Up for this week’s fresh EMULSIVE interview slot is George Quiroga who has been out there catching light for over 50 years — above ground and underwater. There’s some great reading below and suitably fantastic photography to boot.
So with that, it’s over to George…
Hi George, what’s this picture, then?
GQ: This image is one of my favorites from a very memorable trip back in 2001. It is an image of an Anemone Fish (aka Clown Fish) peeking out of an anemone I photographed while diving in the Solomon Islands. I spent 11 days on a 120’ dive boat with 8 other divers and the crew visiting different dive spots in the Solomon Islands. The boat had a darkroom for processing E6 slide film.
We dove five times a day and I used a Canon Rebel 2000 mostly with a Tamron 90mm Macro lens in a Sea&Sea underwater housing equipped with two Sea&Sea underwater flashes on moveable arms. I shot close to 30 rolls of Ektachrome E100VS on that trip. We would have our images developed daily and then select our 10 best from the day to put into a slide carousel for the evening slide show. After dinner, we would view the images as a group, comment, critique, and relive the moments of the day.
Prior to the trip, we tested the film while photographing plastic fish in a swimming pool shooting at various bracketed exposures and flash distances and also keeping precise notes. Later we would pick the best exposure/flash combinations and write them on our underwater dive slates for reference. As a result, I ended up with very few poor exposures.
Practice makes perfect.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
GQ: I am a gatherer of light. In another life, I wandered through a forest and met a dying Wizard who told me I was summoned to replace him. He was a Light Gatherer whose destiny was to find that which is illuminated and use magical devices to gather and capture that light. The gathered light was to be added to the book of life and whenever possible, be shared with all who would seek to view it.
For the last 50+ years, I have gathered as much light as I could. It was even a part-time job for a while during my high school and college years but I realized early on that the business of photography and photographing what other people wanted did not interest me. Instead, I studied Electrical Engineering and went to work designing computers and writing the software to make them work. Today I write software to monitor and predict failures in power systems and to help control wind and solar generation farms for a large, renewable, energy company.
Yet, photography has remained a passion that helps me release stress, and express myself in creative and artistic ways. The engineer in me has always had an interest in cameras, how they work and how they are made. I’ve kept most of my cameras since childhood and I continue to collect cameras to tinker with, experiment, and use as often as possible. The feel of a shutter triggering and the sound it makes are my dopamine. If I can capture the soul and vividness of life’s beauty and have it evoke a smile from a viewer than that prolongs the high that photography brings me.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
GQ: I started very young. My father was very much into photography as a hobby (he was an optometrist by trade) and he taught me the basics at an early age. My earliest recollection was around the age of 5 when he showed me how to make a print in the darkroom. I think the moment I saw the image appear on the paper under the safelight, I was hooked. To a 5-year-old, that was magic. My father collected cameras he found at thrift stores and would fix them then allow me to play with them. He bought me a Diana in the mid-60s as a “first” camera even though I would still experiment with some of my dad’s vintage folding and Polaroid Land cameras.
In my tween years, I saved up money from mowing lawns and delivering newspapers and bought a Petri FT as my first SLR. I then moved up to a brand new Mamiya Sekor 1000 DTL. At 16 I purchased my first Pro camera; a new Canon F-1, then a couple of years later, a Canon AE-1 as a backup/2nd camera. I would shoot black and white Plus-X or Tri-X in the Canon F-1 usually with an 85mm f/1.8 and use the AE-1 with a 35mm for Kodachrome color slides.
I photographed for the high school yearbook and sometimes my high school sports images were used in the local newspaper. I would do portraits or “model” shoots of some of my classmates and I photographed my first wedding at 16. For a brief time, I printed part-time for a local photographer in his studio’s darkroom.
In college, I worked part-time for a studio photographing weddings, portraits, schools, and products. We used a Mamiya RB67 in the studio for portraits and Hasselblad 500CMs for weddings and events with a Nikon F2 for model shoots. Most of my knowledge was self-taught from reading books and magazines and from the experience of practicing.
A bit of that magic along with my sense of curiosity and the love of exploration is what continues to drive me today. I cherish knowledge, love learning, and enjoy discovering new things whether they are places, objects, or living things. Photography is an extension of my eyes and my mind.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
GQ: I went through different phases of inspirations. My father was my first, then my mom, she drew and painted as her hobby and our home was filled with art books that I would spend hours looking through. We would watch TV shows together about art and painting so art, in general, became an influence. My older brother was also into photography and collecting cameras so I looked up to and learned from him. We seemed to have a darkroom in whatever house we lived in.
Music was also a big influence but though I tried, I wasn’t good at playing, nor painting, so I put more effort into photography. Magazines were also a catalyst for me. Besides Popular Photography and Popular Mechanics, my parents subscribed to National Geographic, Life, Look, and Vanity Fair magazines that I read cover to cover. Photographers that graced their pages such as Alfred Eisenstaedt, W. Eugene Smith, Steve McCurry, Galen Rowell, and David Doubilet along with masters such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, were inspirations.
As a young adult in the 80s, I was into portraiture and fashion rather than reportage and I watched TV shows that dealt with fashion such as Style with Elsa Klensch that reported on the runway shows of major designers. My inspirations at that time were Richard Avedon, Arny Freytag, George Hurrell, Peter Lindbergh, Annie Leibovitz.
