It’s time for the latest EMULSIVE interview and today’s
victim subject is no slouch. Get comfy and slide into the words and work of Matt Parry.
Over to you, Matt.
Hi Matt, what’s this picture, then?
MP: This is a portrait of a cemetery worker in Havana, Cuba. The encounter was not a particularly memorable one however, it is an image I keep coming back to because it was shot on my first ever roll of black & white film back in December 2003.
Until then I had only ever shot colour and while I enjoyed taking pictures on my travels I wasn’t really ‘into’ photography. I had no real knowledge or appreciation of the differences between films or even cameras, but, even my uninitiated and much younger self could see that black and white film was something special you put in your camera when you wanted more than a snapshot and that when it came to black and white, ILFORD was king!
When I joined HARMAN Technology (who make ILFORD and Kentmere film) in June 2016 I dug out my Nikon F55 SLR and lenses and in the box was this ILFORD Delta 400 Professional carton from 2003. I’d kept it all these years not knowing what a big part of my life ILFORD would become!
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
MP: Travel has been a major part of my life from a very early age. I love to explore new places, try new things and meet people from all over the world. My interest in photography developed from my love of travel and my desire to capture images of the people, places and cultures I was experiencing.
Over the last 10 years photography has become an integral part of what I do both personally and professionally. Away from my ‘day job’ in marketing at HARMAN, I’m a travel photographer and write for magazines and blogs, give talks and have even hosted videos on travel photography.
On a personal level, I’m lucky enough to be married to an amazing woman who shares my love of travel and who lets me indulge in photography. We have wonderful 8-year old twins who had to learn from an early age that when Dad says ‘just one more pic’ they are still in for a long wait.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
MP: My Dad has always enjoyed photography (and still does – he is 71 and has just bought himself a drone!) and so my first photographic experiences were all with film.
Throughout my twenties, I only really used a camera on my travels. I like to think I gave some consideration to composition but looking back at my images I’m not convinced. Similarly, the concept of light and many of the other fundamentals of photography eluded me.
It wasn’t until 2008, aged 30 and backpacking around South America for 4 months with a digital compact, that it clicked (no pun intended) into place just how much I enjoyed photography. Following this trip, photography soon became my obsession but by then I’d not used a film camera for several years and it was all about digital.
I returned to film a couple of years ago when I joined HARMAN. My old Nikon F55 had not survived its 10-year exodus in my loft so after borrowing an Olympus OM1 from work for a couple of weekends I was then given a Canon 3000v by a photographer and printer called Dave Butcher (davebutcher.co.uk) who used to work for ILFORD.
I could use this with all my DSLR lenses but I also wanted a compact, and once I bought the Olympus XA3 I had a camera I’d take everywhere and found myself shooting more and more as a result!
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
MP: I never studied photography formally in any classroom or course. It was travel that got me hooked and that is what continues to inspire and influence me today.
This correlates with the type of photography and photographers I admire. This is not dictated by the medium they are using but rather the way in which they are able to capture their subject or scene. Photographers such as Steve McCurry, Timothy Allen and Mitchell Kanashkevich consistently do this – they portray culture and people in a way that makes me long to travel.
For black and white it has to be Salgado. I was lucky enough to go to the opening night of his incredible Genesis exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London a few years ago. Exhibitions transform images in a way that a screen can’t. Seeing his images printed and framed was something very special and regrettably, we often miss out on that in this digital age!
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
MP: Yes, I shoot film and digital. This may sound a bit contrived, but I genuinely believe that this is a great time to be a photography enthusiast. Don’t get me wrong it is harder than ever to make a living from photography but for hobbyists, we are blessed with so much choice. From smartphones to DSLRs, tintypes to pinholes we now have so many image-making tools at our disposal, each offering something different.
My main kit is digital (I’ve recently switched from Canon DSLRs to Sony mirrorless). While I still primarily shoot digital when I travel I always have at least one film camera with me wherever I go and as such, I find myself increasingly using film both at home and abroad.
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?
MP: I’m still relatively new to film and am enjoying this honeymoon period of learning and experimentation. I’ve been shooting a lot of 35mm but recently had a play with one of the Rolleiflexes from work. It was a very different shooting experience which was great fun. At some point soon I’d love to have a go at large format too.
I would also like to do more of my own processing and printing. I currently use our excellent on-site lab for all my dev and scanning however, I have always really enjoyed it when I get into the darkroom. One of the best things about film photography is the control you have over every step of the process with each having an impact on that final image. I think processing film and making prints are important aspects of analogue that every film shooter should try at least once!
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
MP: In an age when so many images are shared it is harder than ever for photographers or their images to stand out. I therefore like an image which makes me stop and look twice – an image that piques my curiosity, whether down to the subject, the light or the technical execution of it.
I also prefer images that are genuine i.e. they showcase the reality of a place as experienced by the photographer. In that regard, I love images of people and faces as they are often unique to that individual photographer’s experience. That fleeting moment or an expression on an interesting face, shot in a way that shows the context of their environment and the diversity of our world – that is what I’m drawn to!
When shooting digital I also love doing long exposures during sunset and blue hour. I find it relaxing being stood behind the tripod in front of a beautiful landscape or cityscape watching the light change. I’ve yet to try that in any meaningful way with film.
