I am Thomas Skrlj and this is why I shoot film
Today we’re sitting down with Thomas Skrlj (pronounced “Skurl”). He’s a relative newcomer to this business of shooting film and has a wonderfully keen eye for color, contrast and composition.
Have a meander through Thomas’ words and pictures below, something really special awaits.
Over to you, Thomas.
Hi Thomas, what’s this picture, then?
This picture is my first success. It was my first step into a world that would ultimately swallow me whole. This photo was taken on my first roll of film, just days after getting my Nikon FM10. It is a photo of my girlfriend.
To me it is a reflection on where my photography would take me. Fast-forward almost four years to now, I am still experimenting with film and learning more about it each and every day. I like this photograph because of the human element in it. Now I am always looking for a character to be a part of the frame.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m Thomas Skrlj, a 21 year old Ryerson University student trying to find his own way in this world. I am currently living in Mississauga Ontario. I love exploring, the outdoors, and anything else with the right people by my side.
When did you start shooting film?
I started shooting film during the fall of 2012, with a Nikon FM10 and a roll of generic drug store colour film. I didn’t have the privilege of shooting film in high school. However, I see this as a blessing.
[EMULSIVE: Eagle-eyed readers will point out that the first image above is black and white. Thomas converted what was an "unusable over saturated image” to black and white – with gorgeous results.]
I adore the look of film. It is something about the grain, and the colours that it creates.
Not having any technical or artistic background, I was forced to find my own way. Through this, I feel that my journey so far has been 100% unique as I develop my own approach to shooting. It’s very experimental but I am happy with the direction that it is going.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
Most of the reasons why I shoot film are going to sound quite cliché to other photographers but here they are in my own words.
I shoot film for many reasons. I love things that are tangible. To add to that, I am a very sentimental person. I find it difficult to let things go, and the idea of something wearing out, becoming corrupt or becoming technologically irrelevant irritates me.
On the other side, I love the process of choosing a film, and being dedicated to that roll until every exposure is used.
I love the little things, like the sound of the film advance, the history behind the cameras, the community, the friends I’ve made, the memories I’ve captured. Even after a roll is done, and I am developing it at home, the process I love continues.
It is a very invested process from start to finish, but I like having that level of control. I love it all, except scanning, no one enjoys scanning.
I also shoot film because it is how I want my images to look. Some people spend so much time with apps and editing, trying to get their photos to look like film, so why not just shoot it. Film also makes me shoot a certain way. It has to do with slowing me down. Not necessarily in the sense that it is more challenging, but it makes me appreciate each frame a lot more. For example, with digital, if I put the camera up to my eye, I am taking a picture 90% of the time. With film, when I put the camera up to my eyes, I am only taking a picture about 30% of the time.
My main motivation for shooting now is that I love creating stories. Even if it a simple street shot, there is always a story that I am adding to it. That is something I aim to capture in my photos. I try to invite people to add their own narrative, to wonder where this man is going, or what is he looking at.
Shooting film is also where I feel most comfortable. I like the ability to turn off my phone and disappear into a street. I rather enjoy the solitude that photography can bring. It is quite relaxing going to a location alone and just enjoying your craft and your own company.
The final factor that has kept me shooting film is the community. I cannot stress how wonderful all the people who make up the film communities are. There are incredible photographers who I discovered 4 years ago, and now I get the opportunity to talk and even travel with them.
The community is truly incredible, and if it wasn’t for them, I am not sure where I would be photographically.
Any favorite subject matter?
My favorite subject matter has to be people. Regardless of if it is a musician, or a commuter on the streets of Toronto, I like capturing people candid in their environment. I am usually attracted to motion, and like to incorporate that into the photo if I can.
For me this is usually done in street photography, but even on walks with my girlfriend I can always be caught snapping off a frame of her or another passer by.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
I would find a way to fit a bulk 100ft roll of Ilford HP5+ into a camera. Process may be a bit difficult, but I would make it work.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
My body of choice is my Leica M6. My jump to Leica was pretty fast in my eyes. The main push was the shutter jamming on my FM10. When it was out for repairs – for three weeks! – my eyes began to wander. So, I picked up a M6 and have not looked back.As for the lens, it would be between the 50mm Summicron or my 28mm Voigtlander Ultron.
