If you spend any time checking out landscape photographers online – especially if you’ve been eyeing up 6×17 format photography – you will no doubt have come across the work of today’s interviewee, Jeremy Calow. Minimalist, haunting, meditative, I’ve been trying to pigeonhole his photography to make this introduction nice and succinct. I’ve failed.
So with that said, I’ll leave you with the man, his words and of course, his photography. Over to you, Jeremy…
Hi Jeremy, what’s this picture, then?
JC: This is from the first roll of Velvia I ever shot, and I have called it “The Night Watchman”. I had zero trust in my metering for the first half of the roll so I doubled up the first 3 compositions but when I got to this location late in the evening, I had 2 frames left and 2 compositions I wanted to try, so I just went with it.
Turns out I should have trusted the whole roll (minus the frames where I left my lens cap on, silly boy). Getting this image back, and more importantly, the roll back changed my perception of film again, and I was hooked.
I shot this exact scene on digital as well, and while it looks good, this looked different. And I couldn’t explain what was different or why I liked it, still really can’t. But I know that I was very excited with this image, and it has translated to images I have created since then that I am just drawn to.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
JC: I am the product of a scientific experiment gone wrong in a secret facility in the Canadian Rockies exploring the hybridization of a grizzly bear and a normal human…. Or that’s what I have been told anyways.
I am Jeremy Calow a Canadian born landscape photographer and husband and father. During the day I work as (really recently changed) an R&D manager for a data and software company which affords me the ability to moonlight as a landscape photographer on evenings, weekends and the like. I’ve been focused on photographing landscapes for around 12 years or so going from film to digital and now back to film recently in the past 2 years.
Growing up in Southern Alberta, I have been spoiled by the mountains, prairies, foothills and badlands which are all present within an hour of my home. But that also grew a love for being out there which grew into a love of photography.
In addition to the photographic side of my life and the super exciting world of data, I cook… a lot… So much so that my house has been named the Wildman BBQ and Juke Joint where you are basically guaranteed to arrive hungry have a good time and leave full. But it keeps me waking up so I really have no complaints.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
JC: I came back to film in the fall of 2017 when I bought a Fuji 690 rangefinder and tried my hand at some medium format film work. I had always dreamed about shooting medium format but never had the money or the confidence in my skills. When I put the first roll through the camera (specifically for an FP4 party I believe) I was both delighted and disheartened.
The images were there but nothing felt right.
I wasn’t sure I really enjoyed the process. I shot a few more rolls and almost immediately gave up film over the Christmas break. I was too comfy with my digital work and I knew what I had to do to get what I wanted out of my images, which I didn’t have with the film side.
I had some images I was happy with but it just didn’t feel right to me, so I stopped shooting film until late summer of 2018 when I traded a roll of Fuji Reala to a friend of mine for a roll of Fuji Velvia 50 that he was never going to shoot. I took that out and shot the roll one evening in the smoky haze of nearby forest and grass fires and, well… That got me hooked something fierce.
I have a new energy from the film and I learned how to meter to get what I was looking for (through much trial and error) and I now have the confidence to read the scene the same way I would with digital but capture the feeling in an analogue medium.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
JC: The first image that just blew me away that I was able to see in person was one from Michael Levin, a Vancouver based photographer as part of one of Calgary’s first Exposure photography festivals. There were two pieces in particular that really changed my perception of what I could do, Pyramid Rock and White Gate. It was also the first time I had seen an ultra-large pano photo. And thus started my quest for my camera.
In addition to that, I am continually pushed by photographers like Michael Kenna and some contemporary film photographers (Ben Horne, Michael Strickland, my friend Olivier Du Tre) whose work is both inspiring and responsible for pushing me to evaluate scenes differently than I would have in the past. Olivier was also very helpful as I started back into film photography in helping me evaluate my negatives and forcing me to really think about how I metered, where I was putting certain elements in the metering and I think that really helped focus my metering and composing in the field!
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
JC: I am, fully hybrid in all aspects as I scan and use Photoshop on my negatives to re-add contrast and colour grade and then ultimately print.
Recently I have really been trying to push myself with using only film. Challenging as it has been, it has also made me rethink some aspects of my composition and reliance on tech that I may have had in the past. Normally though, since I get different feeling images from different film stock or digital camera, I evaluate what I want to get out of a shoot before heading out and that kinda gives me a bit of a guideline to which cameras I should be gravitating towards and if I am going with film, what stocks I may want to include in the bag. It really is driven by the result.
I have tried to keep my film stocks controlled (as I am just getting back into things) so I can start to predict what the results will be like, which helps makes those decisions…. ‘course then I accidentally pushed a roll of FP4 PLUS lately and that completely blew my mind from a results perspective, so I almost feel like I need to start over with pushed and pulled variants to get that knowledge.
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: Haha, I don’t think I could master anything in 12 months, and my next goal is actually to start doing PT/PD contact prints, but in discussions with the boss, we’d need the kiddo to be a bit more attentive so I can create some dedicated space. Other than that, I am still working on a few projects through this year that I’d love to close out (even if it’s a phase 1 close out) and maybe produce some sort of zine/book for them.
