Today I’m sitting down with self-proclaimed Canadian Gentleman, Riley Joseph.
Slightly more comfortable in his photographer’s skin now that he’s had the chance to “settle in” to carrying a camera after 17 long years of trying, I’m hoping to get an insight into this very talented man’s past, present and photographic future.
Let’s take a look at what Riley has to say:
Hi Riley, what’s this picture, then?
RJ: This is a portrait of my Dad at a campground in Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada. My parents have never really been interested in having their photograph taken but he was genuinely excited when I asked him to go stand in the woods to take his portrait with the old Rolleiflex TLR I had recently purchased.
He struck that pose without any prompting and I snapped one frame. It is my favourite photograph of my Dad to date.
I think the lack of an instant review and sharing that makes him enjoy having his photograph taken with film as opposed to digital.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RJ: I am just a guy with a camera in a constant state of trying to learn the craft.
Quickly, but more specifically, I am a 30-something fella that lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada just a quick drive from the Rocky Mountains. I have a great affinity for things of yesteryear.
When did you start shooting film?
RJ: I first started like anyone my age when I was growing up with disposable cameras, or a Kodak 110 cartridge camera. I upgraded to a Canon Rebel 35mm camera for Christmas in 1994-ish. Then in 1999 I got my first digital camera and promptly dropped film.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
RJ: Fast forward to just over a year ago… I made the decision to return to film as a medium, using a 1961 Rolleiflex 3.5F and a 1959 Leica M3. I wanted to really immerse myself in film and the process that comes with it; fully mechanical cameras, using a handheld meter, developing my own C-41 & B&W negatives and then scanning them myself.
The process is all mine and only I am to blame for what doesn’t work out.
I came back to film largely because of that process. It was something different to what I was used to and it challenges me. Some say shooting film is less work because there is limited editing but for me, it’s the same amount of work because I am doing my own developing and scanning. So yes, while there is much less editing afterwards but my work doesn’t simply stop after the click of the shutter.
It also goes without saying that I find the aesthetic of film to be beautiful.
50 years from now, I want my grandchildren to find dusty binders full of hundreds of sleeves of negatives… I want them to hold the negatives up to the light and be taken to a place and time they may have never known about.
Whether using a digital or film medium, foremost in my mind is the desire to freeze a moment in time for me, my family, my friends, and those yet to come. For all those people to look back on, to see what I did and to see it through my eyes.
Any favourite subject matter?
RJ: My favourite subject matter is environmental portraiture. Interesting people in interesting places. Having said that, I mostly wander and photograph everything and anything that I like the look of.
That is why I love photography. I don’t need to declare that I am a portrait or a landscape photographer. If I like it and I can make the composition and exposure work for me, I simply take the photo.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
RJ: Even though I haven’t been shooting it much lately, my favourite film is Fujifilm’s Pro 400H. So it would be that…and 36 exposures…that would last me a long while.
[EM: What about 120? Do you find yourself using the same, or a different stock?]
For 120 I mostly use Kodak Portra 400 and the odd time I use Ektar 100. Once my current stock runs dry I will be buying packs of Fujifilm Pro 400H for that format also…400H all around!
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
RJ: For the unknown I would take my Leica M3 and Zeiss C-Sonnar 1,5/50mm lens; a roll of Ilford Delta 3200 and a roll of Fujifilm Pro 400H.
The Leica is more versatile than my Rolleiflex, especially when it comes to lower light. Coupled with a fast B&W film and a standard speed colour film I should be alright. I believe that I can shoot any subject with any setup…it might just be more difficult and the results may not be traditional.
Like using a Rolleiflex 3.5F for wildlife photography in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, for example.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
RJ: That is a good question. I’m inclined to say New York City. I love shooting in NYC. The architecture, the people,t he oddities; I love that city.
But…thinking more about it, and in the spirit of wanting to experience new places, I would have to answer France. Specifically Paris and the surrounding countryside.
Hopefully, this will be a reality in 2016, and I hope I will have an unlimited supply of film for the trip! The film itself would have to be a mix of Ilford HP5+ 400 and Fujifilm Pro 400H.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
RJ: I think the greatest misconception is that taking a bad photograph on film will make it good. It won’t. A bad photo is a bad photo is a bad photo. Whether captured on digital, or on film or on collodion wet plate
In the same way a fountain pen won’t magically transform your handwriting into perfect calligraphy, a film camera won’t magically transform your photos of your cat sleeping into art.
What shooting film does, is engage you in the process of making photos and make you think “Should I take a photo of this pot of flowers? I only have 5 shots left on this roll”.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RJ: We have people today doing awesome work with tintype photography, so I imagine in the next 75-100 year there will still be those using film in some capacity.
What I am certain of is that film photography has a place in my future.
Thanks Riley. I personally don’t trust a photographer who hasn’t at the very least, tried to mix and try different film formats. I’m a great believer that learning to shoot one stock can help to inform shooting the other and my own balance happily sits as Riley’s does; shooting 35mm for versatility and 120 when I feel the need to contemplate.
Riley’s concept of being someone who takes photographs first and subject-specific second really strikes me as something we could all take a lesson from. If we (mostly) say that we refuse to let ourselves be defined through the views of others, why should we constrict ourselves by using labels which help compartmentalize us? Just a thought.
Please be sure to check out Riley’s current and upcoming work on his website: http://www.rileyjoseph.com or on Instagram as @rileyjoseph …and don’t forget that you get get a little closer into his head by stalking following him on Twitter: @MrRileyJB.
Riley has also recently entered the stock photography world, and I’d encourage you to visit and share his Stocksy page. There are some fantastic images up there.
I’ll be back with another interview very soon but in the meantime keep shooting, folks.
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