Greetings! If you’re a regular reader of EMULSIVE, you’ll no doubt already know of today’s fresh EMULSIVE interviewee, Andrew Whitehurst. If you’re not for any reason, then you’re in for a treat. All I have to say is that for someone who spends so much of his waking life dealing with colour, I’m not totally surprised that he seems most comfortable shooting for himself using black and white film 😉
Over to you, Andrew.
Hi Andrew, what’s this picture, then?
AW: This is a view back to Ambleside in the UK’s Lake District. I find that I need to commit to taking photographs if I’m going to get anything halfway decent. I can’t just have a camera on me, and grab things on the go. I have to concentrate on taking pictures. I think that is one of the key aspects in pulling me back to film and that all my cameras have ended up being fully manual. Some, like the 6×17 format Fuji G617 have no light meter, and no assistance on focus so you’re forced into working in a disciplined way, and really concentrating on your work.
I love being in an environment with a camera and trying to convey the experience of being there through pictures. I love to photograph people too, but usually, it is within the context of a place. Studio portraits are really not my forte. I picked this picture because it sums up trying to express the quality of a place through photography.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
AW: My name is Andrew Whitehurst. I’m a visual effects artist in the film and TV industry so imagery is my bread and butter. Most of my day to day work is digitally based, either shooting on digital cameras or the creation of CGI. I find all kinds of visual creative expression exciting so I try to draw as much as I can, paint when I’m able, and shoot film when inspiration strikes. I travel a lot for work, and am fortunate to get to visit some fascinating places, so having a camera to hand is an essential part of my experience of visiting, and trying to understand, somewhere new.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
AW: My dad is a keen amateur photographer, to the extent that he had a dark room in the loft of the house, so I’ve been around film cameras for as long as I can remember. When I was around 10 or 11, I started to show a proper interest in taking pictures so my dad got me a little Halina compact.
I used that for a while then, to prevent sibling complaints of unfairness when my sister had a school adventure holiday paid for, he got me a second hand Olympus OM2 as my first proper camera. And with that, I was away.
I find film photography beguiling because of the tangible nature of it. You can understand how the camera works, you can see most of its moving parts because they are mechanical. You can understand the chemistry of film. You have the pleasure of knowing that inside your camera is a strip of plastic with emulsion on it, parts of which have been touched by light and, by carefully sloshing chemicals over the plastic strip in a tank, you can get a recognisable image. It’s alchemy and art. Because so much of my work life is computer-based, the tangibility of film is incredibly appealing, like drawing.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
AW: My dad was very good at introducing me to great photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz, and Don McCullin as I grew up. Because I went to art college I had the run of the library there, and made friends with people who were actually studying photography, and that introduced me to The work of Irving Penn, Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, and my absolute all-time photographic hero, Josef Koudelka.
I loved photography that allowed the viewer to experience a vision of a place, or people within a place. Photography’s transportive qualities are what captured me initially, and still do today. Koudelka’s book, “Exiles” is the best book of photography I’ve owned, and if I could ever get a small percentage as good as that I would be delighted.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
AW: I have a few cameras, and each suits a different need. I generally only have one lens per camera (I have two for my Nikon), and all are primes. Because I need to be forced to concentrate to take photographs, I have to reduce the number of decisions I have to make. If I had a bag full of lenses, or a zoom, I would be paralysed by indecision. So one lens per camera. Similarly, I generally shoot black and white, and almost always it’s Kodak Tri-X 400. I’ve rated it everywhere from EI 100 to EI 6400 so there’s no lighting condition it can’t cope with.
I prefer to reduce my creative choices too. Where do I stand? What do I frame-up on? What shutter speed/aperture combo should I use? And that’s it. I find it hard enough considering those without worrying about other lenses, filters, flash, different film stocks and so on.
I do shoot digital photographs too, with a similar mindset. I’ve finally found a digital camera I like, that being a Sony A7Riii on which I use a 1970s 40mm Leica Summicron-C lens via a Novoflex adapter. This allows me to keep the tangible, manual nature of photography intact and I like the pictures I get from the Sony.
When I come to pick a camera I generally have an idea of what sort of photography I’m going to be doing. If I’m walking in the countryside, a medium format camera will capture the detail of the landscape. If I’m wandering around town or for more general use, either my Leica M6 or Nikon FM2 would be my immediate go-to choice.
I’ve just acquired a Fuji GS645s, which falls quite neatly between these two camera types, and I’m finding it a perfect companion to my medium format panoramic camera when travelling because they use the same film stock, and I can fit both in a smallish camera bag.
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?
AW: I need to take more photographs. My work life can become very intense so I can go for months without exposing a single piece of film. Over this year I’m going to try to make a concerted effort to shoot more and get out of the rut I feel I’ve been in for a few months now.
I don’t know if I’ll get any better, but I’m happy if I can produce a handful of images that I don’t hate. If I’m feeling particularly experimental, I might try some different developers this year, though Rodinal has always done me proud.
