I managed to grab some time with Lee Gavin, an English film photographer and teacher based in Kent, UK.
Over to you, Lee.
Hi Lee, what’s this picture, then?
LG: Having always been fascinated how photographs play the role of physical memories by capturing and preserving moments in time, during a trip to my parents home – my childhood home – I documented objects, ornaments and decorations, that make my parents ‘them’.
I also focused on the evidence of what indicated and suggested the ageing of my parents. The two staples in my life are growing older which is something that as I grow older become more aware of. This small project looked to capture a portrait of my parents through their home and possessions.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
LG: I’m a photographer, a lecturer and a student. Since completing my degree in Photography and Media Arts I have stumbled around photography, shooting for personal projects and clients for a number of years and not really giving it my full attention.
I decided I wanted to go into teaching and work part-time at a further education college in Kent, teaching photography to 16 to 19 year-olds. This was the kickstart I needed to realise photography is the number one thing for me and has pushed me to develop my knowledge, skills and goals.
I am also studying for a Masters in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths in London. It is actually a sociology course rather than photographic one. As such, I like to sometimes underpin my work with theory and written pieces.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
LG: I started shooting film during my first lesson at college. My photography teacher, Graham Piggott, used to exclaim, “you have to get it right in the camera!”
I still remember the lesson despite it being about 15 years ago. However, I have not always remembered to put this lesson into practice. I have many examples of underexposed, out of focus and accidental double exposures when I have forgotten to wind the film on. I really enjoy the experimental nature of film. It allows for accidents and imperfection which can add a unique character. This is what keeps me going. I love to learn and these mistakes allow me learn.
Working with others is a big drive, a good friend Alex Leat, is always up for trying out different things and shooting in different areas. He’s pushed me to shoot landscapes and at night which has taken me out of my comfort zone although unfortunately he’s been living in New Zealand for the last year.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
LG: As a teenager, Don McCullin was a huge influence. I had romantic notions of what a war photographer was, however, reading his autobiography and listening to his considered and reflective talks about his experiences, I realised the power the photograph and the photographer have in the moment are as long-lasting. I discovered McCullin’s pre and post war portraits which now have more of an influence over me.
I follow many photographers through Instagram and the one who sticks in my mind is Leonid Pryadko. He is an urban photographer that shoots digital but the range in subjects, volume and quality of his work make me want to be a better photographer.
My students are one of the biggest inspirations now, some of them have huge passions and are hungry to learn. If they are just starting out with photography or have been doing it for a couple of years, seeing them shooting, shooting some more, learning and getting better. Seeing the process happen from the photos they shoot on day one, to the series they produce after the two years inspires me to keep shooting and learning too.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
LG: I shoot a mixture of 35mm and 120. Day to day I use an Olympus OM-1. This was my Dads, has a broken through lens metering, but is a solid camera and I love it. Last year I was given a 28mm lens, which has allowed me to experiment more. I also shoot with a Rolleicord model 3, which produces beautiful portraits.
There are also theoretical reasons based on that of the photograph being an object. Through the process of exposing a frame of film to light, a physical process is taking place. This change makes the film a unique physical manifestation of a past event. I believe that we link photographs to our own personal history, memories and emotions. To look upon a photograph is one step away from looking at the real person, place or event. This in turn, makes the photograph an object that is unique and precious.
To hold a photograph in one’s hands instantly fills us with a type of etiquette, we know we must act carefully, respectfully and not to damage its surface. We have a reluctance to tear up or throw away the photograph of a loved one, especially of someone who is dead or far away, as this could be seen as a ruthless gesture of rejection. To damage or to destroy the photograph is to damage the memory. To mark, rip, delete or to even destroy a photograph has powerful ramifications and can be seen as an insult.
Once a photograph has been destroyed it can no longer be looked at again, if it cannot be looked at then we can no longer use this object as a stimulus, so in effect, the loss of the photography means the loss of a memory. This link between object and memory is important to me and drives my choice to shoot film.
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?
LG: The big one for me is to get my Masters done. It’s taking up all of my time and as such is limiting my ability to do anything outside of university projects.
The biggest thing I want to master is flash, at present all of my images only use ambient lighting. I can use flash, but this is the one area I have the least confidence in, especially when using film, especially when shooting for clients. I want to master the use of both studio and location flash. This will open up further opportunities and ways to work.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
LG: My work concentrates on capturing portraiture of the inhabitants of urban environments. My aim is to document people and their journey, using places, spaces and things as underlying themes. I have a real interest in how people live and why they live the way they do. This may be through the products they create, how they decorate their homes or the where they choose to live. Alongside this, I photograph landscapes, but for me this has to link to the presence of people within the urban environment.
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?
LG: I am pretty good at always having a small kit bag packed and ready to go. In there is my OM-1, 28mm lens and a light meter. I am having a lot of fun shooting with this wide angle lens, it works for portraits quite well.
The two films would be; a roll of Kodak Portra 400, the colour from this film, to me, is perfect. I am also enjoying the grain from the 400 ISO right now. Also, a roll of Ilford FP4 PLUS, simply because I have so many rolls of this around the house!
Although for many years I have ignored shooting black and white, have just had two rolls developed I had forgotten how rewarding black and white can be. I do like the softer contrast in the blacks and whites with the FP4.
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?
LG: I am at the start of a very long-term project, so endless 120 Portra 400 would be very helpful right now. There is a new development in Kent that is fascinating. The design, planning and construction of this large urban area is a unique occurrence. As such, my interests lie in a range of areas; The documentation of the broad changing landscape, the recording of the creation of streets, buildings and community hubs and meeting and talking with new residents and capturing the people who have decided to call the area home.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
LG: Again this would have to be 120 Portra 400, I have used this film a lot and know what the outcomes will be. As such, when I am shooting what I picture and what is produced is pretty much exact. The colour and grain are the aesthetic I enjoy.
I would have to shoot a series of portraits of my immediate family members. This links back to my theory of object and memory. If it were the last film, I would want to have captured meaningful personal memories of my family.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
LG: It is for Hipsters and just a fashion trend! I would like to see more people using film both commercially and in every day use. I would like to see digital and analogue thought together within education and specifically how they can complement each other and how both have their place within the field of photography.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
LG: I think the future is looking good for film, crowdfunding is frequently hosting projects in and around the film and analogue photography. Companies such as Kodak and ILFORD are much more present then a few years ago. I would like to see more cameras being produced, outside of the plastic Lomography range. I love old cameras but would like to see new models being produced too.
We’re heading into December, which means that there’s only one more interview to go for 2018. Be sure to catch it in a couple of weeks and in the meantime, please take a minute to check out this brand new EMULSIVE, released less than a week ago.
Thanks again for reading and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
The community 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.
Your turn: submit an article
EMULSIVE is all about promoting knowledge transfer across the film photography community. You can help by contributing your thoughts, work and ideas to inspire others reading these pages: check out the submission guide.
If you like what you're reading you can help this passion project by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.