I have a trip planned in October to the Bonneville Salt Flats for some speed racing, which I’ve never photographed, and maybe some portraits of the drivers etc., (which I have never done either). I’ll see what happens. I am not super comfortable dealing with people when my camera is out and about so we’ll see how this plays out. That’s sort of the reason I like dealing with landscapes hehe.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
JC: I have always been drawn to old farm buildings/equipment that dot the prairies around my home town, at least for as long as I can remember. When photographing them, I tend to really be drawn to a very minimalistic approach trying to isolate the building or subject in an open field or area.
I guess it’s my way of creating a narrative of lost but not forgotten, being alone and isolated but not necessarily gone. It helps with the fact that our prairies are generally clear of most bush and trees, so isolation is usually a matter of walking around the object and getting the best angle. It’s a different subject to the normal landscape work I used to really focus on, and I feel it changes day by day depending on the conditions, so you can really get a whole body of work from a single subject just by revisiting it over and over again.
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: As much as I’d love to say the 6×17, if I had no knowledge of what was going on I’d probably grab my Pentax 67 with the SMC Pentax 67 55-100mm f/4.5 lens. Probably pull some HP5 PLUS and some Portra 400 and be as happy as a clam. The 67 is just a damn fine camera to use, comfy in the bear paw of a hand I have, and I have really enjoyed using it. The lens is a bit of a cop-out, both because it’s all I own but also because it gives me enough flexibility to adapt to the shoot.
As for the film, what can I say, they are my favorite 400 speed film stocks, give me room if the light goes down and can still work it with stronger light. Portra (as far as I am concerned) is indestructible even when you seriously screw up, and when you hit both stocks just right, the images sing. So … you all hear the singing right? It’s not just me is it?? Hmm…
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: I have always been enamored by the north (Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alaska, Nunavut), and had a blast in the one time I made it up there. I think I could probably spend a lifetime and then some photographing the landscape, details and communities up there and still miss out on so much. Doing it on film would be even better! So that’s definitely my choice in locations.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
JC: Eepp… Well for me, it would definitely be a roll of Velvia 50, probably in the 617 (you know so I pull the bandaid off quick being a 4-shot pony). Where is a tough one… I’m going to be boring, and probably pick the prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba). Probably in the spring or winter, where you’ll either get some super dramatic clouds or just the most perfect cold mist in the air that makes everything glow for sunrise!!
Really isn’t the most daring of locations but as far as I am concerned, a simple clean pano with a barn or church and gorgeous light wins me over every time…. Or a lonesome tree, scientific fact you have to photograph them if you see them in the wild.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
JC: It’s funny, I feel like the biggest misconception on film photography has been “it’s different than digital”… well sorta yea, but a photo, is a photo, is a photo…in my mind. It really is the same process for digital and film, you just are limited in the roll to a set number of frames (not necessarily exposures). You compose, meter, and set the shutter speed and aperture to deal with the conditions to create your image.
I’d say the only real difference you have to be aware of is the way certain films manage certain conditions. I’ve really been trying to expose (no… well, slight pun intended) some of my friends who are photographers to this and am getting mixed results. I think like anything if you want to do it, you’ll put the effort in to understanding the constraints and the creative avenues available and learn how to adapt… or you’ll continue to let the computer do things for you which is cool too.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
JC: Well I think there’s a great set of folks supporting the industry both from photographers who are consuming the film and chemicals but also the companies still investing in creating the film stocks and processing chemicals.
There are a few labs still supporting the work as well, which is great to see and gives me hope for the future. With the newly announced set of films from Fujifilm, Kodak and the newer smaller companies its hard not to get excited about the future of film photography. But as a pragmatist, all of this costs money and the ROI is generally lower than some of the other mediums being supported by the large companies.
It really makes me want to buckle down and support as much as possible but there is a creeping thought of “what if”. I’ll continue to be a film photographer at this point and enjoy the journey as long as I can, hoping to get my daughter involved more as well as she gets older.
As a rule of thumb, I most make “small” photographs. They’re normally of the details we miss in everyday life. I look up where people look down and vice-versa. The approach has served me well and I honestly love it. A texture, a look, a discarded bike, something that tells a story.
Jeremy is someone I’d class as taking “Big” pictures – capital B big. Quite often, this kind of photography can lose its “story” and detail in favour of depicting grandeur and beauty. A river here, a mountain there, and so on. Jeremy is one of those people where the story doesn’t disappear. Far from it, in my humble opinion. On first glance, some may consider his landscapes desolate. That their stark nature, a single structure, tree or winding road somehow convey isolation, loneliness, solitude. To me, that line of thought doesn’t even get a look in. Honestly (and I rarely say this), they’re amazing to me. I’m glad to have him with us giving us all a brief, frame-by-frame look at the beauty of his part of the world, as well as just enough to guess at the stories behind the manmade objects therein. Thank you.
Please do take a moment to catch up with Jeremy on his website, or go ahead and bug him on social medial. You’ll find him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Once you’re done, go ahead and scroll up before taking it all in again. It’s totally worth it. Oh, and for you mobile readers, do yourself a favour and find a bigger screen.
Thanks for reading and as ever, keep shooting, folks.
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