Creator, mentor, ambassador. It’s hard to tag today’s interviewee with a label and honestly, it feels like I shouldn’t, so I’ll just say this: please give a warm welcome to Agi Ch, one of the most inspiring souls I’ve ever had the pleasure of introducing on these pages.
Over to you, Agi.
Hi Agi, what’s this picture, then?
AC: It is one of the images from the Five Libraries project. Five architecturally different community libraries around Birmingham photographed to showcase the importance of these places. Not many people realise that in the UK public libraries are the right of the people, not the privilege.
This image was taken at Shard End Library in November 2015 with a Hasselblad 500C/M, 150mm lens, possibly with 8mm extension ring, but I can’t remember for sure and of course on my preferred FP4 film.
For whatever reason this is the only image so far that had such an incredible emotional impact on me. When I saw it scanned for a preview, before printing it in the darkroom, I was stunned and tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t believe that I took this image, to me it was perfect in every possible way, a very humbling experience. Although the subject matter is rather mundane (though with it’s purpose), the details, shadows, highlights, all work so well together in this image. As I thought, it printed on the Ilford Warmtone paper wonderfully well, literally the first print after the initial test strip. I love good negatives.
I’ve met many photographers that doubt their ability and seek approval from others and what I always say to that is that in the first and most important instance you have to like your own images. Otherwise, what is the point? Everyone will have a different opinion on one image, depending on what is their priority in the assessment. Is it technical? Is it sharp? (gosh..don’t start me on that) Is it simply pretty? And so on…
As a creator you decide what it’s meant to be and whether you have achieved that. If others appreciate the results then that is just a nice bonus.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
AC: Well, I’m Agi. First of all, I’m a proud mother of two amazing people – Dawid and Weronika (my children are children no more). And as much as I’m into visuals, they are both into music and sound. Our household has turned into a true creativity hub.
I do not really like to call myself a photographer, I much prefer an “image maker”, as this covers all aspects of my practice, which is of course predominately based on photographic techniques, but not limited to them.
I came to the UK 15 years ago and in that relatively short time, I have achieved what I really wanted. I worked as a driver (I love cars! Well…driving them), an administrator (when I was very young I always wanted to work in the office, I spent summer holidays in the countryside and with my cousin we used to climb on the top of the combine harvester parked in the barn and pretended that it was our office), and then I did my BA Hons degree in photography and worked as a freelancer (although not so much now due to poor health).
I’m a volunteer exhibition secretary and proud Ambassador for the Disabled Photographers Society and every year I organise an annual exhibition for the society members. Our recent, the 50th Anniversary Exhibition was held at The Library of Birmingham. For 3 years I also organised a raffle of prints donated by many wonderful and known photographers to raise funds for the DPS. I love the society for what it stands for and the great support given to me and so many others.
I chair the Frame Creatives, a non-profit organisation based in Birmingham. Our aim is to encourage photography by delivering affordable workshops. My speciality is the all-day black and white analogue photography and film processing workshop that we deliver every summer in my garden with a BBQ going in the background. Nothing beats that!
Oh…and I love cats. Five at present. Two found and raised, two that decided to move in and just one that is meant to be… (I do not really photograph them though)
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
AC: Without explicitly disclosing my age I will just say that I grew up on film photography and my very first (and only so far) digital camera appeared in my life in 2014 when I started my degree (it was more of the necessity than anything else) So, yes, film all along. As a child, I was ‘helping’ out my parents in the darkroom. I never forget the magic of the image appearing on the paper…
My very own first camera was Smena. By this time there was a craze for colour, so I only did that. Labs were cheap and I kept shooting. In my late teens I acquired a Praktica B100. It was more ‘serious’ stuff. Haha!
My dad taught me about depth of field and I started to experiment. I went fully manual with my next step up B200. I still have this camera, however it isn’t working anymore, the last picture I took with it was around 12 years ago. Since then I managed to collect many (MANY) bayonet Praktica’s, including another B200. Sentiment is very strong! I still use them now and then, although the past few years I fell in love with medium format.