I actually find with film photography I’m often drawn to a different aesthetic. I take images on film, especially when shooting black & white, that I wouldn’t with digital. While this may be counter-intuitive to some, in my mind some images just don’t translate well into digital while the grain, tones and look of film just lend themselves far better to some situations.
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?
MP: I’ve grown to love my little Olympus XA3 and it now goes everywhere with me. However, for an ‘assignment’ I’d take one of my SLRs. In a recent flurry of eBay activity, I purchased both a Pentax ME Super and a Canon AV-1. I’ve yet to use the Pentax but I loved the results from the Canon with its 50mm f/1.8 lens so for now, that would be my choice. Ask me again after I’ve used the Pentax and I might give you a different answer!
For film I’d take a roll of HP5 PLUS. It is so versatile I could shoot almost any subject in almost any light. For the 2nd roll I’d probably take an Agfaphoto Vista Plus 200 just in case colour is needed. I bought myself 30 rolls recently as a birthday treat and have liked the results so far!
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?
MP: I love the idea of an unlimited supply of film but can’t contemplate being restricted to one location when there is a whole world to be explored.
Wherever my family are I’d be happy and always have something to shoot! I take a lot of pictures of my kids using film, especially black & white, as there is a longevity to negatives and silver gelatin prints.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
MP: This is another tough one! I’m only a couple of years into my film journey and am still experimenting so I’ve not yet got that one film I obsessively use. There are times when I love the fine grain of a Delta 100 and 400 Professional, the convenience of XP2 Super or the contrast and versatility of FP4 PLUS and HP5 PLUS. If I had to pick one, right now I’d probably go with FP4 PLUS! I love the contrast and grain and some of my favourite shots of late have been on this film.
For the where, I’d probably pick India – this is one of the most photogenic countries on Earth. Wonderful people, incredible food and so much history and culture. One roll would never be enough!
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
MP: There are a few obvious ones I’m sure we’ve all heard people say – it’s expensive, it’s difficult/confusing, it’s only for hipsters, it’s a fad etc but I’m sure people far more eloquent than me have already addressed them.
However, I still feel there is a general misconception about film and digital, that they are in some way mutually exclusive mediums. As someone who happily shoots both I really don’t buy into film versus digital debates or comparisons. I believe in shooting what you want when you want. Shoot both or stick with one – it really doesn’t matter! As opinions, tastes and personal preferences differ no one can say one is ‘better’ than the other – they are just different. As long as you enjoy what you are shooting, and you are getting satisfaction from what you create, then keep on doing it! Shoot for yourself, not others (unless you are getting paid)!
I also sometimes hear that people struggle to find places to get their film dev, scanned or printed. There are loads of labs out there from high street to online. There is a ‘find a’ search tool on ilfordphoto.com which covers a growing number of labs and film stockists all over the world so no excuses! Harman also provides a service to find local darkroom services.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
MP: Working at Harman, I’m proud to be a part of an organisation that has helped keep film photography alive. There is a real desire and commitment to be an integral part of this thriving community. Our goal is simple – to help educate and inspire film photographers of all levels. Not just to shoot film but to get back into a darkroom too.
The numbers clearly show that each year more and more people are shooting film and this is a global trend. We are even seeing professional photographers returning to film, in particular those working in wedding and fashion. I believe this growth is leading to an exciting and more importantly, sustainable future for the industry as a whole.
EMULSIVE and others within the film community show the dedication and passion of film photographers. Not to mention entrepreneurial skills as companies are being set up to address gaps left in the market (the likes of Intrepid Camera, Hamish Gill with his Pixl-latr etc). As film photography reaches new users and new generations this community will keep growing and this will ensure it has a healthy future.
As a side note, I also think the rapid evolution of digital photography/technology is helping. The compact camera market has all but disappeared thanks to smartphones, DSLRs are gradually being replaced by mirrorless cameras while there is increasing demand for video to the point where perhaps one day, digital stills may simply be frames plucked from a moving image. I think all this will only make traditional forms of photography more appealing than ever as many of us just want to enjoy the simple pleasures of making pictures.
I’m with Matt in his summation that this is a great time to be a photography enthusiast and if it’s safe to poke my head above the parapet, I’ll also go on record to say that I think the pointless film vs digital debate is breathing its last – amongst the more well-informed photographers at least.
It seems to me that photographers on both sides of the fence are finally emerging from bashing one another over the head for the past 15 years and finding common ground where they can finally accept individual choice or use of medium based on what the photographer is trying to achieve.
…not counting the APS-C vs full frame wars. Those guys are crazy.
Anyway, I might be overly optimistic about the final days/months/years of this ridiculous skirmish but it’s what the runes are telling me for now. More of that please, so that we can all just get out there and use our cameras for what they were made to do – take pictures.
Thanks again to Matt for stepping up and please to scroll back up to take it all in – I’m shoulders deep in these interviews and still need a couple of read-throughs to fully absorb it all.
I’ll be back with another interviewee in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’d love for you to check out Michael Duke’s recent side-by-side comparison of the Fuji GS645 and GS645S Professional rangefinder cameras, and of course, the latest in my “Every Single Film Stock Still Made Today” series.
Keep shooting, folks!
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