After an 8-month hiatus, I’d like to welcome you all back to the EMULSIVE interview. Yes, yes, 2020 be damned, etc. Last year was a challenging one for me and I took a bit more of a hit than I expected but, as I kept telling myself, there are two things to remember: 1) things will get better and 2) it’s not always about you.
In this specific case, it’s about a talented, inquisitive and humble photographer I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past couple of years. Ladies, gents, and all flavours of humanity, please say hello to Kris Askey.
Hi Kris, what’s this picture, then?
KA: This is a portrait of Chris & Syama, a couple I photographed on one of my favourite sessions in 2020. This shoot was shot entirely on ILFORD HP5 PLUS rated at 800. I had been testing out a Rolleiflex 2.8F linked to my strobes to see if this was the route I wanted to go with my portrait sessions. Iʼm always looking for a real image and raw sense of beauty in my portrait sessions, and I think the combination of a 6×6 format with B+W film put me on the right track (before the Pandemic hit a month later).
Ok, so who are you?
KA: Iʼm Kris and Iʼm a full-time photographer based near Birmingham in the UK. In 2011, I found a passion for photography smack-bang in the middle of an 8-year career as a Graphic Designer. As time went on, my instincts slowly gravitated more towards photography and I found myself becoming freelance photographer in July 2016. I havenʼt looked back since.
My work is mostly based around people and everyday life. Whether Iʼm taking portraits in a studio, walking the streets, or documenting life at home or elsewhere.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
KA: Being born into the digital age of ‘thingsʼ, I was initially only introduced to photography as a digital format. Despite a personal interest in the portrait & documentary photography that was created decades before my time, I didnʼt really know anybody that had an interest in film photography until about 2017/2018. I guess I was living under a rock photographically. It wasnʼt until my close friend Cliff introduced me to his Leica 35mm camera, and the more questions I asked about the camera and film in general, the more interested I became. Iʼm so glad I was introduced to the medium and everyone who is involved in the film photography community. Itʼs blossomed into a real passion of mine and it grows each day.
KA: The introduction of film seemed quite timely for me, as I remember feeling slightly lost and uninspired with the personal photography I was doing with my digital cameras. I had concerns that I had become lazy in certain areas and something just needed to change. There is absolutely no denying that the learnings, processes and disciplines involved in film photography have made me a better (and much happier) photographer overall. Things like automatic settings slowly gave me the impression there were aspects to photography that I just didnʼt need to learn properly. How wrong was I?.
I find people quite fascinating and Iʼm drawn to document them and what they do. I guess you can say I am possibly a bit more careful with how I shoot when Iʼm holding a film camera, but I wouldnʼt say Iʼm too reserved either. I try and take pictures every single day and my drive to keep learning is quite high so I will regularly take 4-5 images if I feel something is there or unfolding. A big part of how I work is being in tune with my instincts and reactions, I enjoy letting organic occurrences happen in front of the camera and If I miss something, fine. But when I catch that unrepeatable moment that I know Iʼm after, itʼs true photographic zen for me. I feel that having this approach helps keeps my brain, eyes and instincts sharp whilst working a bit more fluidly with whatever camera Iʼm holding.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
KA: Around the time I first picked up a camera, I was massively inspired by the work I saw from the 1950s & 60s or even earlier. It was mainly the documentary photography and portrait work that I was drawn to. If I had to pick my main inspirations as of this minute, Iʼd say that Leonard Freed, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann and Mark Seliger. Iʼm constantly drawn to photographing candid life and people, which is like that blend of street/documentary & portrait photography.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
KA: At the moment I generally shoot all of my personal work on film, I feel that itʼs a nice fit for when I photograph ‘home lifeʼ with my fiancee and whenever I see friends or family. It also gave me a lot of practice in the beginning to work through my trials and errors. Digital photography is what Iʼve had more experience with, and itʼs perfect for client work that has a deadline or where Iʼm tethering to a laptop, speeding up working through a shot list. However I rarely pick up my digital cameras if Iʼm creating things “for me”.
I generally choose to shoot film in situations where I donʼt have a deadline or someone asking to be sent images 5 minutes ago. Iʼm only about 2-3 years into my film photography experience and although itʼs not rendering my digital cameras a waste of money, it is forcing them to collect dust a little more than I anticipated. Iʼm excited about where itʼs taking me.
Iʼm partial to a bit of grain and I generally enjoy the look of film images with a bit of character and imperfections. I think these kinds of preferences drive my choice on a personal level. I think my first thoughts when Iʼd shot my first 20-30 rolls was that I loved how ‘realʼ the images looked compared to my previous efforts. I donʼt know if thereʼs really anything in that, but that is just how things felt to me when I started to get into using the medium of photographic film.