Although I am currently going through a huge 28mm phase, I still think that the 50mm is more flexible for any job. That said, I would go with the 50 Summicron.
As for the film, I would take a roll of Ilford HP5+ and a roll of Kodak Portra 400. The main reason for these choices is because those are my go-to colour and black and white films.
Secondly, both these films are extremely flexible. Portra can be overexposed like you wouldn’t believe, and I can push HP5+ to ISO6400 if I really wanted to – I push it to 3200 all the time and love the results. With this setup, I think I can handle anything thrown at me.
HP5+ is what I started with (on black and white), since my sister had some rolls in the house from her experience shooting film at school. I guess I just grew accustomed to the look of it. I also like what Ilford is doing as a company, and like to support them as much as possible.
In terms of different film stocks, you could say that I am not very experimental and stick to what I know. Hopefully further exploration is soon to come! My introduction to Kodak Portra was a product of the film community. I have tried a few other colour films, but Portra just seems to work so well in every situation.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
This is a hard one. To be honest, my initial instinct is to say NYC. Although, my favorite location to shoot in NYC was China town, so maybe if I have unlimited film for one location I am better off exploring an actual “Chinatown”. Now you got me looking at Tokyo street photography haha.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
There are a number of misconceptions about film photography that I would like to set straight. For me, the main one is that film is a trendy “hipster” thing to do. Although I am all for the resurgence of film, not everyone is shooting film because it is what all the cool kids are doing.
The reason this misconception is a big problem is because it leads to the impression that you are not serious about photography. This leads to people thinking that if you are shooting film, you are just doing it to be trendy. With two film stocks I am capable of shooting just about anything that a digital camera can. I have shot fast moving street subject all the way to dark concerts.
Last misconception is that Instax are Polaroids. They aren’t, but that is me just being nit picky.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
The future of film photography certainly is unpredictable. On one side, I am sure we will continue to see more and more films discontinued, but there will always be the niche. Even the other day a classmate of mine took a group photo and pulled out a film point and shoot. So the interest is definitely there.
There is also the instant film trend that is rapidly growing thanks to Fuji, so who knows. Maybe this trend will be a gateway to further exploration of film photography. Only time will tell.
Wonderful stuff and a reminder that fresh eyes can see just as well as slightly well-worn ones. I’m going to sound a bit like an old fuddy duddy here but it’s great that young photographers are not only discovering film and beating the drum but also accepting the pleas of people like me to have their work featured like this in public. Thanks to Thomas for being a good sport and sharing.
Seeing someone enter the world of film photography for the first time is a wonderful thing. I’ve seen it happen to people of different backgrounds and ages but a few things about the journey always remain the same:
There’s the realisation that this world not only still exists but continues to thrive and grow; that although so many film stocks we took for granted are no longer with us, there’s still more than enough variety to keep us going lifetimes over.
There’s the look that someone gives you when they realise they’re using equipment that may well be older than their parents and will in all likelihood outlast them.
There’s the pleasure in their eyes when they see their first set of negatives and scans; that “I made this and there’s not another quite like it” look.
There’s the way they start using their camera after a few rolls. It starts to ‘click ‘and becomes an extension of their body, and you can feel the satisfaction they take from cracking off a well planned shot. Even now, I nearly always have a smile on my face when I lift my head from my Waist Level Finder and often find myself thinking about the first time I looked through the focus screen of my first TLR.
Last but not least (there are too many to recount), there’s their pace. I love the way that film cameras make people think. The way that their roll of film becomes a precious commodity, not to be wasted, as opposed to a series of enlessly numbered files that can be erased both on a whim and through a careless keystroke.
It’s been a pleasure talking to Thomas and his beautiful images aside, he’s made me pause and think about what it was like for me coming back to film – or in fact, chomping to film ‘proper’.
As always, keep shooting folks.
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.