January 27th 2016. Let that date burn into your memory. The was the first time today’s interviewee and I first made email contact. A few days later and I asked her If she would be willing to do an interview and there began the chase.
I’m not saying I’ve been waiting a long time for this, I’m saying I’ve been waiting a LONG TIME FOR THIS. Perfunctory anger aside, it’s a real pleasure to welcome today’s interviewee into the fold.
She’s a busy lady, so all that business above should be waived off as the ramblings of a very excited man. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the owner of Rosie the Viking, one-third of the Sunbeams and owner of Little Vintage Photography, Rachel Brewster herself!
Over to you, Rachel!
Hi Rachel, What’s this picture, then?
RBW: This is a photograph of a model village depicting a town called Longton and built for Middleport Pottery which opened in 1888 to represent the surrounding area. As you can see, it is still covered in dust from when the factory began to fall into disuse during the 1950’s.
Due to the dwindling demand for ceramic products, these rooms had remained shuttered and unused for several decades as the operational part of the factory was gradually reduced, eventually being squeezed into one small wing of the building. However, the factory never stopped production and has managed to survive since it opened 130 years ago.
I’ve always been fascinated by heritage and historical buildings and as these rooms were being unsealed and re-opened in 2012, I was asked to document some of the process using traditional analogue cameras just as The Prince’s Regeneration Trust began their work on the site, bringing it back into use.
I took this photo as a series of six images which were exhibited in the Prince Charles Gallery when he came to re-open the pottery to the public in 2014. It is a special image to me as it was one of the very first photographs I took as I returned to analogue. I shot it using my Pentax S1A which I had found a few months earlier in a charity shop for £15.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RBW: I’m Rachel and I run Little Vintage Photography. I’m a charity shop treasure hunter, a science nerd, a tech geek, a caravan-towing, Alaskan husky-owning, storytelling enthusiast. I’m a sentimental, vintage camera & antique book lover.
I believe in the simple magic of sunshine and chemistry and the importance of human connection, memories and legacy.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
RBW: My first photograph was an image of a feather which apparently I took when I was about 3 years old. It’s still sitting somewhere in the attic of my parent’s house (sorry I couldn’t find it for this article!). My Dad was in the RAF which is where he learnt his trade as a photographer and so when I came along, he made sure it was something I learnt about too.
I left school at 15 and went to the local art college where I spent two very happy years messing about in the darkroom, just as digital was really beginning to take over. We couldn’t afford a digital camera at the time, so my Dad sold all his old film cameras to pay for one and I gained my photography A Level.
Generally, I try not to have regrets, but I think saying goodbye to all those lovely analogue cameras, even though it was necessary at the time, will always be one of them. They were such a part of my life growing up, it does make me sad that there will never be a camera that he can pass on to me.
I shoot film now because it’s my passion and my business. I get to watch the amazement on someone’s face the first time they process a film or see a print come to life in the developer tray and it feels very special.
Looking back now, it seems as if working with and sharing analogue processes has always been the thing I was meant to do, it just took some time to realise it! I love the warmth and softness you get with film grain, the tactile nature of holding a print in your hand and the endlessly fascinating ways in which combines science and art.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
RBW: Influences are a funny thing. I love how they expand, change and develop as we do. When I was first learning about photography at art college, I was introduced to the work of Henri Cartier Bresson and his shots have always stayed with me. I continue to be drawn to images with high contrast between dark and light areas, shots that use architecture to frame a scene, silhouettes, backlit figures etc.
I am also a huge admirer of women who have lead the field such as Anna Atkins with her cyanotypes and for sheer volume of production and capturing a fascinating slice of social history; Vivian Maier.
Having returned to film photography in 2014 however, I have now found a new and wonderful community of analogue artists to be influenced by and a collective body of work which has opened up so many new ideas and approaches for me. They all inspire me in different ways whether that be in process like John Brewer or Tina Rowe or capturing a feeling of magic and drama like Isabel Curdes or Gillian Hyland’s digital work.
I also think that alongside people, my photographic work is influenced by challenges of space, time and environment. So far I’ve created photographic work and on top of a skyscraper, in an underground bunker, at night in a derelict barn, inside a caravan, deep in a forest and beneath a library. I think sometimes I just like to make life difficult for myself!
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
RBW: Yes, I am definitely a mixed medium photographer. My choice of which to use is mainly down to the type of subject matter that I’m shooting and the client I’m delivering the project for. When I get commissioned for work covering events in the dead of night, in the middle of winter, it’s not always practical to shoot these with film and deliver the required volume of images.
The same goes for me with weddings. I absolutely LOVE shooting film at weddings so I always include in some way. I also know that there are photographers out there who only cover the day with film, but for me, I like to have the option to deliver both kinds of image and appreciate the speed digital gives me, alongside my film shots.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using all the options available to us. Some of the other reasons I work as a mixed medium photographer are because I’m fascinated by the incredible technology we have access to now and the exciting ways we in which we can combine it with analogue techniques to do fun, interesting and beautiful things.
