I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to finally bring today’s interviewee to these pages. A true film photography juggernaut who has created waves not only within the contemporary professional photography industry but also (and more importantly, perhaps), works tirelessly in support of our photographic film services sector.
Get settled in with none other than Jonathan Canlas.
Over to you, Jon!
Hey Jon, what’s this picture, then?
JC: This is the shot of my 6 kids at our house in the back of my wife’s truck. It is my life NOW. This is literally who I am and everything to me. I am a photographer, but I am a husband and father first.
I have an ongoing project where once a month I attempt to get all 6 kids in a frame of whatever camera and whatever film stock I have at the time. Once each kid flies the coop I’ll be presenting a box to them with prints from each month and each year.
If you were to ask me what my best body of work is, it is this project hands down.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
JC: My name is Jon Canlas. I’m a husband to Callie, and dad to 6 kids (Isaac, Ila, Ruby, Lulu, Weston & Kalani).
I cut my teeth on weddings and I’ve been shooting for 20 years now (my first wedding back in the summer of 1999). During my busiest year (2005) I shot 72… I’ve drastically cut back to 5 tops a year and also drastically diversified. Most of my work now is with families.
I do a lot of teaching in the form of workshops (FILM SCHOOL ROAD TRIP/upcoming workshop with Aloha Big Mike at the Hawaii Darkroom in Hilo), and online workshops with FIND in a BOX, the Ohana Guide, the FIND Biz Guide and the soon to be released FIND Meaning PDFs. In the course of doing workshops, my first series was called FILM IS NOT DEAD.
The first one was in March of 2008 on Oahu when film was wildly unpopular and the last physical one was in Feb of 2015 in Berlin Germany. At first, it was twice a year and then by 2012, it was once a month all over the globe. There were over 700 attendees in a span of 7 years. During this time, in 2011, I also opened a lab for my attendees called theFINDlab (FIND = FILM IS NOT DEAD). We were private at first, just offering my attendees another option as many labs were closing their doors. We went public in 2012.
We currently employ 36 people and have clients all over the world. We are located in Orem, UT but we only get maybe 5-10 people coming in a day to drop off film. The rest is mailed in from all over. All of that being said, I am someone who is fully dedicated to the medium of shooting film, my businesses and life all point to that.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting today?
JC: I started shooting film in 1995 when a friend lent me a Canon AE-1 and a 50mm f/1.4 while living in Tokyo, Japan. And what drives me to keep shooting is the same feeling I had back then. I have ALWAYS been in love with the feeling of being behind the camera, clicking the shutter and knowing I just made magic, or in other words, got the shot.
I can’t explain it but I swear there is some kind of dopamine that is released in my brain when I’m shooting. There are a lot of reasons why I decided to become a photographer but the constant drive that keeps me going is the belief that my best work will be shot tomorrow, not today.
I’m only 43 and I have a whole body of work ahead of me. Chasing down that next body of work or figuring out who I am and what I want to say is what drives me to shoot film day in and day out.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
JC: There are two specific instances early in my career, and one later in my career that really had a huge influence on my and my work. First was in college in Sept of 1999, I was doing a study abroad in London. It made no sense as I was a Japanese major at the time.
I went because my roommate begged me as they needed 6 guys or they’d cancel the trip for the guys. There was no lack of girls as it was like 55 girls and 6 guys. It was a Sociology, English, and Art driven semester, none of which I had interest in. I was into going to rock shows and having a 6-to-55 ratio, so I went. During one of our classes, we all went to a gallery where I was introduced to Chuck Close.
My mind was blown.
There were pieces 12x10ft tall of gridded portraits he’d taken on a Pentax 67. Specifically his self-portrait of him smoking a cigarette. When I first saw it, I was blown away as I’d never seen a photo that big in my life and then I walked up to it and realized it wasn’t a photo at all. It was a drawing in pen of the photo that had been divided up into hundreds of little squares. There were ones in toilet paper, oils, the mediums went on and on. But one thing that really struck me were his close up portraits.
The GAS was strong but not strong enough, or should I say, my wallet was not strong enough as I couldn’t afford a Pentax 67. Well, I actually won one on eBay but couldn’t afford to pay for it. I remember getting a phone call at like 7-something-am from the seller asking if I was going to pay and then him cursing at me when I told him I couldn’t.
