Split between continents and cultures, today’s fresh interviewee Amol Parikh takes us on a trip into his photographic story, from the US East Coast to the West, from India to Mauritius. I’ll leave the rest to the man himself.
Over to you, Amol.
Hi Amol, what’s this picture, then?
AP: This is a lifeguard tower on Venice Beach in LA. While all the other lifeguard towers up and down the beach are a consistent, plain, pastel blue, this one tower stands out in the full colors of the rainbow (Pride Flag).
I love how the tower feels anthropomorphized in the photo, it feels proud, and brave while standing there alone on watch. I also love the colors in the image, from the full rainbow painted onto the lifeguard tower to the hues of blues in the sea and the sky to the rose gold of the sand.
Ok, so who are you?
AP: My name is Amol. I was born in the US and grew up in Singapore. I’m currently living in Williamsburg in Brooklyn with my wife, our 5 month-old twin girls, and our little black dog.
I found my way back to film photography when I bought an old 35mm Yashica from an old man with a cart in a doorway in a bazaar in Istanbul with money I couldn’t afford to spend. That experience represents the romanticism of what photography can be for me: an unintended turn down an alley in an unfamiliar place and encountering something so beautiful that you have to have it.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
AP: I started with photography in high school in Singapore. We were really lucky to have a great teacher and an amazing photo lab with a fairly large darkroom.
I loved the mechanics of my dad’s old Pentax camera; the smooth tension of the advance lever, the depression of the shutter button and the satisfyingly loud clang of the mirror jumping up and down. But I didn’t really know anything about “making a photo”.
Then, in that class, I was introduced to that magical moment when you see your picture appear on a blank page after a few seconds in the developing bath. That moment enchanted me.
From there I started developing my eye and taste, but I always loved being able to show people the way I saw the world. Being able to do that is still what drives me to keep shooting.
I’m more intentional about the way I see the world around me when I have my camera in hand. The camera encourages me to be present and curious as I look for things that would make interesting photos. And there’s still a joy to having people see my point of view.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
AP: There were probably a few. But it started with my high school photography teacher, Mr. Griffin, who was very enthusiastic and encouraging of any aspiring photographer. That support early on was really nice.
I grew up on the mythologized National Geographic photographer. The Indiana Jones type that adventured across the world and saw things that no one else ever has and who brought back stunning images to share those experiences or people they’ve met with the world. I studied Anthropology in university, and I’ve come to learn about some of the problems with that old approach. But, the idea of exploring the world with a camera and telling the stories of the people you meet is still fascinating to me.
I believe in the power of an image to cause meaningful change by appealing to audiences emotionally. So the photographers that I’ve met like Ed Kashi and Christopher Anderson who use the medium to tell those kinds of stories are inspirations to me as well.
Now, it’s my wife, Olivia, who is my biggest supporter who makes space for me to go out and shoot even though we have our hands full at home with the girls. She knows that it’s a meditative activity for me, and I guess she sees something she likes as well so she helps me to keep doing it.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
AP: I am, definitely. Recently, I’m often shooting on whatever is closest and most easily accessible, which is often my phone. And I actually just bought a digital camera to capture these early moments in my girls’ lives.
My preference is film. By far. Probably medium format color film.
I will often decide based on simplicity and whether I am going out for a shoot, or if I am just carrying my camera around while we’re doing other activities. If I’m going out to shoot, I have time, I’m usually alone or just with our dog, so my hands are free to hold a light meter with one hand and then set up the shot with the two handed medium format Bronica ETRS that I’ve been using.
But when I’m out with the family for a walk, I have to move quickly and my hands are more often occupied with other things. So I use my digital camera during those times. I don’t like being without a camera, because it really sucks to see a great photo pass you by.
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?
AP: I’ve actually been working on making my photography more available to people. I’m figuring out printing and framing/shipping partners to be able to sell more prints online. I’ve mostly sold prints locally until now, but my photos are from all over, I’d love to have them be available to people from all over.
In terms of shooting, I am pretty keen to do some very stylized fashion photography. It’s just very different than what I’ve always shot, which is largely street or documentary photography with available light, even for the portraits that I’ve done. There’s something really fun about building a photo and collaborating with other artists (model, stylist) to evoke a certain aesthetic and feeling. So I hope I’ll be doing more of that in the next year.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
AP: In a simple way, I like to shoot people in places. I find I always go back to that. My favorite images are the ones where it’s largely about the place with a hint of humanity in it. It gives the viewer a chance to take in the world within the frame and to imagine what life is like for the people who inhabit it.
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?
AP: I’d take the medium format Bronica ETRS, which has a 70mm lens on it, and I’d bring two rolls of Kodak Portra, probably 160 and 800.
It would allow for a fairly diverse set of shooting conditions, and with medium format film you get a lot of information that you’re able to scale prints up to a pretty large size, so it accommodates a lot of final forms.
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?
AP: I’ve thought about this a lot. Less so in terms of unlimited film, but more in terms of unlimited time. I’ve come across some amazing places while traveling, but those trips haven’t always been conducive to the patience required to really photograph a place.
I have a kind of “hope to return to list.” At the top of the list is Goa – it’s stunning, and it’s the freest I’ve ever felt; and British Columbia, where my wife is from – there’s a peacefulness in nature there. I’d love to take some photos that expresses the feelings of those places.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
AP: I think I would stick with Kodak Portra because I love the colors, and I would develop it in the home kit that I’ve been using for a while, it’s a development tank and chemicals that come in a powder. I do the development in a tabletop dark bag.
I’ve messed up a lot of rolls that I’ve been really excited about and it’s been devastating, but in the end I like feeling as much a part of the complete process as possible. I’d risk losing everything, and that would be really nerve wracking, but that seems fitting for a last roll.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
AP: Haha I’m not sure about “setting it straight”, I think this is more a strongly held personal belief rather than a point of advocacy for me, but…I think that the idea that film photography today is a pursuit in nostalgia is incomplete.
I see film photography as a required foundation for the art of photography. That’s not saying that you can’t be an incredible photographer never having shot a roll of film – there are many of them out there.
It takes a lot of work to make a film photograph with so many points of failure, and a myriad of choices to produce the final image. I see a lot of value in going through that effort and knowing just what is being compressed into the digital tools we rely on now.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
AP: Honestly, I have no idea. I just hope that film will always be available, because the amazing thing about some of the earliest, and best film cameras…they’ll shoot forever as long as you generally treat it well and have film to put in it.
Just as it requires effort to make a photograph with film, it takes a lot of effort to make film. So I’m thrilled whenever I hear about a new film that comes along, it gives me hope.
In the sunset of film photography, I won’t care what kind of film is available, I’ll just shoot whatever I can get my hands on. In an interesting way, when there is only one kind of film left, that will define the aesthetic of the last film images, just like the earliest film photographs were exclusively black and white.
And I’m looking forward to the day I can pull the Beseler 23C II Enlarger out of storage, turn the red light on in my own darkroom, and introduce my girls to that magical moment where a photo they’ve taken suddenly appears on paper.
If you like Amol’s photography – and quite frankly, why would you not?! – I’d strongly advise you to head on over to his website and catch up with his work – especially Brown Sugar. When you’re done, give him a follow on Instagram.
I’ll be back with a fresh interviewee in a couple of weeks but in the meantime, why not stick around and see what’s been going on here on EMULSIVE.
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