I love the memories from my childhood where my family would go through all of the images from the disposable cameras that were used whilst me and brothers were growing up. Searching through vast quantities of printed photos, passing them around, talking about how people have changed and keeping 1 or 2 pinned to the fridge or around the frame of a mirror. Recently my Mother found a large box of printed photographs and hidden deep in the stacks were a handful of original prints. A few were of my Mothers distant family that were from around 1913, dated to be over 100 years old. These images were lit, shot and printed beautifully and I couldnʼt believe they were 100 years old. That was another reminder that true technique and understanding of light is centuries old, and that physical copies of images are important and can stand the test of time.
People donʼt print enough images these days despite the mass amount of them that are created. Unless they are properly prepared, people are put in a position where they are a single hard drive or device failure away from it all being lost forever. Whilst itʼs not bulletproof, I like that film photography is printing by default. Whether Iʼm creating images on film or digital, I generally would like to look back in 10-20 years and have a nice amount of printed images / negatives, rather than only experiencing my entire family history through a digital screen.
Whatʼs 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?
KA: My next challenge has been up for debate in my mind for a while. At the start of 2020, I decided to jump into developing my own B+W film at home. It’s been a great experience and I love doing it. Thankfully, I had some great advice and help from a photographer called Ash Carr. He really put me on the right track and I have just ran with it.
There was a few hiccups in my process but I now have a steady and consistent workflow. After doing this for nearly the best part of a year, my next challenge has been a 3-way decision between learning to develop colour negatives at home, printing black and white photography at home or jumping into large format photography. Whilst Iʼve shelved the large format idea (for now), it was a tough choice between the other 2 options, with me narrowly going for C41 at home. With a Fuji Hunt Press Kit and a handful of notes to make sure I didnʼt screw up, my first 2 rolls thankfully turned out fine.
What I have learned over the past few years is that itʼs beneficial to master a technique or process, get it locked-in and repeatable so you hardly have to think about it. Then you can concentrate more on the looking. Thatʼs what Iʼve done with my B+W workflow, one film – HP5, one developer – Ilfotec HC, shot at either EI 800 or 1600. Thatʼs for both 35mm and 120 and it doesnʼt change.
Developing aside, I must admit one aspect of my work Iʼd like to try and master in the next 12 months is to be really in tune with a Hasselblad 500CM. I have been working with it for a few months and itʼs a nice fit for my portrait work and anything else thatʼs a touch slower than running around with a 35mm camera.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
KA: This oneʼs quite easy – People. I am fascinated by them, who they are, how they look and what they do. Iʼve always found that my work started to become people-centric, focussing on human behaviour, gestures and how we behave in the world. Thereʼs a lot of that in street photography as itʼs more candid than what portrait photography tends to offer.
However I explore both as I feel it satisfies my curiosity about people. Iʼve spent a lot of time doing street photography, and then on the flip side a lot of portrait photography in the studio / locations. Iʼm curious to maybe the bridge the gap and capture more portraits of strangers in a concentrated place, or move more into a more documentary realm with my portrait sessions.
Iʼm a big advocate of taking photos of people youʼre close to so the camera is always close by whenever Iʼm around my family and friends. I constantly annoy my other half by taking photos of our life at home, but secretly I think sheʼs fine with it. She regularly acts up in front of the camera and she knows how important photography is to me. I feel everyone should be doing this though because home life is important, you wonʼt always live with your parents forever and times change real fast. I feel sorry for people that only realise this once itʼs too late.
In short, I try my best to make photographs of people and places that feel like a ‘lived experienceʼ.
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?
KA: Wow, 2 minutes. How stressful would that be?!
I would probably take 2 rolls of ILFORD HP5 PLUS. I know it can handle shooting up to EI 1600/3200 quite comfortably, and I like the results, so I feel like this would a good choice. EI 800 is my comfortable spot though.
Considering a camera and lens, itʼs between a Rolleiflex 2.8F, or a Leica M4 and a 35mm/50mm lens option. As much as I love Leica M cameras, right now Iʼd probably take the Rolleiflex. I’m quite fluid with how it works, It’s incredibly portable and I like a 6×6 negative.
A ‘2 minute camera decisionʼ scenario sounds terrifying though.
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?
KA: This is a really tough question. The films I canʼt live without are ILFORD HP5 PLUS, Portra 160/400 and Cinestill 800T. I donʼt shoot anything else really. Even though I shoot so much HP5 and itʼs a usually always the first choice for me, thereʼs a part of my soul thatʼs truly tempted to pick Cinestill 800T, based on the fact itʼs an unlimited supply of motion picture colour film that works well in both night and day situations. I just love it as a film stock.
If location means one country Iʼd say America, have I cheated by picking a massive country? I have a very odd party trick (if you can call it that) in being able to locate/name every single state in the U.S in under 2 minutes. Iʼve been told by people that ‘no sane person knows where Wyoming is on the US mapʼ, which is slightly offensive to Wyoming if you ask me, haha. However, if this answer is allowed, Iʼd make the effort to go to every single state and spend a few weeks/months there documenting each place, then do it all over again (seeing as Iʼm there for the rest of my life).