Fast forward and I’m back in college, done with my Japanese major and half-way through my newly declared double major of a BFA in Photography. My professor one day for class showed us Richard Avedon’s Darkness and Light and my whole world got turned upside down. The story of how he got his photos or how he got the expressions he did out of people was just mind-blowing. And like any warm-blooded photographer, the second you see his body of work from In The American West, I knew right then and there I wanted to photograph people/portraits.
I ran out of that class and started to gather everything I could to make portraits. Not like him, but take what moved me and integrate my own spin on it. The final life discovery came in 2013 with John Maloof’s documentary Finding Vivian Maier came out. Again, a body of work that shook me to the core. I had never seen anything like it.
I remember literally looking at her work online for 8 hours, yes EIGHT hours in one day. I bit the bullet and bought my first Rolleiflex (a 2.8F). I promptly sent it to Harry Fleenor in Oceanside CA for a CLA and a new body of work emerged. We had just moved to Hawaii and ironically, it was there, where I discovered my love for black and white photography.
I have since sold the 2.8F (foolishly). I then bought a Rolleiflex 2.8GX, sold that, then got a Rolleiflex 6001, then a 6008, both of which I still own and recently acquired a Rolleiflex 2.8C.
If I could go back, I would not have gotten the GX and instead found a 2.8F that didn’t have the lens coating issues mine had. I’m getting off topic here, but even though most of my work has been color or at least work I was known for was color, I have been mostly influenced by photographers who shoot black and white.
Currently, one of my biggest influencers is Estevan Oriol. Not his style of gangster photography per se, BUT his body of work that has literally just been an extension of his life and who he is. He started by shooting what he was around. Living in East LA and having the access he had, he and he alone was able to create a body of work that is so cohesive it makes me green with envy.
His hustle and lack of deviating from who he is, is what really, truly inspires me. I was able to meet him back in 2014 in Hawaii when he was there shooting for RVCA. Getting him in front of my Rolleiflex 2.8F was a dream and one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my career.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
JC: I don’t own a digital camera. I own an iPhone 6S which I use to take probably the most shittiest digital photos known to man on. I only shoot film. Which sounds nuts, but man is it liberating.
I know a lot of people may find it limiting but that is kind of what I love about it. Not having all the options or having a RAW file that I could take in a million different directions. Each film stock (C41) has a base color that will affect your final images. Ektar isn’t going to look like Fuji 400H and Portra 800 is going to look wildly different than Portra 160. I have gone through phases of which film stocks I like and a lot of that was dependent on where I lived.
Currently, I live in Payson, Utah. We’ve been here for almost 2 years. Prior to that, I lived in Hauula Hawaii on the island of Oahu and as you can imagine, the light, color, humidity is completely different than the stuff you have here in UT.
Currently, I am in love with the following films through the following cameras. ILFORD HP5 PLUS+3 through my Rolleiflex 2.8C. Kodak BW400CN+1 through my Contax G2. Kodak Portra 800+1 through my Pentax 67ii. Kodak Tri-X 400 with a yellow filter through my newly acquired Fuji TX1 (aka the Japanese version of XPan) and pretty much anything through my Rolleiflex 6001.
Oh, and Kodak TMAX P3200 through my Contax G2.
I love this film so, so much. I remember lamenting the loss of it when they discontinued it back in the day. Rumor has it, it is coming out in 120 and when that happens, I have a feeling all the current black and white 120 film that I shoot will be replaced by this film because of the fine grain it will have in 120 at 3200 AND the ability to pull it 3-stops to 400 and have even finer grain.
I also am a HUGE fan of ILFORD HP5 PLUS, but not at 400 or 800 or even 1600. I love it pushed 3-stops. Rated at 3200 this film can literally take the darkest dankest situations and make it look like the light was amazing. I also have a huge love affair with Fuji ACROS 100. But obviously, that is not a film I am shooting in low light situations. I hate pushing it because I feel it loses the magic of being an orthopanchromatic film.
Can I go on about other black and white films I love but have since stopped shooting due to the lack of them as they were discontinued? I LOVE Kodak BW400CN. I am down to my last 10 rolls in 35mm and 40 rolls in 220 (the 220 is actually Kodak Portra 400BW). I’m waiting for the right project to come along but let’s be honest, I’ll probably shoot it all on my kids.
Sorry clients, none for you.
As far as color goes, man I’m as fickle as the weather. I don’t shoot color negative film in ways that most people do. For example, I love Kodak Portra 800 rated at 400, metered for the shadows and then pushed 1-stop in the development. This film is marketed as a low light film, but everything I’ve done with it screams that is not the case. I’ve overexposed this film like 6-stops and then pushed it 1-stop in development and gotten incredible results.