I am a huge advocate for getting more women interested and involved in STEM subjects and obviously, the ‘T’ which denotes ‘technology’ in STEM, is just as important as the rest. I often deliver workshops for organisations such as Innovate Her and wehearttech; and find it hugely rewarding seeing younger generations getting excited about both old and new technologies in equal measure.
I think it’s really important to show that both can sit alongside each other very happily and is why I designed a workshop called ‘Pinhole to Pinterest’, because they’re both relevant within creative output today.
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?
RBW: I really want to get to grips with wet plate. I already love using the technique and am lucky enough to have a camera ready to go, but as always, I find it comes down to time. Over the next 12 months, I want to dedicate more time to improving my technique using this process and perhaps experimenting with creating miniature versions.
I feel that this could also tie into my 6-month project using a collection of neglected box cameras that I own, creating images with both roll film and collodion, perhaps matching up the build year of these undervalued cameras, with the varied architectural styles in my local city.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
RBW: I seem to find myself drawn towards architecture, texture, contrast, the natural world, small details and unguarded moments. Anywhere with beautiful and interesting light.
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?
RBW: It’d have to be my trusty Olympus OM30 with the prime 50mm f/1.8 lens. It’s such a comfortable, reliable and lovely camera that I can shoot with relatively fast if needed, thanks to the inbuilt light meter.
I’d probably take a roll of ILFORD HP5 PLUS because that film has never let me down and a roll of Kodak Portra 160 to give me the option of quite a forgiving colour film and a finer grain.
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?
RBW: This is such a tough question! OK, so I did a project in the Brownies when I was 7 years old (kind of like the younger Girl Guides, although I didn’t get that far) and there was a ‘Travel’ badge. I did my research, I made posters and I read all the travel guides. New Zealand was the country for me!
Although I’ve never made it there, it does still appeal to me. I think for a country with such an incredible landscape I would have to take my medium and large format cameras such as my Rolleicord and my new Chroma camera and shoot slide film.
There are sooo many other places I’d also love to visit and shoot too though; New England in the autumn, Kyoto for the blossom festivals in spring, Scottish Highlands in summer, Brooklyn for street photography, Nepal and Havana for colourful culture…
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
RBW: I tried out ILFORD Pan F+ 50 for the first time this year in the Italian sunshine and absolutely loved it. It was soft, warm, delicate and it just worked. I think I’d probably go with that for my last roll, as long as I had the right weather conditions for it.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
RBW: I think one of the biggest misconceptions about film from people who don’t shoot it, is the cost. It’s a question that comes up a lot when I speak to them about what I do. “Yes, but isn’t film really expensive?” is often something I hear.
My response to this is usually to remind them of all the other hidden costs of digital photography such as the computer, the software and the storage space. Generally they’re amazed at how cheap a basic film camera can be and really I think it’s just about having a conversation to address the question and actually discussing how you assign value.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RBW: I think that the future of film photography is strong. Last year saw so many new films and ideas coming to market that there is definitely excitement in the air for what will happen next. Yes, it will always be a niche and it will always have those who dismiss it, but I am a firm believer in the fact that learning about the principles behind the craft will almost always make someone a better photographer, and analogue is a wonderful way to do that. It strips away the confusing and the unnecessary,and takes you back to basics. I use film, I use digital. There’s room for both.
Human beings are inherently curious, they want to discover, to create and to experiment. Analogue offers a way to do that which is a completely different experience from digital. It is physical, it is unexpected and occasionally unreliable, often it is about the happy accidents (and generally with digital, any accidents do not tend to be happy!) Personally, when I see the look on someone’s face as they sit inside my caravan-obscura and watch an ‘upside-down’ world outside, I don’t think analogue will ever lose it’s magic or it’s appeal.
~ Rachel Brewster-Wright
Rachel has so many fingers in so many analogue photography pies that she’s self funding research into body augmentations to give herself a new pair of hands. Excuse me if this comes across as a little gushy but to me, she embodies all that is good about photography today – notice that’s not prefaced by digital, film, or analogue.
She is conscious in her choice of medium, considerate in her method of approach, generous in the way she spends a good deal of her time teaching and most importantly, curious in her experimentation. A beacon to hold up and say, “we can all do more”. Truly, a huge thanks from me for jumping on – albeit two bloody years after I first asked.
You can find Rachel everywhere. Check out her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She co-hosts the Sunny 16 Podcast with Graeme and Ade, and has recently started a new podcast focusing on the Women of Film. Please check it all out, it’s well worth your time!
It’s only another week until the next EMULSIVE interview is out and in between now and then, please take a look around and check out all the new updates since last week. If I may, I’d like to draw your attention in particular to my 2018 opus: the (unofficial) Hasselblad V-System Master Guide, which I kicked off on Monday.
Thanks for reading and as eve, keep shooting, folks!
EMULSIVE 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.
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