I am whatsbehindthat and this is why I shoot film
I’m happy to finally bring you an interview with the mind behind black and white Instax photography before there was Instax Mini Monochrome! It’s the one and only Whatsbehind that.
If you read his article about using Fuji’s SP-1 printer to create black and white Instax sheets, you’ll know what to expect from this interview, so grab a comfy chair, a nice drink and settle in for a treat.
Over to you WBT!
Hi, WBT what’s this picture, then?
WBT: This one was shot in a station in Germany. Stations and airports are places where feelings and emotions are strong: people coming or leaving all the time. Lots of endings and beginnings. Hundreds of lives crossing each other for a few minutes. I like to catch moments that tell a story.
I like to show the ones that are covered in such a thick layer of normality that nobody pays attention to them, washing it away to bring back the incredible raw beauty of those moments.
I intend for my photography as a medium, to frame and show the reality we live in. I try to be the one that pushes the button to make that possible.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
WBT: I am an almost mid-30s human being. I am a security IT professional by the day that takes refuge behind a camera by night. I am immigrant in a foreign country that I love more than my own.
I like to walk, the low light of the pubs and people that dispense smiles and nice conversation.
I am mostly the inopportune person on the table that breaks the silence on a boring dinner night saying either something very smart, very stupid or very unacceptable.
The latter is common, but at least people start to smile after such thing. If they don’t laugh, they leave, everything goes back to equilibrium.
I transform in a blink from a handshaker to a hugger.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
WBT: I really started when my brother gave me the camera that was owned by our father, a Yashica. I had a film camera when I was a teenager, but I didn’t know too much about photography and emulsions back then.
I learned about how to develop and print in a darkroom, I started to leave my Canon 7D home to bring the Yashica around on my journeys, and to take photos of everything around me.
The Yashica is small, discreet; and today is still my favourite to-go camera. My enthusiasm has grown roll after roll and…here I am now, almost 6 years later.
I like the unpredictable nature of film. The inability to check or modify your shot right after, the emotion of see the final result after a few days. That sort of invisible connection with your camera, to try to see how and what the camera sees. It is photography at human/slow pace.
In a world made of immaterial bytes, I appreciate the long forgotten pleasure to hold a real picture in my hand, a real negative. Also, I saw compromised USB sticks and hard drives with years and years of family photos in them gone forever.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
WBT: The discovery and study of war photography has been an important influence to me.
The representation of the bitter truth, without any kind of filter, (behind the political lesson) helped me to understand that for myself photography is essentially a captured frame of reality that should not be modified/altered and is exposed to the public with the intention to move emotions.
I would mention Don McCullin as a main influence, his stories are truly inspirational for the role and the “responsibility” of a photographer towards the world and his subjects. Lately, I like to find inspiration in fellow photographers and the #believeinfilm community provide really a lot of it.
Stories are really everywhere and everyone in his own way, has something to teach and to learn at the same time. Distances are finally zeroed and I find this a real game changer in the way how we do photography nowadays.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
WBT: I still use digital when I have the feeling that the situation I will find myself in will be very variable, so I appreciate the flexibility given by the digital cameras. It is always an option.
But I have to admit that I have not used my digital camera in a long while, and my film camera fulfils the duty perfectly anyway. So, I think I should answer no to this one.
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
WBT: If we see photography as a process from the click on the camera to a print on paper…I would love to set up a proper darkroom and start to print my own photos. It is a very important step I did not practice as often as I want for lack of time and physical space.
I started a 52 weeks project on Instagram that you can see searching for #1instaxfor52 or just looking for my profile
@whatsbehindthat, to try to document my everyday life on Instax film. This will keep me busy with a long term project and at the end of the year, I will have a small diary full of notes to illustrate to my kids one day. It will be very nice to experiment the association of photography and words.
Maybe I will hand stitch it, who knows.
And, working with a model, finally. I did some photoshoots but to hire a professional model will be a big step for me. I always loved the fine art and maybe is a good way to learn to work in a studio.
Ouch, this is a lot of things already. You mentioned a challenge.. found already too many I believe. A day of 24 hours is never enough isn’t?
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
WBT: People. I like to see how people behave on the street. How they interact with each other and move. The stories behind every character.
I think humans are the most incredible creatures, in a bad and in a good way. So to watch them is rather entertaining for me, and I have to say… educative.
Every age and every place has some peculiarities, and is lovely to discover them. The street is my favorite scenario.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What to you take with you and why?
WBT: I have to workaround this question, giving you two answers. Either the Yashica FX2000, Rollei Infrared 400. Vivitar 28-65 /3.5. Flash. Or Instax Mini 90 with black and white film and color.
Why? I am normally a mess, I would not find any other film and equipment I feel comfortable working with in 2 minutes. I would make that work.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, were do you go and why?
WBT: Instax color film. South America. Probably Peru’.
The bright light and the colors of those countries are amazing. There are areas that are still not so urbanized so I would have lot of different scenarios to document and lot of different human interactions to frame.
Is an unknown place to me, so I would spend a quite long time there exploring. I picked Instax film because it is immediate, flexible enough in different light conditions and also…is a film that does not need a developing process.
…and also I can bring all the Instax cameras I have!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
WBT: Jeez that would be a very sad thing. I would use it a documentary way and take portraits of all the people that mean something to me and places I like particularly. so this make difficult for me to answer to the “where” part of your question. I will keep it simple saying the planet earth.
I would pick a black and white film, ILFORD HP5+ and use first generation Canon A-1 with a 50mm lens. Looks like a glorious end for my film photography era.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
WBT: The biggest misconception is that film photography is dead. And difficult. It is not dead; it is alive and kicking. Any respectful photography shop has at least one kind of film nowadays and there is usually at least one lab that will develop it for you.
It is not difficult. It might require more interaction, and you have lot more restrictions.. but that is what makes it interesting and fascinating.
Restrictions in film photography trigger creativity.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
WBT: There is a lot of growing interest out there on this matter and I think it is not going to fade soon. As everything, what goes up must go down. But the opposite is very true as well. We saw Fuji film creating a new BW instant film, recently. Companies are bringing discontinued film back in the market.
In Italy, a bunch of people decided to bring the Ferrania factory back up in the name of film photography and what it stands for. Considering the past, there is a new spring for film photography at the moment. Bright days ahead, for another good while.
It’s this answer, from the “What influences you…” question that stuck with me the most while putting this interview together:
“The representation of the bitter truth, without any kind of filter, (behind the political lesson) helped me to understand that for myself photography is essentially a captured frame of reality that should not be modified/altered and is exposed to the public with the intention to move emotions.”
I’m not someone who believes in absolute truth in my own photography, it’s just “there” and may or may not represent reality as it was, as much as it represents my reality while I was there. I rarely shoot for emotional effect. I guess it’s not my style. Or so I thought.
Having picked up WBT’s answer in conversation with a few photographer and non-photographer friends over the past few weeks, I’ve become aware that many among my circle of friends receive an emotional response from my photographs. Sometimes joy, sometimes sadness, sometimes melancholy. It’s something I was honestly not aware of previously and given this prompt by WBT, it’s definitely something I’ll be paying more attention to in the future.
Stay tuned for some upcoming film news a bit later today and of course, tune in next week for another interview. Don’t let that stop you from having a browse around while you’re here. It’ll be time well spent, I can assure you.
Keep shooting, folks.
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