I also love Ektar 100 rated at 400 and pushed 2-stops in development. Fuji 400H rated at 400, metered for the shadows and then pushed 1-stop in development just because I like “oomph” (contrast and saturation) in my photos and hate having to edit. That push keeps me out of the chair in front of my computer.
I really, really, need to start up a hot fling with Kodak Portra 400. I know it is awesome, but it’s the gal everyone dates, ya know? I’ll come around sometime.
To me, digital is not an option and here’s why: I never wanted to be a photographer who had to sit behind a computer. That is literally death to me. It is time away from my family, it is time wasted full stop. That is not to say I don’t do it. I do, I wish I had enough trust to allow my images to come straight from the lab, but I feel I always have to do SOMETHING to it, even if it takes only 1 second.
There is not the same feeling for me when using a digital camera vs shooting a film camera. If they could create a camera that literally charged you money for every time you hit the shutter, then I MIGHT attempt to shoot digital but the idea of going through a burst of 10 photos of something and having to cull that down to just 1 and doing that hundreds of times literally makes me want to quit photography. I want nothing to do with it.
Film is not cool for me or some random trend. It is all I know. It is a lifestyle for me. One that I try and share with anyone who is willing to listen because I know how great it feels to be behind a film camera and I know how film forces you to be so deliberate that it truly can make anyone a better photographer just by using the medium.
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?
JC: I just acquired 60 sheets of 8×10 Fuji Acros 100, so there’s that…now, I don’t own an 8×10 camera yet but I’m positive that will change and its always been a goal of mine for large format.
My whole career has been built on me flying all over this green earth to the client. I am trying to change that. I’m building a 1200sq ft studio on our property with hopes to eventually dabble in wet plate (8×10 camera enter stage left), do studio sessions and have clients come to me.
It is a massive change 20 years into my career but I’m full throttle on it. Like I said previously, the one thing that excites me is the photos I’ll take tomorrow, or next year, or in five years. I am constantly working at my craft and I know I’m just a young buck at 20 years into it. If I keep at this with the current fervour I have, my future work excites me very much.
Also, the great thing about film is that literally, I’m learning something new every day. I’ve just started shooting Kodak Ektar 100 way after the sun has gone down messing with trying to nail down the exact exposure taking into account reciprocity.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
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?
JC: Rolleiflex 2.8F, ILFORD HP5 PLUS and Kodak Portra 400.
Why the Rollei? Because it literally can do anything. It is quiet, it has a leaf shutter so I can handhold it down to 1/15th of a second. It has Zeiss glass, I love the square format and can compose without even thinking, and I’m lighting fast with the focus, so if action is a requirement, I won’t be missing anything.
I’d choose ILFORD HP5 PLUS because regardless the lighting situation I can make it work for black and white and Portra 400 because it is so versatile that I don’t have to worry about low light situations (especially with the leaf shutter on the Rollei) and the color is a great starting point for anything.
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?
JC: Japan, no questions asked, and since you didn’t limit it to just one film, it would Fuji ACROS 100 and Kodak Portra 800. [EM: Sneaky… I’ll let you off.]
I love Japan, like LOVE.
I used to say that if I could go anywhere in the world it would be home, Hawaii, but Japan overtook that. Again, I lived in the heart of Tokyo for 2 years back in the mid-90’s and hadn’t been back until 2016 when I took my wife for the first time. Then I took my son in September 2017 (super cheap flights from Honolulu to Osaka for like $212 return), and then I took my whole family over Christmas/New Years in December 2017 (again super cheap flights from Honolulu to Osaka for $212 return on Air Asia).
I don’t know that I would ever tire of shooting the various cultural aspects of Japan both rural and metropolis. ACROS is my favorite BW film of all time (I have like 500 rolls left I’m hoarding), and Portra 800 rated at 400, metered for the shadows, and pushed a stop…
…it’s the color of my dreams.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
JC: Gawl, you’re askin’ all the hard questions huh?
My last roll of film would be on my family no questions asked. A portrait of each child and my wife and then some of them together (I’m assuming 12 shots as it is on the Rollei or maybe the Pentax 645Ni to squeeze 16 frames out of the last roll of 120). [EM: Maybe that 220 Portra 400BW?]
