Welcome to a fresh instalment of my “…this is why I shoot film” series! If I were so inclined, I’d probably describe today’s interviewee as an “outdoorsy-type” but honestly, that would be a massive injustice.
Over to you, Allysse!
Hi Allysse, what’s this picture, then?
AR: This is one of the first shot I took when I started to use film again in March 2018.
I had no clue what I was doing, no idea if any photos would come out of the roll of film I had put in the camera and no idea if I had loaded it correctly. As you can see, photos did come out, and I did load the film properly.
When I received the files back from the lab, I couldn’t stop staring at this particular photo. It’s not a masterpiece but the colours had me gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe the vividness of them (especially the red umbrella), how much they had captured what I remembered. I felt transported back to Madrid in the rain with those two people walking towards me as I pressed the shutter.
Somehow the alchemy had worked. I hadn’t messed up and film had offered me more than what my digital camera ever did. It made me began to understand what ISO, aperture, and shutter speed meant. And I wanted to know more, to see more, and to try more films.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
AR: My name is Allysse. I often describe myself as a field recordist, a sound artist, a photographer, a writer, and a microadventurer. But you could argue I’m many more things. For a start, none of the roles listed above are my job, nor do they define any of the relationships I have in my life. But it’s how I like to portray myself to the outside world.
I go traipsing in the countryside with too much creative gear, record what strikes me, and return home to share what I have captured. Or not. Sometimes I keep things to myself for a very long time until I am ready to share the moments I recorded in a meaningful way.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
AR: I started shooting film twice. The first time it wasn’t a choice. It was all there was. I was a child in the 1990s with no clue about digital cameras. Every summer I would be sent to summer camp with a disposable camera to record my experience. During other holidays I would be allowed to use my mom’s camera if I behaved nicely enough. As far as I was aware, there were only two sorts of films out there: the one in disposable camera (not your posh Kodak but the cheap version from the bookshop we regularly went to), and the 24 frames roll from that same bookshop.
So, when I finally became aware of digital cameras (and they became more affordable to me), I badgered my mom for one. She eventually gave in when one of her friends was selling his…and I forgot about film until 2016.
I was at my uncle’s place and found his Minolta SRT 101. I asked him if I could have it and he said yes. I didn’t do anything with the camera other than put it on a mantelpiece, although I did ask my mom to send me some of our old films (that same one from the bookshop).
Life got in the way, I moved, put the camera in a box and forgot about it.
By 2017 I had become utterly frustrated with photography. I felt I was snapping for the sake of it. It was all too easy and I couldn’t find a point to it. I didn’t think too much about it as only daily life was happening and I didn’t care much about recording it with photos. But in early March 2018 I was due to spend a week in Madrid for a holiday and I really wanted to take photos then. I didn’t know what to do until I remembered my uncle’s camera. I dug it out of its box, I researched films availability online and to my dismay found what seemed to be a thriving community. I learned a lot and ended up with three rolls of Lomography Color Negative 400 from the pharmacy and a couple of rolls of very expired film from that bookshop (again).
I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Madrid. I wasn’t even sure how to load a film – the Internet was great help in many of those beginner matters – but as I began to use the camera, I began to get hooked. I found myself more focused on the holiday, snapping a lot less. The camera only ever used when there was something truly meaningful or striking to me that I could frame. The slowness of the process (light meter with the phone, dial the settings, frame, re-frame, frame again, cock the shutter, press the shutter) became a sort of meditation.
When I got the photos back from a local lab – on a CD my laptop was not equipped to read – I was transfixed by the vividness of the colours. And that was it. I was hooked. I began to research film photography online, began to shoot different films and formats, bought more cameras, and started to do my own development and scanning.
Film photography brought some meaning back into my photography.
It didn’t make me a better photographer but it made me understand photography more. The tactility of it is something I can understand. I still use my digital camera but the process is more foreign to me, taking some of the pleasure away from it. The limited number of frames when using film force me to focus and pay attention to what I shoot. The steps involved to take a photo have turned into a ritual I easily get lost into (especially the framing). The impossibility of instantly seeing my photos has erased the impulse to see, forcing me to trust myself and move on.
