I first came across today’s interviewee back in December 2019 after she posted a video messing around with Kodak Gold in Barcelona. Thanks to that quick DM and ensuing chat, I’ve finally been able to get her to grace these pages as interviewee #214.
Ladies and gents, this is Ejatu Shaw.
Hi Ejatu, what’s this picture, then?
ES: Just a lovely shot of my leg – I was rushing to the lab (Eye Culture in Bethnal Green), and realised I still had some exposures left.
This isn’t the first time I’ve…
…shot myself in the foot.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
ES: Hey hey, my name is Ejatu Shaw, I’m a London based photographer and the proud mother of 5 cameras – I’m quite open to growing my family a bit more this year 🙂
Photograph by Aiden Harmitt Williams.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
ES: I started shooting film back in June 2018. I was on the lookout for a nice point and shoot camera to help me capture my trip to Morocco and ended up purchasing a Yashica T4 off of eBay. I was quite worried it wouldn’t arrive in time for my trip, so out of desperation, I headed to a super local analogue camera shop in my hometown of Croydon: High Street Radio & Photographic.
Somehow, I had never happened upon this shop prior to my film photography awakening! I was initially on the lookout for another point and shoot camera, but the shop owner urged me to purchase a Canon AE-1 for the fair price of £80.
I guess that’s how it all started. It’s still the camera I use for most of my shoots.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
ES: I’ve definitely always been influenced by African studio photographers of the 60s and 70s — Malick Sidibé from Mali, Sory Sanlé from Burkino Faso and Omar Yahia Barram from Sudan among others — and the importance they had in creating a black visual language. Self-representation was very important in breaking down the historical mold of racial fetishism and creating a visual pleasure for the black gaze, such as in the works of Seydou Keita of Bamako, Mali who contributed to reshaping the way Africa is seen outside of a white European Gaze.
To me, archives are definitely a form of activism and as a black female photographer, it’s important that I also contribute to the forever growing archival pool of black representation.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
ES: Before delving into photography, painting was definitely my thing. I’ve been trying to see the photograph as more and more of an art object, painting over my prints and collaging over them. I definitely want to introduce some sort of 3D sculptural quality to my work next.
I mainly use film as I like how much it slows me down as far as composition goes. Plus, I love that I get to spend more time with my images. I get to be hands-on with the developing/scanning/printing process as well as the actual editing. Moreover, I love keeping physical archives.
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?
ES: I really want to spend more time in the darkroom creating photographic prints. I’m hoping to create my own darkroom set up pretty soon. I’ve also always wanted to try wet plate photography as the results are always so striking.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
ES: I’ve always been drawn to photographing people, particularly people of colour because REPRESENTATION! Recently I’ve been challenging myself to do more street photography mainly so I can just get to shooting and practicing without having the anxiety that often comes with pre-planned shoots.
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?
ES: Definitely my Canon AE-1 along with my 50mm lens, and two rolls of Kodak Portra – 160 or 400. I’ve honestly tried to move on from Portra but I just can’t let go 🙁
The tones are incredible (and accurate) – I love that it isn’t too saturated yet provides such an incredible warmth and smoothness to my portraits.
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?
ES: I would probably go to my native Sierra Leone. There are so many documentary projects I’ve scribbled down in notebooks over the years and it would be truly incredible to go back home and help tell these incredible stories.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
ES: This would make me so sad, I would honestly go back to painting 🙁 but it would have to be a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 120 film to give this last roll a timeless quality. I would probably use my Mamiya RB67 and host an open portrait session, shooting portraits of as many people as I can through the use of multiple exposures.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
ES: Definitely this idea that it’s a complex medium that should only be accessed by the few. There’s a slightly elitist air to film photography which can often put people off, especially when it comes to what gear/cameras/film stocks are deemed respectable. The technical side of things also. I’ve often been ridiculed when asking around about f stops, how to shoot with flash, or how to scan my film etc.
There’s this general assumption that you should just already know how to do everything and it isn’t cool – we were all beginners at some point. I always try to help as much as I can and try to make my Youtube videos super approachable and beginner-friendly. Also helps that I’m still a ‘beginner’ myself.
