I am Sandeep Sumal and this is why I shoot film
It’s that time again and today we’re very proud to bring you not only the work and words of Sandeep Sumal, AKA Twitter’s @givemeabiscuit, but also a slight change to the questions we’re asking in these interviews. The changes are small for now but you can expect to see an evolution over the coming months. Anyway, enough talk about the format and back to Sandeep.
Don’t let his humble demeanour fool you for a second, Sandeep is a talented photographer who brings his eye to bear on one of the greatest and most diverse cities on the planet: London, England.
Over to you, Sandeep.
Hi Sandeep, what’s this picture, then?
These are my daughters feeling very hot and bothered in Malta. To be fair it was about 34 degrees (Celsius) and we had walked a lot that day. They are part of the reason I got into photography. I realised they were growing up and that all the photos I had been taking of them were on a smartphone and stored on hard drives.
I recall as kid (and still now), the enjoyment flicking through photo albums of the family and I wanted them to have the same. I thus decided I wanted to learn to take better pictures on a proper camera and have prints.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I grew up in East London – actually, I was born and raised in a town called Ilford, which may explain why I’m here today! Pubs, clubs and bars superseded any interest I had in photography at the time. It is only in the last two years that I have started to take a real interest.
I now live in Sussex and work in London near St. Paul’s Cathedral, so try and spend lunchtimes away from my desk, practicing behind the lens. I have many, many pictures of St. Paul’s!
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting?
I started using film about 18 months ago. There were 3 main drivers for this. The first, a good friend of mine, fine art film photographer, Paul Cooklin did a great job convincing me film is the way to go. I also found myself increasingly despairing at digital camera magazines where these fantastic images were being highlighted as great photography but then I would read further and find out it was a composite of about 10 shots plus elements photoshopped in or out. To me this became digital art not photography, which is fine if it is digital art you want to create.
Finally I also realised the only way I was going to stop standing on the same spot, taking 30 plus pictures picking the best one and getting off auto setting was to get a fully manual film camera, thus I invested in an Olympus OM1 and have not looked back.
I shoot both film and digital. I love using my digital camera and don’t really believe there is a need for debate as to which is better, photography is an art and art should be diverse and is subjective so there is room for both.
I don’t develop film myself (time & space constraints), I am also not very technically minded when it comes to photography. I understand the basics but get lost when people start talking about stops, push, pull and focal lengths but I am getting a better understanding over time.
I am not gear orientated either and to be fair that is mainly because I so easily could be that I stopped myself (and it is an eternal struggle!). I am happy with my current set up for film, an Olympus OM-1 with a 50mm, 135mm and 28mm prime lenses. I like the simplicity of one camera only and thus, my decisions are really only around what film to shoot that day.
I tend to shot film more than digital these days and when asked why for this interview I did need to stop and reflect.
When shooting film I feel like I am taking a photograph. To put that in context, I feel part of the process; taking time to get the camera settings right, bringing up the camera to my eye and composing through the lens, keeping focused (pardon the pun) on what film I have loaded thus having to think to myself “will this work”, understanding that there is little or no post processing, so I get must it right.
Most of all however, it just feels right. As you may have noticed I have used emotive words, as this is what using film brings to me; a real feeling of enjoyment and when I get it right, achievement.
I love that there are so many films to try, so many different tones, colours and contrasts. I have never been one for too much post-processing so love that with film, getting it right in camera as much as possible is the aim. It is great that when using my film camera people stop to talk, and that on-line there is a great and collaborative film community.
I love the whole ritual of film and one day plan to add home developing and printing to it.
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?
I am currently taking part in a 52 rolls project and shooting with a Holga I received as a gift through the EMULSIVE Secret Santa. This is my first foray in to medium format and I can already see why people love medium format film. However, as mentioned previously I like the simplicity of just one camera so will stick with 35mm and my OM-1 for the longer term, as there is still much to learn.
I’m not going to go into the technical stuff that I need to improve on, there is much and I will continue to work on it they only way I know how – taking pictures, review, learn and repeat.
What I am slowly starting to appreciate is that photography is not just about taking a nice picture. Yes a bit cliched I know, so let me explain further. When I take my camera out with me in London, what am I trying to convey in my pictures? What story of London am I trying to get across? Is there a theme to a set of images and if not, should there be? But mostly what connection and/or emotion do I want the viewer to experience with me and am I getting that feeling across?