Today, I’m inspired by photographers Lindsay Adler, Damien Lovegrove, Peter Coulson, Joel Grimes, Joey L, Joel Tjintjelaar, and minimalists like Vassilis Tangoulis, Jonas Rask, and Michael Kenna
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
GQ: Yes, definitely. I enjoy the process of film and the tactile nature of it but for some types of photography where I want to record as much as possible, quickly and efficiently, digital makes more sense. I shoot digital when it comes to sports and wildlife photography and also for experimenting with different lighting techniques and subjects. I’ve substituted using a digital camera for the Polaroid backs I used to verify lighting and exposure in studio portraiture and then shoot film.
I like film for landscape, street, and travel photography as well as portraiture. I’m attracted to details and the design of machines, especially automobiles. My first love is black and white film and I think it is a wonderful medium for car photography. I also enjoy using expired, experimental, or instant films. I like trying alternative processes to capture images such as cyanotype, red scale, wet plate, emulsion or inkjet transfers (although I don’t practice as much as I would like).
I use film whenever I want to slow down and be deliberate with my composition and subject matter. I like how there is anticipation and an element of surprise to the results. It is analogous to cooking from scratch. You go by the recipe, season it a bit, cook at temperature for a time, and hope it turns out.
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?
GQ: My biggest challenge and my next step is to continually unclutter my images by taking a more minimalist approach to the composition. I’m looking to do more long exposure and architecture-oriented photography on black & white film. I also want to experiment more with ICM (In-Camera Motion) on color films. Finding a new style to my work is also in the back of my mind.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
GQ: The way that light and shadow bring out definition in the human figure has always been a source of attraction. I’ve always enjoyed portraiture and trying to capture something emotive from living things. As a kid, I was an avid science-fiction and fantasy reader and loved the artwork of Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta that adorned the covers of some of the books I read.
Their female and male characters were otherworldly, barbaric, fit, muscular, and confident. I think that look is why I go to Renaissance and Pirate festivals to photograph characters in costumes or medieval garb as they wield weapons. I especially like to portray women as strong, confident, warriors. I also enjoy photographing wildlife with a portrait style.
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 do you take with you and why?
GQ: If it is an assignment for someone else, I would want to have the most flexibility since I don’t yet know what the client needs. Therefore, I would most likely choose the Nikon F100 and possibly a wide zoom like the 28-300mm Nikkor lens. It isn’t a fast lens but does have vibration reduction so I can shoot at lower shutter speeds if needed.
For film, I would choose Kodak Portra 400 if color is asked for*, and Fuji ACROS 100 for black and white. Other photographers would have typically chosen a 400 speed BW film so that they can push it even farther if needed but I like the tonality and fine grain of ACROS and it can be pushed a bit if needed. If it was for myself, I would use any camera with a prime lens.
* I primarily shoot Portra 160 but if I had an unknown assignment I would use Portra 400 because from what I have seen it has similar color rendition to the slower speed version and I would want the safety of higher speed film.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, where do you go and why?
GQ: Fujifilm ACROS 100 is my film of choice (I’m happy that they are re-introducing it). A location that I could spend the rest of my life exploring with that film would probably be somewhere in the older parts of Europe or the UK, but most likely Spain since I speak the language. I like the historical architecture, the people, and the variety of landscapes there.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
GQ: Fujifilm ACROS. I would use it to record myself as I age throughout my remaining years. Maybe photograph myself once a year, same background, same pose, and lighting. It would be the last thing I leave for friends and family to remember me by.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
GQ: The question many seem to ask me the most is “Do they still make film?” I let them know that film is readily available, major companies are introducing newer films that are less toxic to the environment, and that there is a resurgence in film cameras with prices for used cameras steadily rising. I also explain how darkrooms are no longer necessary because scanners and photo editing tools can be used to print or publish your images.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
GQ: I think that film photography will continue as long as manufacturers continue to produce film. I’m hopeful that the increasing interest in using film cameras will make it economically viable for those manufacturers. Film photography might only remain as a niche market but I think it will be a healthy one.
I’m thrilled to see smaller manufacturers introducing new film emulsions, such as Lomography’s Metropolis or existing film stocks that have been modified in ways that offer more unpredictable results.
I enjoy seeing young people getting involved with using film and being involved in the repair and selling of vintage cameras. That shows promise of carrying on the tradition for future generations.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone just getting started, or thinking about jumping into film photography?
GQ: Do it!
If they never have used film and only have a rudimentary knowledge of photography I would recommend they pick up a small, inexpensive, point-and-shoot film camera from a thrift or discount store and buy some low price, discounted film. Then learn all they can about photography by reading books, magazines, or watching YouTube videos on the subject. Even practice composition and how light reflects off of subjects by using their Smart Phone and then capture the same image with the film camera to later compare and learn from.
If they are already a seasoned digital photographer then buy a basic SLR from a used camera store (such as KEH or UsedPhotoPro) and a 35mm or 50mm fixed focal length lens. If it doesn’t come with instructions, find the instruction manual by searching online. Read the manual or search YouTube videos to get familiar with the camera and then get to know the camera by using it.
Take pictures of anything just to get comfortable using the controls and loading film. Try photographing the same subject with different settings on the same roll of film and take notes so they can later compare and see what combination appeals the best to them.
Please, please please do catch up with Goerge’s work over at his website, Instagram and Facebook. If you dig a bit deeper, you can also find him over on Flickr, as well as a curated printed version of selected work over at Blurb.
Please do stay tuned for the next interview in a couple of weeks and if it’s been a while singe you dropped by, please do stick around to check out what you missed…after you scroll up and read the interview one more time.
Thanks for reading,
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