I try to encourage people to buy their cameras in-store rather than online, as this will actually give them the opportunity to pick up the camera that speaks to them the most, rather than buying gear based on its popularity. Film photography can and should be accessible by everyone.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
ES: I certainly see more and more young people picking up film cameras. I feel like there is now a desire to slow down and to leave things to chance. With this will also come a natural move back to the physical photograph.
We will no longer look to our social media feeds as vessels for our memories. I personally found that once my mother started shooting our family snapshots with a digital camera, she no longer collected physical photographs/albums. Instead, our memories were nothing but loose files uploaded to Facebook or stored on the occasional memory card. Which could explain why I remember more from my earlier childhood than I do from the periods of digitisation.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone just getting started, or thinking about jumping into film photography?
ES: Whilst it may be deemed unoriginal for me to quote directly from the question, I’d say jump into it! For so long film photography was such an alien concept to me: How did the cameras work? What camera was I supposed to get? How would I get my images once I was done with the film? And most importantly, how would I get these images to Instagram?!
A year before buying my camera, I was lucky enough to pose in front of the lens of Vicky Grout, an iconic photographer also from London. She actually gave me quick tutorial on how to work her Pentax 67 during our shoot, but I still didn’t feel ready (or worthy) enough to shoot on film and waited an entire year before finally slowly walking into film. So please jump into it instead, and just get started!
Anyone who follows EMULSIVE on Twitter or listens to my awful podcast with 35mmc’s Hamish Gill will know I’ve got a slight disregard for bullies and gatekeepers – especially in the film photography community. This comment from Ejatu really hit a nerve:
“There’s this general assumption that you should just already know how to do everything and it isn’t cool – we were all beginners at some point.”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard – or directly experienced – such a sentiment and I find it incredibly frustrating. There are so many examples of genuine calls for help that get shot down with comments along the lines of “you should search the group/forum before asking simple questions like this” and they get my back up.
I can understand that multiple questions around the same subjects can get frustrating for regular members/readers but to my mind, there are two things to be aware of here:
First: If people keep asking the same questions it means the answers are not easily surfaced in the group/forum. The information may exist — especially if people are crying out to the poster to “search first, ask later” — but is likely buried in threads that a) take time to discover and b) require an awareness of the right keywords to use. Nomenclature is not something beginners in any field are familiar with.
Second: People discover these groups through search and very rarely post a question based on the first page from the first search result. People posting these questions will have done so after already searching for an answer and will have come to said group/forum to ask the question because they have not been able to find it. Very, very few people will go to the trouble of posting a question without having first completed some research.
So where does that lead us? Where’s this going?
- If you are in an online group/forum/community and you see questions like this, help.
- Point the user in the direction of a thread you know answers the question.
- If there are documents/resources pinned to the group, post a link or leave a comment pointing them in the right direction.
- ENGAGE with them and offer your assistance.
- Do not reply with something along the lines of “oh GOD, this question gets posted here at least once a week”.
Remember, you were there once and thousands of people stand behind you in that very same position. Think about the support you received or would like to have received and go from there.
Finally, if you see a glut of the same questions being asked, speak to the group admins and do something about it to help. If you can’t be a mentor, you can still support the process and reach out to admins/moderators to ask their help to create a “beginners” of FAQ of some sort. As a simple member of an online group, forum or community, you might think of yourself as another cog in the wheel but what you do — even the smallest of acts — helps to define the whole thing. One person can make a difference and that person can be you.
I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Ejatu for stepping up and sharing her words and photography. I know you’re busy, so your time is really appreciated. you can find Ejatu on her YouTube channel, Instagram, Twitter and of course, on her website. Please do check her out and give her a follow, it’s well worth your time.
All that leaves then, is for me to say I’ll be back with another fresh EMULSIVE interview towards the end of the month. Don’t worry though, if you’re looking for an interview fix, Robert J Davie is back with his brilliant series of YouTuber interviews next week. This time with none other than Roger Lowe and Shoot film like a boss.
If you haven’t already caught up on EMULSIVE since you were last here, please stick around and check out the most recent articles since your last visit. There’s loads to catch up on.
As ever, 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.