My last roll would be black and white. And if I could choose, it would be perfect light for Fuji ACROS. I LOVE the look of orthopanchromatic film. Low sensitivity to reds in the UV which makes my wife’s blue eyes do something no other black and white film can capture. The same with the freckles on my kids’ faces. I’d have the Rolleinar I on the camera too, as I’d want close-up portraits both solo and together.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
JC: The biggest misconception, in my opinion, is that it is hard. Digital is stealing photographers confidence left and right.
I know hybrid shooters that literally basically take the exact same shot 2x; once on film and once on digital because they don’t trust themselves.
Want to gain confidence in what you do and who you are as a photographer? Shoot film.
No LCD crutch, no sharing with the client seconds after you shot it, no one asking for RAW files. I love the wait. I know a lot of people hate that and to be honest a lot of labs have adjusted their turn around times to combat the I WANT MY SCANS YESTERDAY mentality (I know we have at theFINDlab).
But it is so refreshing to give yourself a break from the actual shoot. Then to have the email hit your inbox with the WeTransfer download. And to smile ear to ear when you go to cull and you realize you only took one photo of EVERYTHING and 10 out of 12 shots are keepers vs culling thousands of images to come up with 100 good ones.
It isn’t hard to shoot. It is hard to trust yourself to take only one photo.
It takes time, discipline and a lot of hard work but I’m tellin’ you, it is totally doable.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
JC: So, there have been a lot of kinks in the armor known as FILM IS NOT DEAD. Fuji just basically gave the middle finger to their client base by first cancelling everything they do except 400H, then out of the blue, threaten to raise the price by 30%, only to have their client base literally revolt and as a result, backtrack on the 30%, saying they will increase it by 22% instead.
I met with the fine folks of FujiFilm America at WPPI in Feb. They told us that film sales are up 25%! That is awesome right? Well, it is awesome but not that awesome when film sales are literally 0.87% of your whole portfolio. That sends a message loud and clear: regardless of the message from CEO Komori that Fujifilm will be the last man standing when it comes to producing film, they don’t care.
And that is sad especially when your company name includes the word FILM.
Now all that gloom aside, enter Kodak Alaris. They are the shining beacon for film. In the last little while, they’ve introduced both T-MAX P3200 and EKTACHROME E100. The response was so good they are now going to make both in 120. I’m good friends with Tim Ryugo and we also chatted at WPPI. I told him the film they need to bring out is a higher than 800 ISO film with VISION3 technology. Bring out something that allows film shooters to shoot in low light in color (NOT Portra 800).
I don’t know if they’ll do it but the fact that the guy with oversight of all of Kodak Alaris’ North/South America presence is willing to listen and take suggestions back to the higher-ups sure speaks volumes in comparison to Fuji who literally cut everything down to one product and then jacked that price up double digits.
Now, Kodak increased their prices too this year but I’m totally ok with it because it was single digits. There is a cost of doing business and most importantly, they gave me something back AND are promising to give even more.
I’ll gladly take their single-digit increase and buy their film all day every day because they believe in film. Where with Fuji, they literally took everything away from me (I’ll still never get over the day they axed peel apart film) and then, decided to jack up the prices on what was left so much that I have to reconsider shooting their film. Yeah, I’m out.
Long story short, I feel the future of film is bright. There are soooo many people coming back or even being introduced to it for the first time and all film companies including ILFORD are claiming sales increases from last year in the double digits. The future of film is bright. I think we’ll see even more people come back or start-up.
Film is truly not dead, but very much alive.
With so much going on, you could be forgiven for thinking Jon has three hands, what with all those fingers in all those pies. The sheer number of plates he has spinning is mind-boggling and as someone who has been accused of having too much on his hands in the past, I’m truly amazed.
It’s hard to put into words the impact Jon has had on the film photography lab and services sector, and the work he continues to do to enrich and enhance our community as a whole. It’s a leaf we can all take and apply to the bubbles of community that exist around us all – on the small or large scale, on or offline. Take it from me that even the smallest of changes, motivational nudges and just plain and simple help and assistance all go a long way, even if the immediate impact seems slight.
Please do take the time to give Jon’s interview another read and when you’re done, give him a follow over on IG, where he can be found as @jonathancanlas. You can also find his Linktree and if you do scroll back up, you’ll find a bunch of links to The FIND Lab, Film School Road Trip and more.
All that remains for me is to send Jon a massive thanks for taking part (as well as the gusto he threw himself into it with) and to invite you to hang around and check out everything you might have missed since you were last on EMULSIVE. With ~1 new film and analogue photography article published per day, there’s probably quite a bit.
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.
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