The technical stuff will come, as it is a set mechanical process.
For me the challenge ahead is to not just take a nice picture but to try and become a photographer.
Any favourite subject mater?
London, London, London and oh did I mention London? Born here, grew up here, went to university here, work here and socialise here. It is such a diverse city, with so much to see and do.
From a photography point of view there is so much to capture old, new, architecture, street, art, etc., etc. I love the blend of the historic and the modern.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
That’s a tough one as I still have many films to try. At a push I will have to go for Fuji Velvia, when you get it right the colours are amazing!
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?
Gear: Olympus OM-1 with the 50mm prime. I am getting to know the camera better and better each day and my 50mm will always be my go-to lens if I don’t know the subject matter.
I would take two of the same films rather than a combination of colour and black and white. I would have to go for Ilford XP2 Super, this may not be most people’s go-to film but for me (for a number of reasons), it would be my choice. First would be convenience, as I can get it processed same day in a local high street lab. Second would be the look. Whilst not a true B&W film, used with a yellow or red filter it has a great look. Finally, more than any other film I’ve used so far, I feel I know how it works for me and with my camera.
Film photography for me is not something I want to rush, I want to take my time and get to know each film, its characteristics and how it works with my camera so I can get the best out of me and what I am using.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
This is tough. My first instinct was to stick with London but actually I would pick South East Asia, specifically Bali or Thailand.
Here there would be so many great photo opportunities from stunning scenery, beaches and starry skies to amazing vibrant people and a real juxtaposition of old world and new world. Film would have to be colour to capture the vibrancy…probably Velvia.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
It is too hard. Where do you get it developed? Isn’t it expensive?
My advice would be, we were shooting film up until the last 10-15 years, you don’t need a fancy camera and high street stores still develop film.
I get that it is a steep step to take but if you truly want to learn to take better pictures with both film and digital cameras, take away the technology ‘crutch’ that is supporting you and learn starting from the basics, but most importantly enjoy it.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
It will be a niche but healthy sector. It is growing amongst younger users and there are many converts who are getting fed up with digital photography becoming more and more about how good the technology you have is, plus what accessories you use with your camera and how good are your photoshop skills.
There are setbacks such as the price rises implemented by Fujifilm and also the delays to the Film Ferrania project, which in my opinion is knocking confidence in backing such projects in the future.
However it is great Ilford photo seems to go from strength to strength and Kodak remain very active supporters (although please bring back BW400CN!), so there continues to be a healthy supply of film stock. Lomography films are also now available in my local high street store, Boots, along with the Ilford film that they stock.
Now does anyone want to crowd source with me to buy Fujifilm’s film division?
I’ve been itching to talk to Sandeep since first getting to know him and his lovely Ilford SFX 200 and Velvia back towards the end of 2015. His images are thoughtful, beautifully composed and really speak to a great eye for detail and perspective hovering behind the lens.
Even as a relative newcomer to film photography, Sandeep resonates words that have been echoed here by many before him; the way shooting film makes him feel like he’s part of a process and not just a button jockey – hitting the shutter several dozen times, chimping and then going home to spend an evening in front of the computer, a bottle of wine and his favorite image editing tool.
It’s also interesting that he mentioned that film was the only way for him to get off the auto setting on his digital camera. C’mon Sandeep, it’s only a dial…you could have turned it. Joking aside, I’m glad he didn’t because we have another wonderful image-maker helping to support film, talking about it, getting excited about it and building his knowledge in a way that Photoshop tutorials and Lightroom presets simply can’t replicate.
It’s not always about film as a medium for capturing an image. Sometimes, it’s film as a medium for bringing out aspects of your creativity you never knew existed. Like all of us, Sandeep is learning to not only get the most from his camera and the film stocks he uses, but also learning how to zoom with his feet, hunt perspective and gain a mastery of light.
I for one am looking forward to seeing where he goes.
You can catch up with Sandeep via Twitter, where you may occasionally see a Lego man in strange places (he say’s it’s for helping with his composition…apparently). Then there’s his new website, the appropriately named filmphotography.london. Go check it out!
We’ll be back again soon with a another film photographer but in the meantime, you might want to have a read about a new series of Community Interviews, where you…yes you, have the chance to ask the film photography industry all those burning questions you’ve been wanting to get off your chest.
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.