The act of photography has become a pleasure again and until film photography will stop being all those things, I will continue to shoot that way.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
AR: What has always inspired my photography and probably always will is the outdoors. Even when I’m in cities, my eyes are often drawn to green spaces, trees, and other natural features – I live in a city, so a lot of photos are taken there. I enjoy photography more when I can slow down so I’m more naturally drawn to quieter scenes.
YouTube and Instagram have become sources of inspiration. They challenge what I think is possible, they make me think about photography in different ways and ultimately push me to become a better photographer.
I don’t have a list of photographers where I follow everything they do, just like I don’t have a list of musicians, writers, painters, or other creatives I follow endlessly. I like to discover different things and be pushed out of my comfort zone.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
AR: When I began shooting film, I would have answered no to the first question. But as the months went by, film photography has taught me how to love my digital camera again. So yes, I am a mixed medium photographer.
By default I choose film. The process of it brings me more enjoyment but it has limitations. I find the cameras to be good tools for reflexion and artistic creations but I struggle to use them as everyday tools to record daily life. They lack the speed and efficiency of my digital camera. In the dark mornings and evenings of winter, I also found them to be restrictive. As I began to record my commute, I found myself frustrated by film cameras. I didn’t have the luxury of time when on my way to work and my digital camera worked a lot better then.
As I began to use my digital cameras more, I also found myself remembering what drew me to my first ever digital camera: experimentation and learning. I can waste shots easily. I can experiment with camera shake, black and white, and low light a lot more easily. I get instant feedback and can try again if I didn’t achieve what I wanted. So I learn with it. And what I learn is then applied to my film cameras.
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?
AR: I feel that I’ve only dipped my toes in film photography by (mostly) only having taken photos. I want to explore more of what I can do afterwards. So a few weeks ago I tried contact printing in my bathroom. I’d read up on it and felt ready. But when it came to it, I made so many mistakes it took five attempts to get an okayish print.
This left me exhilarated.
I feel there are so many possibilities from what I’ve read and seen about darkroom techniques and alternative photography. So for the next twelve months, it’s something I’d like to explore more. I want to understand how I can control the way my negative looks by printing it on paper in the darkroom. I want to see how far I can push this medium that is photography. But let’s be honest, I’m never going to master all of this in twelve months.
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In the next twelve months, I also want to practice portraiture a lot more. I have a long-term project which begins in 2020 that will involve a lot of portraits on film. I want to understand what makes a good portrait and how to take one. It’s going to be a slow process, especially since I’ve never really taken portraits and I’m not that comfortable asking people to pose. But as I’ve mentioned before, I like to push myself out of my comfort zone and explore new avenues.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
AR: As I’ve mentioned above, the outdoors and nature is a subject matter I’m drawn to. Cities can get too busy for me, almost disorientating and suffocating at times. I need to escape to the countryside and slow down.
It’s a way to balance my life, to return to a pace that is slow and where the only things that matter are to walk (or cycle), eat, sleep, and repeat. It soothes me, stops the frenzy of thoughts in my brain, and refocuses my priorities. Walking and cycling are like meditation in motion. There is nothing to do but move, rest, and be.
It connects me to the land, each footsteps or pedal stroke an imprint on my memory and body of the landscape I encounter. And photography has become part of this process. I record the features, colours, shapes, and juxtapositions that catch my eyes, a reminder of a feeling and a moment in time for me, but also a record of how things are today. Sometimes patterns emerge, stories develop and my landscape photography becomes part of a bigger creation. Something with meaning that I can share with other people.
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?
AR: I would grab my Minolta SRT 101 with its Minolta MD 50mm f/2 lens because it’s the camera and lens I know the best. Not knowing what the assignment will bring, I would prefer to shoot on a couple of rolls of 35mm rather than 120 to give me more shot options.
