a retrospective fashion.
Film photography has been the perpetual paramour in my life. Occasionally put aside for life, family, employment. The typical things that sidetrack our dreams, but always returning with a distinctive pull.
I shoot for my personal legacy I suppose. Not to capture the perfect image, obtain wealth (laughable), or even artistic praise. Legacy in the terms of leaving an image that might elicit emotion or memory of a distinct time or place in someone’s life – an image can be a vortex – drawing you in deeper and deeper. Similar to the way a song or smell triggers an emotional response.
Any favorite subject matter?
Humanity and our interaction with our environment. I carry my camera everywhere, seeking out small bits of opportunity to breathe life into a picture. Photographing opportunity is luck, timing, and patience. But mostly, luck.
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?
Shoot Film. Shoot often. Shoot anything and never give up on the day.
Sometimes after a long day of shooting the best images I capture are the completely unexpected ones. Walking on the beach, I snapped this shot at the end of a long day of shooting. It was the last shot on the roll. The best images are often the most unexpected and unplanned. I love how the sand sparkles under the declining light.
To improve how I see an image and how that vision translates into an acceptable print. I shoot without a tripod, flash, or light meter. I never edit a single photograph or use Photoshop or software of any kind. I present the image as captured.
I also subscribe to the one camera one film one lens philosophy. Less gear means more time and familiarity with my camera. Your camera should feel like an extension of your hand.
I still struggle with sunlight and shadows. Light can be tough to master, especially without a meter. I rely on my eyesight and visual interpretation of light. I rarely like anything I shoot when looking at the negatives; it takes me seeing something a half dozen times before I find some value. I never feel good enough, and that keeps me going.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
Ilford Hp4 Plus (Clearly)
Flawless, forgiving, sexy tonality and capable of significant pushing.
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?
The camera – Nikon Fm3a. A tank. Completely manual and requires no batteries to function. A brilliant & iconic camera.
The lens – The 85mm f/1.4 AI-s is among Nikon’s finest lenses ever. Just drop the mic, there’s nothing else to discuss.
Film – Ilford FP4 Plus (For reasons described above), or ADOX CMS 20 II – the sharpest, most fine-grained film I have ever used. Absurd in capturing detail, but extremely finicky to process.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Unachievably, Woodstock – August 69. Freedom and human experience abound.
Realistically; Burning Man, Lollapalooza. Bunbury, Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival or SXSW. Being in a crowd of people under those conditions is intoxicating and raging with opportunity.
I love the challenges of night shots without flash under the glare of lights.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
That analog film is antiquated, labor-intensive, and expensive. I believe the workload is still less than digital. Digital lacks a nostalgic patina. I never found the benefits of digital capture enthralling. Parsing thousands of images to find one I find acceptable sounds horrible – I’d rather selfie to the point of nausea. Now we have Photoshop creating algorithms so that digital images appear analog. Do we see the irony people?
I say, just shoot film. It can teach us to slow down. You learn to appreciate the finality and irreversible consequence of a shutter click. Technology is wildly beneficial, but it reinforces bad habits.
Film photography requires us to embrace the mystery and uncertainty. Any moment film can reach in and drag out unreal emotion. The opportunities to manipulate the ordinary are endless.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
Film photography will have an archival place in the history of humankind. Particular artistic mediums are transitional but not replaceable, and the film medium is currently undergoing a transitional renaissance.
Moreover, photography should be egalitarian – everything from Pinhole to Peter Lik has its rightful place. Over time, there is a progression. Film didn’t replace painting. Computers won’t be able to simulate sex, and the scratches and hiss of vinyl accentuate beautiful imperfections absent in digital recordings. I am just doing my small part to keep film alive and hopefully relevant.
Keep shooting film people
Wonderful stuff. I half imagined this interview as a chat over a roaring fire, beer in hand and Rob punctuating each and every sentence with a stab of his drinking hand, liquid splashing everywhere. It’s rare to be able to see such sentiment imparted in such a visual way (for me, at least).
There are two main points I took away from Rob’s word so: “Shoot Film. Shoot often. Shoot anything and never give up on the day.” and “You learn to appreciate the finality and irreversible consequence of a shutter click.”
I often use the “film slows you down” adage when trying to explain to people who ask me why I don’t shoot digital and what attracts me to this “antiquated” method. It’s a knee jerk and mostly people don’t want to hear an answer, or at least, don’t want to hear a long one.
What I should be doing is echoing Rob’s words above.
Film slows me down partly because of that finality. I often find my finger hovering over the shutter button, half-pressing it and getting ready to exhale in preparation of committing to the shot…only to find my finger relaxing while I consider if this is what I really want to commit – irreversibly – to film. Nine times out of ten, that hesitation is a sign that it’s not the right time, framing, subject or light, and I move on in search of something worthy of capturing.
We’ll be back again very soon with another film photographer to whet your appetite but in the meantime, and in a small change form the norm, Keep shooting film people.
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