I guess that my drive to keep shooting film is all about the control of the process from film to print. And although I’m not overly technical, I always strive to get everything right in the camera and when images develop the way I intended, there is that amazing satisfaction of a job well done.
The tactility of the process, hands-on approach are the things that I like, that I know. Besides, modern digital technology and I are at best on the head-nodding terms, cannot see a full blast ‘Hello!’ anytime soon…
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
AC: To start with there was no influence as such; it was one of those things that I did because it was there. My parents made photography the almost everyday event and they were not even photographers. But as I grew older many books that I have read strongly influenced the way I started to observe the world around me.
The closest thing to influence was my older brother Solo’s abstract artworks, or rather it was an inspiration that allowed my inability to paint turn into an ability to express myself with photographic techniques.
There was a period of years that I didn’t take any meaningful pictures, but thanks to encouragement from a long time friend Magda and frequent nagging from my brother, I’ve picked up a camera again and took it to the next level in my life’s journey: BA, freelancing and converting our dining room into a studio/darkroom/office (in other words, my perfect space)
I never had any photographic ‘idols’ (in fact I have no idols in any other aspects of my life). My big concern, when I started the degree, was that I will be exposed to work of many photographers and that it will have an inevitable impact on ‘purity’ of my own ‘visions’.
Somehow I’ve managed to avoid it (or so I think…)
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
AC: I do experiment with and use many techniques to create images, some of which aren’t strictly photographic ones, like the scanography, hence image maker rather than photographer, but overall, yes you will say I am a mixed medium photographer. I’m also a keen amateur in stop-motion and have created a few videos, some of which – Plenitude, Five Libraries – are accompanied by music composed by my son. Family colab – yeah!
As a freelancer, I use digital. Turn around time and costs are the main culprits for it. For my personal work and projects, I use mainly black and white films or some other means of creating an image, like sunprints, pinhole, photograms, cyanotypes, scanography, free-lensing or transfers and occasionally digital.
I just love the hands-on approach. Including purposely scratching the negatives like the image below from the 90° of Separation show. Interestingly enough, it was shot on the Hasselblad H5D-50c with a film back that was specially brought for me from Sweden by Hasselblad UK.
I did scratch negatives for My Kafka – degree show too (all images were based on novels, stories and life of Franz Kafka). I have to say that 35mm negatives are very small… I had to use a big magnifying glass and a fine scalpel to scratch the intended bits. Then I scanned and printed reverse image on the inkjet and transferred them onto the covers of books using Mod Podge. It was quite a labours, but effective technique.
What’s your next challenge…you next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspects of photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
AC: For the past year and a bit I’ve been working on a major project. Every week on Tuesday I visit the oldest record shop in England – The Diskery. And as much as it is a work in progress project, it also flourished into many friendships; both with people who work there and frequent customers alike. We call ourselves the Tuesday Crew.
‘ve already shot dozens of films there, both medium format and 35mm. And behold! – I also shot DIGITAL. Although that was purely dictated by the need of a quick turn around images for the Long Live Vinyl magazine. However, I will be using digital images for the stop motion film.
This project is somewhat a perfect marriage – analogue meets analogue. I’m also thinking to challenge myself to shoot slide film there. I have an obscene amount of colour and transparencies film sitting there and waiting for me to give them a go…
The place is so colourful, that as much as my black and white images give the general feel of the place, colour will bring the liveliness of it. My end goal for this project is to create a mixed medium exhibition and one of the things I wish to master is the liquid light technique. I’ve only seen it done, but haven’t had yet the opportunity to try it myself.
Fingers crossed, I’ll get funding for it all…
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
AC: I do split my photography into two categories: observational and one that I create based on my visions. There is no one particular style that I prefer, but quite often I use both observation and creation to express my feelings, thoughts and emotions.
