The eagle-eyed amongst you will recognise today’s interviewee from his excellent and much-discussed review of the Bronica GS-1 system; as well as the beautiful images which accompany it. For the rest of you, you’re in for a treat.
It’s time to sit down with Laidric Stevenson.
Over to you, Laidric!
Hi Laidric, what’s this picture, then?
LS: This is a self-portrait made back in 2004 during my second college tour. I graduated in 2000 with a BA (in Journalism), but after about 4 years of kicking around in the same job, I decided that I wanted to go back to school to get a second BA, this time in photo.
This wasn’t for a particular class assignment, I just have always had a habit of occasionally taking self-portraits, as most of us do, and I decided to make one, a portrait of a photographer I once was. I used a self portrait test shot from when I was in high school back in 1994 and spread out a bunch of negatives and prints I had made during that time period.
I just recently re-discovered this negative while I was in the process of pulling together all these self-portraits I’ve made over the years to make a small zine of them, just for fun.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
LS: Father, Husband, Photo Nerd, Film geek. Living in the city of Dallas in the Great State of Texas, I like to think that I photograph to live, as periods of photographic inactivity give me bouts of anxiety! I also co-run a film photography blog called Return to Film with another Dallas Photo Nerd / Film Geek.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
LS: I began shooting film when film was all we had! I was the kid who always wanted to mess with my parents cameras (especially their Polaroid), so because they saw I had this interest in cameras, they bought me a Kodak Instamatic (which I still have…), then when I was in 10th grade, my high school offered a photography class that I was all too eager to sign up for. Then the next year, I joined my school’s newspaper and yearbook staff, and that pretty much cemented the fact that photography was going to have some part or influence on me for the rest of my life.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
LS: I didn’t really have influences starting out, I just wanted to take photos, it wasn’t until I returned to school in 2004 when I started to learn the history of photography, and the masters. When you start to learn who came before you, you’re always going to find that one photographer that you just identify with, that makes you go “This is what I’m trying to say”.
For me, that photographer was Lee Friedlander, particularly his self-portrait work, and including his shadow in the foreground of his images, I had started doing that a lot at that point. Lee was my guy, I have several of his books, and I see his influence creeping into a lot of my work, even to this day. In January 2015, I bought a Konica Hexar AF, as an impulse buy. I had no idea how I was going to work the camera into my normal shooting routine, until one day, I started taking it to work with me.
My commute is 25 miles each way, so I see a lot of interesting things going to and from work. I started shooting just as a “Let’s see what this will look like”, after I developed the first roll of film, I thought that I had something interesting to explore. These photos became the start of a series called The Car is a Window to the World, which was inspired by Friedlander’s America By Car series.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
LS: At one time I was mixed medium, but I no longer use digital cameras, even in family snapshots, I prefer a 35mm point and shoot. I am a hybrid photographer, as that I scan my negatives. I know there are many photographers who have negative (no pun intended) feelings about that, I loved being in the darkroom, but I was the world’s laziest printer!!
I never had that patience to sit with a negative and work with it until I got the full tonal range on the print, once a print was good enough, I was running with it. So when I was able to scan and work minimally on the scan in Photoshop (dust spotting, color and contrast adjustments), and output consistent photographs that I was 100% satisfied with, I knew that’s how I wanted to work with film from that point on. Plus since I work more toward sequencing my work for self-publishing zines and photobooks, the hybrid workflow works perfectly for me.
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?
LS: I would really like to shoot still life, I really admire photographers who shoot in that discipline, and it’s also nice to change up the pace of what you do every once in a while. I think I’d also like to try a little portraiture as well, as that is something that I do not do now.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
LS: I find myself drawn to the school of New Topographics, Stephen Shore in particular, Uncommon Places is such a defining statement of America during the 70s and it’s a perfect example of finding beauty in the banal. I was recently gifted a copy after not buying one of my own as I passed them in bookstores over the last 5 or 6 years, and I just enjoy going through it again and again.