I would take a roll of black and white and a roll of colour to give me options. My choice would land on ILFORD HP5 PLUS and Fujifilm C200 for the same reasons as I would grab my Minolta SRT 101. I can’t pretend to know them well, but I am familiar with them and will have an idea of what I can achieve.
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?
AR: I would stick to the set up mentioned above if I can only have one. If I can have more, I would also shoot my Bronica SQ-B with some Fujifilm Pro 400H. But ideally, the unlimited supply of film would allow me to use all sort of film stock.
As for the location, I would stay right where I am in Somerset, England. As much as I like to travel and discover new places, I’m also a firm believer in exploring your local areas. There is so much to record, from the changing seasons to festivals, people’s lives, infrastructure, city life, and wildlife that I would be satisfied with staying in this area for the rest of my life. I’m sure I have forgotten many subjects.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
AR: Choosing one last roll would probably be too daunting a task for me. So I would pick a roll at random from a box (or ask my local shop to select one for me) and would most likely expose it at box speed. My only criteria would be that it has to be a 120 format as I love to shot with my Bronica SQ-B even more than with my Minolta SRT 101.
There are so many steps I need to do before I’m ready to shoot with this camera that it would make any photographic moment linger for a little bit longer. Being restricted to twelve images would make me focus even more on composition and subject matter.
I would go back to significant places of my life and photograph one scene there. Some ideas that immediately come to mind are the village I grew up in, the area in Brittany and in the Jura regions of France where I spent so much of my holidays as a child, the central library of Enfield in London, the Alentejo region in Portugal (definitely one of the artificial lakes but I’m not sure which one on top of my head).
It would take a while before all the shots were used. Ideally, it would be one massive road trip that explores my relationship to place. The photos would be a record of that.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
AR: One misconception I’ve encountered many times with friends and family is that film photography is a thing of the past. As much as it seems to be going through a revival, it’s still not something that most people seem to be aware of.
For instance, when I went back home for Christmas, most of my family was surprised when I rocked up with three film cameras and a bag of films. They thought I made life harder for myself. But when I got the photos back and shared them with them, they no longer thought it strange. Instead, there was just a happy moment shared reliving our memories a month later.
To help spread the word, I like to gift disposable cameras when I can. That same Christmas I gave a disposable camera to my eleven year-old niece and my seven year-old nephew. It took some explaining but they quickly understood how to take photos and that they would have to wait to see the results. Instantly, they were excited, wanted to make the shots special and create an entire photo album with them. Photography was easy and fun. And they are now aware of the choice they have should they wish to continue taking photos.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
AR: I think the future of film photography looks bright. When I began to use analogue tools for photography, I was blown away by the strength of the online community. It was so easy to find answers to my questions, and this encouraged me to explore film photography. I didn’t feel isolated, I didn’t feel I would have to dig through reserve and reference books at the library.
All the information I needed was readily available at the tip of my fingers.
But a strong online community is not enough to drive the market and make sure new products are created and old ones maintained. Film photography needs people to shoot, buy, invest and I see this in my local photography shop. There are multiple labs available where I live, and the one I go to is always busy with young people dropping their latest rolls for development. The shop adjacent to it is filled with film camera gear alongside digital gear. The staff is knowledgeable in both fields and it feels normal to shot film when I visit the store.
I don’t think film is ever going to be as popular as it was. Digital has so many benefits to it that it will never decrease in popularity, and it shouldn’t. But film, from what I can see, is steadily reclaiming its place in the photographic world.
It will never be the cheapest most sensible thing to do, it will never be the most thriving industry out there, but it will carry on.
And to me, that is enough.
I tried and failed to write a sign-off for this interview, believe me. All I will say is that I’m 100% with Allysse when she talks about film photography not only helping make photography pleasurable again but also helping her understand photography itself.
Please do scroll back up and let her words sink in a second time and when you’re done, go check out Allysse on Twitter and spend a bit of time on her website. It’ll be well worth your time. The next EMULSIVE interview is going to be out in the first half of July but until then, why not stick around a bit and see what else has been going on?
Keep shooting, folks.
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