I am Shikha Makan and this is why I shoot film
Director and travel junkie Shikha Makan is today’s interviewee and what an interesting character she is.
After Kodak closed its doors in India, a friend handed her hundreds (yes, hundreds), of rolls of expired Kodak Ektachrome. She’s been shooting them this past year, whilst travelling the length and breadth of India.
This should be a pretty colourful ride.
Hi Shikha, what’s this picture, then?
I captured this image at sunrise in the blue city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan. I travel there each year to attend a folk music festival and had been to this vantage point the day before to study the light. Next day I took my shots.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I am someone who loves telling stories through visuals; be they in still photography, or motion picture. I am a film director, I make television ads, short films, and soon I’ll be jumping on to features which I dream of doing in 35mm.
I love photography; it inspires me to think, to write and to travel.
I have always believed that images are not about static moments, they are about things that have a before and an after in the continuum of time.
That’s a big reason for why I love to shoot on film, as it provides me with a unique way of engaging with the world out there!
When did you start shooting film?
I started shooting film while still in college, when I woke up to the idea of making photographs. When I saw what was happening to light on a film negative, I was completely mesmerized.
I wasn’t in a photography, film or even an art school. Actually, I was studying psychology! But I was completely obsessed with telling stories with the play of light and shadow.
I saved up money from my summer jobs and picked an old Canon A1 body with a beautiful 55mm f/1.2 lens (which I still use!).
After that, I got myself a copy of Langford and picked up lots of Kodak Academy 200 black and white film from a wholesale market.
My journey since has been beautiful…
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
In the few years since I started shooting film, digital had already taken big chunks out of the photographic world. I saw more and more work being produced digitally, which had more and more post production work done in order to give it a “film” look.
It didn’t inspire me at all.
I did get hold of a digital SLR, and I can tell you that I really did not enjoy it at all.
From creating the image to transfers, grading, finishing…all of it was such an artificial process that I felt no connection to.
Film is organic, period.
Film captures light the way no other medium can, period.
Film has latitude and tones that gives me inexplicable joy, period!
Film grain cannot be replicated, period!
Like I said, for me an image is not a mere photograph..not simply a static moment.
My process is evolving, I chose my moment and subject by being a part of their story. Therefore immediacy for reviewing my images is not my aim; discovery is.
I like to shoot fewer frames by making better choices, rather than hysterically keep clicking.
I love to see each of my 36 frames as well thought out and nurtured. When i go to the lab, I love to discover if I achieved what I set out to.
Any favourite subject mater?
As a film maker my subjects vary but I am a street photographer. Being in India makes it even more of an exciting journey. Our environments are rich, dense and multi-layered.
The possible explorations are endless and portraits of people amidst their daily lives…well, this is what my eye likes to see.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
I am an optimist. That is never going to happen. I love to shoot on a range of films; Kodak Tri-X, Ilford or even consumer negatives. Now I am positively looking forward to the revival of reversal film.
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?
I am photographer out of a passionate bent. I don’t shoot images for assignments but if I was put in such a position, I would ideally grab a few rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400 and loads of the Kodak Ektachrome I currently have with me.
I travel a lot on short notice and like to casually throw my cameras in my bags. So, I would most likely grab my Nikon F3, as that particular camera has stood the test of many rough times!
For the lens, I’d choose a wide angle focal length, as I’d be able to build a perspective in my story while choosing a frame. Unless the assignment entails capturing the veins of a leaf, I’d surely have lots of fun! 🙂
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Tough one! I would probably end up on an Indian Ghat in North India (a riverside, with steps leading into water) . You can see full cycle of life there with people praying for life and death, surrounded by the two elements of nature, water and fire.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
If you have shot on film once, then in my opinion, there is no further convincing that you will ever need. It is digital that needed to convince the masses. So much so, that it started comparing itself to film…and using words like ‘better’, ‘sharper’ etc., to describe itself.
If you want to study light to be a photographer, the only answer is film.
There is no creative achievement in adjusting exposures after each click and then continuously checking your LCD.
Also (with digital), when you are not sure of something, you tend to shoot a lot and decide later. That totally kills the creative process, because a creative choice is intuitive sans organic as the medium of film.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
The future of film is very bright…and it is a new future.
I recently read a survey that said, most still photographers shooting film today are under 30 years old. That speaks a lot about film’s future!
It is exciting to see how film is getting redefined as a preferred medium of choice.
There are some parts of the world where it’s so easy to take “good pictures”, it’s almost cheating to even try…or at least that’s what certain people might lead you to believe.
India is one of those (huge) places that often has this label slapped on it and I think it’s about time we stopped. Well, stopped and agreed that a good picture is a good picture, a bad picture is a bad picture; and that people have varying definitions of what good and bad are. Just leave it at that and let the image do the talking.
With that in mind, back to Shikha’s words and pictures.
She uses film as a device for her as an individual to uniquely engage with the world around her while on her travels across the length and breadth of the country. She’s a self-confessed student of light and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t ask one more question: how her day job as a filmmaker has affected her still photography.
We all go and scout our own photographic locations from time to time, even if we’re not aware that we’re making notes for when we come back. As someone no doubt used to keeping a bank of potential locations near the front of her mind, I wonder whether Shikha is more aware of this aspect/process than the rest of us simple snappers.
Her first image, “Sunrise” brings to (my) mind a scene from the beginning of a movie where after hovering in the sky for a few moments, the camera sweeps into the heart of the city, straight to an apparently tiny and insignificant event; maybe a single drop of water falling from a leaky faucet.
All I know is that after spending some time looking at the images she’s been kind enough to share, I fully believe her when she says that she want’s “to build a perspective in my story while choosing a frame”.
It just took me a while to realise that she wasn’t talking about the rule of thirds, lines, or other ratios. It’s amazing work, Shikha. Thank you so much for sharing.
I’m off to look over the pictures one more time, so I’ll see you next time.
Please turn the lights off on your way out and please don’t forget to get involved with our upcoming Secret Santa!
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.