It’s actually inspired me in a project of my own, re-photographing the locations he photographed in Texas, then using those images as a jumping off point for my own body of work exploring the state. I’m going to use a 4×5 for the first time to shoot it, and I’m excited to see how it will develop and turn out.
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?
LS: I would go with my Mamiya 7 + 80mm, Tri-X and Portra 400. The Mamiya because of the image quality and portability, and with the 80mm I feel I could cover just about anything that I would need to shoot, it’s wide enough for overall shots and it’s nice for environmental portraiture. Team it with two extremely flexible films that push well (if I needed to push), and I’d be ready to roll!
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?
LS: Staying in one location is hard, I get that wanderlust that so many of us get from time to time…. But I think I would stay in Texas (Texas is a location right?) and work as much as I could on visually defining a state that is extremely misunderstood by the rest of the country, I think that it would take the rest of my life to do a project like that justice.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
LS: Wow, that would be a sad thought that I wouldn’t be able to use film again…. I think if things came to that, I would like to use a roll of Tri-X, and I would take portraits of my parents, that’s something that I’ve never done in all my years behind the camera, and I think that would be a good usage of the last roll of film I would ever shoot. But as long as we keep making things profitable for Kodak and Ilford for years to come, we hopefully won’t have to worry about that.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
LS: I think the biggest misconception is that film is unnecessary, it’s hard for people to understand why would you choose to take photographs that you can’t see right away, you know, how do you know that you got the shot? Or that it’s difficult. I would invite anyone who thinks this way to a friendly photo-walk, I’d supply a camera and some film, so there’s no commitment on their end except for a few hours of their time. Then if they were willing, I would invite them to watch the other part of the process, developing the film, and I would dust off my enlarger, set up some trays and actually make prints of their photos.
We all know that feeling of surprise as you watch a print appear out of thin air onto this sheet of paper by the light of the darkroom. I don’t care what age you are, that sh*t is magical! Then hopefully after all of that, they would at least have some appreciation of what we do and why we do it.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
LS: I feel extremely optimistic about the future of film photography, we have broken through to a point where you have a healthy mix of lifetime photographers, and younger photographers. For the most part, it’s not a “hipster” thing anymore. Like ILFORD’s survey the conducted where they found out that a good majority of their photographers were under the age of 35. Young blood in the community is good for film photography in the long run.
Kodak has finally learned that they unfortunately aren’t going to sell billions dollars’ worth of film, but they have traded that for a stronger, smaller group that will continuously buy film as long as they keep making it. Then we have companies like Ferrania, New55, Cinestill, Impossible Project, who are doing great things to keep supplying the community with specialized film products.
Travelwide and Intrepid Camera putting out new 4×5 cameras! And with the increase of 3D printers, we are going to see a lot more DIY camera designs. All we really need is for Fuji to stop playing with our emotions, if they truly don’t want to be involved in making film and they just want to sell X-Series cameras and Instax Minis, fine. Just make a clean break so that Fuji shooters can find other options.
~ Laidric Stevenson
I have to admit an affinity for Laidric’s candid street portraiture and night photography. It was the latter that I think helped round off his Bronica GS-1 review so nicely. Beautiful, beautiful work indeed.
Sadly when I was at school, our school paper was run mostly by my teachers, and few students (perhaps one from each year in the school), had the opportunity to join in. I’ve seen a few photographers on these pages talk about their “foundational photographic experience” being laid in school and college publications but hadn’t really thought about the impact of such a background until now.
For those of you with such experience, do you feel that this grounding helped you develop as a photographer in a positive sense, or was it something you had to unlearn in later years? For those of you without such an experience, do you think it’s something that would have helped you at that age, or helped fan the fires of a latent interest?
Coming from the UK, I know that the vast majority of our school didn’t have student-run newspaper in the 1980’s and 90s. (Regardless of what Dexter Fletcher and Press Gang would have you believe!)
Thoughts in the comments below, please.
There will be another photographer for you to dig your teeth into next Wednesday but in the meantime, keep shooting, folks!
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