Plates, films, stars and scenes. I’ve been following today’s fresh interviewee (on social media!) pretty much since EMULSIVE came into existence back in June 2015 and I’m so, so happy to have finally been able to get him on for an interview.
It’s Twitter’s Palaeoboy, aka Richard Davies! Over to you, Richard…
Hi Richard, what’s this picture then?
RD: This is the National Theatre on the South Bank in London, shot using direct positive paper in a Harman Titan pinhole. I’m fond of this shot as it kickstarted my first pinhole-based project shooting brutalist architecture. Plus, I just think it’s an awesome standalone image. I mean it’s basically a shot of an imperial star destroyer!
Ok, so who are you?
RD: I’m Richard, one-time archaeologist, one-time street photographer, now architecture geek, large format and telescope wrangler.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting today?
RD: I first shot film in the early 90s as a child using the typical flat 110 Minolta (not to any great success!) Like most of my generation of film photographers, I then left film behind until 2007 when I bought an Olympus OM1. Since then I have been almost exclusively using chemical media for my photography.
What keeps me going is that there are endless possibilities with analogue photography. There is so much room to experiment with. I constantly find myself wondering what if I try this? I must admit a lot of the time this ends in a disaster but who cares, the process is a lot of the fun!
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
RD: I struggle with this one because there have been so many influences over my photography journey. When I first started out I was pretty much in a photographic vacuum and really the influences were just taken from various amateur photography magazines. As I got more into the creative side of photography I can point to some very influential photographers such as Saul Leiter with his lovely deep coloured surreal street scenes, Ken Schles and his anxiety-ridden night scenes on 1980s New York, Sally Mann and her landscapes of ‘Deep South’ or Gustave Le Grey and his golden seascapes.
These people have come and gone in my head as my interests change and evolve. The only thing that has really remained constant has been the influence of the wonderful people in the photo community who provide influence through endlessly recursive creativity.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
RD: I wouldn’t consider myself mixed media as I am pretty much entirely film/ paper/ glass-based for anything I take seriously. I do quite enjoy using my phone from time to time, particularly for making short video clips but nothing that really replaces film.
I don’t have anything against photographs made digitally, above all the image or the story is important to me rather than the method by which it is obtained. However, as this is my hobby, I get to pick how I make my photographs and I just enjoy the process of using film-based media more than I do digital. I enjoy the time taken preparing – choosing what film would work where.
I enjoy the shooting with a difficult device that makes you think hard. Where pressing the shutter is the last tiny part of a very long set up process. Most of all, I love that moment where an image appears in the chemicals under a red light (part of why I like orthographic materials).
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?
RD: I currently have two main strands I am working on improving with – Astrophotography and getting to grips with my Half plate view camera with an ancient Petzval (the latter donated to me by the fab Isabel Curdes). Both projects have some significant technical challenges.
Although I am relatively comfortable with large format, using such an old lens and camera has many more challenges involved. The depth of field of my Petzval is tiny and it can take a long time to nail the perfect sharp(ish) focal point. Not to mention the difficulty of using ancient (or no) shutters and the unpredictable nature of exposures under those conditions. When you get it right it’s worth it though!
I have been told I am pretty nuts for even trying astrophotography on film. Particularly in light-polluted London but from the first, it was not my intention to aim for Damien Peach-esque astro-images of deep-sky objects or the outer planets. Although it is possible to see these objects with my scope it is next to impossible to photograph them on film (with my current set up). For now, I am content to take bad images of the moon because it is both endlessly fascinating and there is a surprisingly wide creative scope in shooting it on film.
Although I am relatively comfortable with large format, using such an old lens and camera has many more challenges involved. The focal depth of my Petzval is tiny and it can take a long time to nail the perfect sharp(ish) focal point. Not to mention the difficulty of using ancient (or no) shutters and the unpredictable nature of exposures under those conditions. When you get it right it’s worth it though!
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
RD: Subject matter changes semi-regularly. A year or so ago it was pretty much entirely architecture. Before that, it was street. Now I’d say it more landscapes than anything else. I do think I have a style though. I have always seemed to favour high contrast chiaroscuro images. This has stayed with me through all my subject matter interests. I couldn’t really tell you why, apart from a love of deep inky blacks.
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?
RD: I’d probably take my Bronica ETRSi. I have taken it on my travels many times and the modular system that allows you to change films easily is so useful when you are miles from where you are staying and the weather changes suddenly. It also has the nicest ground glass of any camera I have used and just invites you to take that shot.
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?
RD: I am so, so tempted to say ILFORD Pan F 50 here as I adore the way it looks but I will have to plump for its more flexible sister and go for FP4 PLUS – I’ve found it to be basically idiot proof and very flexible. As to where? If I can’t say Titan (think of the views of Saturn!) I would head off on a trip to the Caucasus. I visited Armenia some years ago and it was a fascinating country. I’m not so much of a traveller as I was and conscious of western tourist-gaze but I would happily go back there and take pictures for the rest of my life.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
RD: I might cheat a little and buy a pack of glass plates instead of a roll of film. Then I would probably take my Voigtlander Avus and use it to take pictures in my garden. I haven’t done a lot of flower photography but when I experimented with this a while ago this combination made for some really cool images.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
RD: That anyone who shoots film is some sort of snob or hipster who thinks that film is somehow superior and any image made on it inherently better. I very rarely come across this view from people I know. It seems to be a strawman invoked by people who have never even tried to engage with film photographers. I wouldn’t really even bother to try and set that one straight though…who cares? I’d rather be outside with my camera!
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RD: I’m very confident that film has a good future. After a very bleak period, we first saw an explosion of small companies selling relatively expensive low volume films (which was nice but perhaps not sustainable) but as of writing this even Fujifilm has committed to start remaking an old emulsion. To have the big three making high volumes of reliable film is so important – we need to be able to just buy this stuff in Boots for the hobby to be open to all.
As for Cameras, I am less confident. I have doubts that anyone would commit to making a new conventional 135 or 120 film camera (apart from Leica). This is concerning for the longer-term health of film photography. LF is likely safe because there are some very skilled people making wonderful cameras but LF probably can’t sustain things by itself. That said I’m seeing a lot of homemade solutions recently. People making 3D printed cameras or wooden pinholes so we will see.
He calls himself “one-time” this and “one-time” that but I’m guessing that’s down to his self-effacing nature. I love Richard’s outlook and perspectives: he does what he wants, what inspires him and what challenges him. Isn’t that what photography of any kind is all about?
Of particular interest to me – and something I made sure to ask him to include – is Richard’s film-based astrophotography. It boggles me that anyone still does this (a handful of past interviewees doo, just FYI), and I love the care and effort that goes into it. Taking photographs while spinning at 1000 MPH isn’t easy, even if it does appear to be a rather slow form of photography 😉
A massive thanks to Richard for stepping up (I shan’t tell you how long ago it was that I originally asked him to do so, that would be rude). If you’re on Twitter, please do give him a follow @palaeoboy.
As for me, I’ll be back with a fresh interviewee in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, bear in mind that there’s at least one new article on EMULSIVE every single day, so there MUST be something you’ve missed. Time to catch up, no?
Keep shooting, folks.
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