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Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
AW: As I mentioned before, a sense of place is very important to me in my photographs. Within that, anything goes, but I like for a viewer to feel an emotional connection to an environment and the people within it when they look at my pictures. How successful I am at that I couldn’t say, but that’s what I’m aiming for.
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?
AW: Leica M6, 50mm lens, a roll of Kodak Tri-X, and another roll of Kodak Tri-X. This is the camera/lens/film combination I know the best, and feel most comfortable with. The lens is good enough to capture high detail if that’s what is needed, and the M6 is portable, discreet, quiet, reliable, and comfortable for me to use. I’d be happy shooting anything, apart from maybe rainbows, with that set up. I do shoot colour film on occasion, but I don’t particularly like it.
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?
AW: That’s very difficult. It would either be Exmoor or London and, truthfully, I would change my mind about which on daily basis. Today, because I’m in London and it’s miserable weather, I’d pick Exmoor. In both cases I would take a 5×4 plate camera and a stock of 320 Tri-X.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
AW: I would get a roll of very slow, high resolution roll film (Pan-F perhaps), build a slit-scan rig that worked at ultra slow speeds, and with that rig shoot a whole year on one strip of film so you could feel the days and seasons changing, albeit as an abstract image. I’d probably set it up somewhere like Little Langdale in Cumbria. I would be able to print a visual record of a year in a place with this setup and that seems like a reasonable use for my final roll of film.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
AW: I think the biggest misconception is that film has a specific “look” which is different to digital. All digital cameras look different and all film stocks look different, and this is complicated by developer choices which change things again. I spend a lot of time at work matching CGI to look like the film stock that the background plates were shot on so I know it can be done. To me film is less about a particular look, and much more about how you shoot, how much you shoot, and your relationship with your pictures And your camera. It’s a process and tangibility thing.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
AW: Film has been bouncing back for about a decade. I’m finding it fascinating that people I know in their twenties are buying used film cameras and shooting film. I wondered for a while if the initial film renaissance was old farts like me getting nostalgic, but if you’re 25 you would never have had a film camera as a kid to get nostalgic about. I suppose that as our phones become better and more efficient as image acquiring gadgets, owning a camera has to offer something beyond that, and the tangibility of film offers a different experience. It also doesn’t need to be plugged in to recharge every night which is a plus.
Film will always be a niche pursuit because it’s not the cheapest of interests, but it doesn’t feel endangered anymore. With more people trying film, and hopefully enjoying the imagery they can make and the experience of using a film camera, I’m hopeful that the network of film retailers, labs, and camera repairers will be kept very busy.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone just getting started, or thinking about jumping into film photography?
AW: I’d suggest buying a manual SLR and a single prime lens, probably around 50mm, and then just shooting some film. Keep it basic and learn the technique of manual focusing, and how to use aperture and shutter speeds to get different effects.
Shooting colour or black and white is a matter of taste so take your pick there. If you can afford it, I’d suggest getting something like a Nikon FM2. Because it’s not silly money, if you don’t like film photography you can sell the camera for what you paid, but if you do get bitten by the bug, you might never need another camera.
I have a bit of a “thing” for wide format photography and Andrew has never been a help in respect of pushing me off that path. I’m so happy to have been able to share more of his work here and if you want to dive in, I HIGHLY recommend you check out his user reviews of the Fujica G617 Professional and Horseman SW612.
In a relatively rare turn for my final question, Andrew took to suggesting kit to new film photographers – a man after my own heart. Gear prices have absolutely exploded in recent years, due in no small part to reduced supply of quality used gear, a near total lack of fully manual — or at least, fully manual capable — film cameras for a reasonable financial outlay and of course, an increased interest in film photography.
For the current picks, I completely stand behind Andrew’s suggestion of to new film photographers to make an investment in a fully manual 35mm Nikon SLR. Bargains are still to be had if you’re patient and there’s little a new photographer could do to one to reduce its resale value. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, manual Nikon cameras are wonderful to use and at the very least, you’ll have access to lenses made as far back as the late 1970s. There are some wonderful examples there and if I stick to just one, it has to be the 105mm f/2.5. Stunning.
Please do take a minute to catch up with Andrew on Twitter and Flickr. Once you’re done, please scroll back up and give the article another read. you won’t regret it.
See you next time,
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Andrew, your statement about the tangibility of shooting with film definitely struck a cord with me. I am a person that enjoys collecting things. The tangible presence of a negative or transparency is meaningful to me. When I hold the sleeve of negatives or transparencies in my hand I feel a certain inner connection to that moment in time. Because I played a definitive part in the creation of that object (film) and that moment I am given the opportunity to time travel. I have shot with digital cameras as well but the lack of a physical object reduces my ultimate enjoyment of that singular moment. Since I have shot film for the vast majority of my life it acts as a binding thread that connects me to my life moments. Thanks for letting us look into your personal thoughts on shooting film.