Cinestill 800T in America forever is a tempting thought, but Iʼd probably end up picking HP5.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
KA: Another terrifying scenario. Surprise, surprise Itʼs ILFORD HP5 PLUS (that rhymed). I think the most important thing I could use the film on would be photographing 12 portraits of both friends & family, itʼs the obvious choice for me. Iʼve always loved B+W and shooting a roll of that film stock would be my final love letter to film. Iʼd have to decide on the day whether I shoot the portraits with natural light or whether Iʼd use my flash lighting kit, but Iʼd probably create a space or backdrop for the images to add a finishing touch. The icing on the cake would be that Iʼd also enjoy developing the negatives and scanning them myself, prolonging the experience.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
KA: I think the biggest misconceptions regarding the idea of film photography is probably two things, one is cost and one is the importance of it as a medium. I think itʼs often regarded as a ‘dead mediumʼ and that thereʼs no advantages to using it in a modern-day scenario. All that most people know is digital and itʼs almost ‘unlimitedʼ possibilities. This is fine, but I generally do think a lot of people become more creative when they are limited in choices of equipment.
When I first started using film I got a few puzzled looks and people questioning why I am bothering with it. I noticed that as soon as I started to show some results and the physical workflow involved with the negatives, those same people became less critical and more interested. Some have even asked me where to buy a cheap 35mm camera so they can give it a go. I think that in this day and age, if something isnʼt ‘instant & digitalʼ it will feel a bit alien to a lot of people.
I feel that people will always have a deep-down desire to experience things that are physical and real. In film photography, the final film negatives themselves are unique, one-of-a-kind, physical items that you can hold in your hands and see with your own eyes. Thereʼs just something special about it.
Whether you use film or digital, itʼs all relevant in the world of photography. Everyone whoʼs interested in creating images should try both to see which medium makes them feel most happy and create the work they have in their head. For me, using photographic film for my work is a really rewarding experience.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
KA: I have my fingers crossed that it has a bright future. Quite simply, I guess it will only survive if people keep buying film. For some deeper thoughts, I think itʼs important to reflect on what makes film photography unique, and why do people still want to use film?
I think whatʼs exciting is that we are already seeing how analogue photography is existing in a digital world. Access to information is so easy now, and itʼs only growing, so there is almost no excuse for finding what youʼre after as thereʼs a fantastic community of people that very helpful and passionate about all things film. We are seeing that software is being created to help link the craft of film photography into the digital era. Videos are constantly being created by younger people experiencing the medium and sharing their views. Film photography is evolving into itʼs next stage of life and that surely can only be positive.
Also, letʼs not forget the importance that film photography offers people a chance to be interested in a more hands-on approach to creating imagery. You can learn key disciplines like guessing metering with your eyes, developing your films a certain way or mastering zone focussing. If these kinds of skills become attractive to people and they can continually be connected to film photography, then I think it hope it would have a decent future.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone just getting started, or thinking about jumping into film photography?
KA: My main advice would be to do a bit of research and study on the past masters that you admire. How does their work look in terms of a style? what film stocks or cameras did they use etc? Once youʼve got a loose idea of what sort of path youʼd like to start walking on, you can start experimenting. There will be a lot of experimenting in the early stages. There WILL be horribly underexposed images and mistakes. But thatʼs fine, donʼt be put off as itʼs all part of the process. What Iʼve noticed with film is that when you make a mistake, you generally learn from it. Itʼs rare that you repeat the same mistake multiple times, as long as youʼre paying attention.
Every personʼs journey is different to the next, so you really need to take a lot of the ‘camera reviewsʼ, opinions on film stocks etc. with a pinch of salt. They are helpful, but itʼs all from someone elseʼs perspective and point of view. If you are friends with any experienced photographers donʼt be afraid to ask their opinion and thoughts over coffee on things youʼre not sure of. Be honest and genuine about it. More often than not people need help, and Iʼve found that there are people out there willing to offer it if youʼre being genuine and honest.
Along the way, with your own trials and errors, youʼll notice that various conversations with the right people will debunk some of the myths and abundance of advice on the internet. Youʼll then start to find your own path with things and hopefully create something youʼre happy with.
Kris is, as he says, a working photographer and many examples of his photography demonstrate his professional skill with a camera. That said — even though I’ve seen them all before — I don’t think of Kris as a professional photographer. That’s not me belittling him in the slightest.
To put it another way, to me, Kris’ photography captures small moments perfectly. They are the quick glances of the world around us as we go from A to B in our hurried work lives, the long contemplation of a lost friend remembered, an unintended look in the mirror, or finding yourself alert in the middle of a revirie. To me, they’re the little bits of life that often get lost in the day-to-day. The things we do between doing the things we do.
I love that.
Thanks for Sharing, Kris! And thanks for helping me get back on the horse with these interviews. I can’t think of anyone better to help me get the ball rolling! Find Kris over on Twitter, Instagram, and his website. Even better, here’s his entire Linktree.
With this series officially resurrected, I’m looking forward to getting back to my roots and making these interviews weekly. If you want to help, you can do so by dropping me a line at the link below and either putting yourself forward for an interview, or someone you’d like to see on these page. What’re you waiting for?
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.