I do like the minimalistic approach, details. Less is more and all that.
The nicest thing I was ever told about my images was at one of my exhibitions ‘Abysses of Solitude’ when my images were compared to poetry. I guess there is a lot of truth in it, the written word was always very important to me and a lot of my work is based on what I read or wrote.
I do not photograph many people, they are not static enough 😉 So, taking part in People’s Picture project for Face of Suffrage was a real challenge, but I managed to photograph 263 people for it. I have in the background on-going Usual Suspects project of photographing photographers, currently a little abandoned, but I’m sure I will get back to it.
Objects, on the other hand, are perfect companions to my procrastination. It is very important for me to take time when I’m taking pictures. To perfect it. I do not like to chance it; it all needs to be created in-camera. I always try to avoid post processing.
I create my little sets in the studio; I collect a lot of discarded things and use them in building images that convey my visions. I am the – that will come handy one day – kind of person. Probably verging on hoarding.
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 and why?
AC: I’ll take Nikon F80, 50mm f/1.8 lens, ILFORD FP4 PLUS and Kodak T-Max. I do trust my F80 and being that there is no mention of light meter, I would need to rely on the built in one. Most of my cameras require a light meter.
Another thing that is not mentioned is a tripod, so if I needed to use it handheld, I guess in the extreme conditions I could use the crude flash that it comes with F80. Said conditions would also dictate which film I would use. If I could get away with 400 ISO and f/1.8 without a flash I would do that. But FP4 would have been my preferred choice. So hopefully it is bright enough where I’m going (where am I going?!)
At the end of the day, if the assignment was for f/8 colourful chocolate box images, they clearly asked the wrong person to do a shoot.
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?
AC: FP4 PLUS all along. I have an unexplained weakness for that film. It feels good when I’m loading it on the spool and it has never disappointed me with the results. Especially in 120 format. The location would have to be my studio. Here I have absolutely everything that I need to create images that I want.
This question made me drift into daydreaming… So many things I could do that at the moment are beyond my reach.
My dream that involves a horrendous amount of film is to create a stop motion movie. I did a very short clip to accompany my degree show, but it was just 40 odd frames in the loop (My Kafka).
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
AC: Why, oh why?
It would most definitely be my least favourite HP5 PLUS and I would never expose it. Just a thought about the results would put me off taking pictures with it, but knowing that a ‘roll of film’ is still there would comfort me and I would NEVER have to say that it WAS my last roll of film…
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
AC: That it is somehow more difficult to do and you have to master black magic to be able to create an image. The bases are all the same no matter what medium, but people still think shooting film is harder. Sadly I have seen so many photography students that couldn’t even use the manual setting on a digital camera, let alone analogue.
If it was up to me, half of the degree would have been fully darkroom based. Not only that it would teach students the principles of using different kinds of films and cameras, but also the very important printing techniques. With that, they would have been ready to embrace digital with a full understanding of how it all works. Get it right in the camera! (if you can) I cringe when I hear – I fix it in the Photoshop – whilst someone is taking a picture…
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
AC: I have noticed the growing tendency that shooting film is cool and it makes me smile, but if that is what it takes for it to become a norm again, I’m fine with it. Be cool; shoot film and print, print, print!
But on a serious note, I think the rebirth of film has its roots in ever so increasing realisation that modern technology progresses so fast, that some digital files from relatively few years back are already difficult to open and reproduce.
With negatives, that tangible thing on which your image is exposed forever (or at least 100’s of years), you can reprint your image as many times as you like, in as many ways as you wish and on so many different papers… Ditto!
I hope you’ll join me in thanking Agi for the time and effort she put into this interview and give her a follow over on Twitter before heading on over to her website to see more of her work (drop her a line, she won’t bite).
the interview count is fast approaching 200 and I have something a little special planned for you. You’ll be glad to hear it’s not a dry regurgitation of my own interview, although I have had a few requests from various internet masochists.
Until next time, take care and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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