I’m so pleased to be able to bring you today’s fresh film photographer interview with none other than Nat Meier. If you’ve spent any time at all on the Twitter film photography community over the past few months, you should be no stranger to Nat’s wonderful photography of San Francisco and beyond.
For now, it’s time to delve a little deeper into what keeps her scratching that film photography itch. Over to you, Nat!
Hi Nat, what’s this picture, then?
NM: I love this photo because I really did the absolute most to make it. When I was down in Atlanta for work, we were in a pretty quiet neighborhood, and I happened to see this old Coke cooler sitting on someone’s porch. I needed to cross her yard to get a good view of it, and I hesitated for a few seconds before doing it, but figured I would think about this all day if I didn’t.
The homeowner definitely came outside and asked me what I was doing. I was sweating like crazy but explained to her that I loved the cooler and just wanted to photograph it for myself. She was really nice about it (luckily).
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
NM: My name is Nat, and I’m a film photographer based in San Francisco, California!
When I’m not wandering around the Bay Area with my camera, you can usually find me enjoying the California sun with friends, boxing, or telling stories about small businesses with Square.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting today?
NM: I picked up my first camera a little over a year ago after being an observer and admirer of film photography for a long time. It started when Tumblr was a thing; I would reblog a lot of photos similar to what I shoot now — bright colors, summery tones, buildings and places I loved seeing over and over.
After a little internet sleuthing, I found that most of the photos were shot on film cameras, which gave them that dreamy lo-fi quality that makes me choose film over digital every time. I finally decided to give it a try and ordered a film camera from Etsy. Nothing special, just something that would help me get familiar with focus, light, and pulling the advance lever.
I keep shooting because I love it. I really can’t stress enough how much I love it. I never in a zillion years thought of myself as a photographer or an artist. I’ve always felt very intimidated by photographers carrying big DSLR cameras with tons of buttons and lenses. That doesn’t feel like me, but this does. Film, and the way I shoot it, feels like me.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
NM: When I first got into film, I was pretty fanatical about Pia Riverola’s work. Her photos give me the same feeling I want to inspire in other people — warm nostalgia. Every time I look at one of her photos, I feel like I’m actually there, smelling the cherry blossoms in Japan or feeling the warm wind of the California desert. She’s so talented, and has such a knack for capturing the same kind of light I chase in my photography.
The other photographer I really loved when I was just starting out and continue to be inspired by today is Jacob Consenstein. He’s a native New Yorker, and I’ve always wanted to live in New York, so his photos fueled my already romantic sense of what living there would be like. I’m first and foremost inspired by how he captures color in his photos — a lot of bright pops, just like what I try to do with mine. He’s recently started doing a lot more portrait work and shares intermittent street photos. I’m a big fan.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
NM: I do social media for Square, so when I’m shooting for the brand, I use digital. Otherwise, I’ll always default to film.
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?
NM: I love to shoot street photography and architecture, but I get pretty shy about portraits. I’d like to get more comfortable in that arena. Not “good,” per se…just more confident in taking them. Hopefully that comes with practice.
I’ve played a little with 120 film over the past three months and would really like to get a medium format camera to experiment with. My heart still belongs to 35mm, but I think some projects are far more suited to medium format.
Finally, I feel like it’s probably time for me to try black and white film. I’ve never tried!
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
NM: I live in San Francisco, so definitely the architecture. The bright, colorful victorians and some of the smaller walk up apartments feature pretty heavily in a lot of my photos. I’ve sometimes photographed the same house on different times, on different days, with different lights just because of the way it looks. I’m really inspired by different perspectives and ways of looking at the same subject.
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When I travel, I capture whatever catches my eye. Most of the time, that also seems to lean towards architecture, but I always just try to capture the sense of place… or how I’m feeling while I’m there.
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?
NM: If I’m picking from the cameras I own, I’d probably take my Canon AE-1, believe it or not. It’s such a sturdy little camera, and I’m so familiar with its focus that I know I can create the up close and personal or far away shots that I’d want. Since I’m not sure what I’m shooting, that would probably be the most versatile choice.
The two rolls I would bring would probably be Kodak Ultramax 400 for day time (my go-to!) and Cinestill 800T for night time.
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?
NM: Since this doesn’t say I’d have to pick a particular stock — Kodak, that way I can shoot Portra, Ultramax, and Colorplus on rotation!
Where I’d go: Europe. I’d go backpacking with my favorite point and shoot and visit Spain, Greece, Scotland — the list goes on. Places I’ve been to but didn’t have a film camera with me, and places I’ve only seen in magazines. I’d love to spend and document a significant amount of time all over the continent. I also went to Israel recently and would love to go back there with more film and more time — an incredibly beautiful country.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
NM: I’d want to shoot Fujicolor Industrial 100 in Japan, where it’s made. I’ve shot one roll of this stock before and was blown away by how beautiful and bright the color pops are. It made the sky look beautiful, almost violet. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan and shoot film there, so for my very last film project, that’s a no brainer.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
NM: Probably that it’s not something you should try unless you’re good at digital photography. I think I’m a very so-so digital photographer, but film is a completely different medium! I’ve had some people ask me what digital camera I started with and…I didn’t. I never thought of myself as a photographer or played with framing and light on digital the way I do with film. I do think film has made me a better digital photographer though.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
NM: Unsure. That’s not a bad thing though. I don’t know what the future of it looks like, but in an increasingly digital world, I hope it retains its analog soul, even just beyond the literally analog process. I hope the developing process, with chemicals and darkrooms and negatives, stays too. Innovation is cool, but some things should be kept sacred. I like to think film is one of those things.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone just getting started, or thinking about jumping into film photography?
NM: Shoot what makes you happy. Not what you think is popular, what will get you Instagram likes, or what everyone else is looking at. What do you look at when you don’t have your camera on you? What catches your eye? How does the light hit it? What do you like about it? Those are the things that I think about before making a photo. A shadow can be beautiful if captured in just the right way.
Over my last few interviews I seem to have been focusing on the very last thing my interviewees have said. Today is no different 😉
Nat’s advice in her final answer above to shoot what makes you happy should be the basis for your all personal photography and is very much after my own heart. In fact, 35mmc’s Hamish Gill and I seem to always come back to this point in our utterly terrible podcast.
It’s infuriatingly easy to get distracted by posts on social media with likes in their thousands and compare them (virtual cap in hand) with your own photography. I should know, I’ve been there and it’s not a nice place to be. See the light (literally), notice shadows, pay attention to how colour changes depending on morning, afternoon, evening (and even night) light and catch examples of everything that makes you happy on film to see what works for you. It’s a small exercise but you might surprise yourself.
A huge thanks to Nat for stepping up and please do take a minute to check out Nat over on Twitter and Instagram (and give her a follow on both). I’ll be back with a fresh interviewee in a few weeks but until then, stay safe, try not to go mad if you’re under lockdown and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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