Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce you to this week’s fresh EMULSIVE interviewee: Paulo Monteiro.
Over to you, Paulo.
Hi Paulo, what’s this picture, then?
PM: This photo was taken moments after the baptism ceremony of an artisanal fishing boat in Rabo de Peixe, São Miguel Island, Azores. For me, it sums up much of my work. In fact, I have devoted most of my efforts to documenting popular culture. For 27 years, I have documented the culture of my archipelago, the Azores.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
PM: No, I am not the Devil. I am the shadow that appears in the foreground. It is the consequence of never having made a self-portrait.
I was born in 1963 in São Miguel Island, in the Azores archipelago.
When I was young, the Azores were very isolated islands. There was no photography school, and there still isn’t. Access to photography training was nonexistent. I am therefore a self-taught photographer. I have been dedicated mainly to documentary photography. I have developed long-term projects on popular religiosity, profane parties, architecture, landscape, Nature, or the world of work.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
PM: I started shooting in 1985 and have always used film. I have never used digital cameras. I still use film because:
- I developed an affectionate relationship with film, photographic papers and chemistry. I like the touch and smell of these materials;
- Using film, I do not need to worry about the compatibility of memory cards, such is the universality and longevity of the 35mm cassette;
- Analog photography is cheaper. For a few hundred Euros, any photographer can equip themselves with state-of-the-art secondhand gear in excellent condition and never outdated. If you choose to develop your negatives and prints, the costs are not high, and they may be even lower if you prepare your own chemicals;
- Respect for the Environment. Acquiring film cameras means having cameras for many years, unlike digital cameras, which become obsolete after a few years and whose recycling is very harmful to the environment. In addition, I use developers made by myself, based on ascorbic acid, commonly known as vitamin C, resulting in very low pollutant developers;
- Magic. Only those who have had the privilege of watching an image appear in a dish, from deep blacks to light grays know what I am talking about.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
PM: The photographers that influenced me the most are: Cristina Rodero, Sebastião Salgado, Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Apart from these authors, who continue to influence my photography, I must mention two, which for me were late but very striking discoveries: Josef Koudelka and Nikos Economopoulos.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
PM: As mentioned previously, I have never used digital cameras. If film has its limits, those same limits, particularly in low light conditions, can lead to the discovery and the achievement of very interesting effects. My relationship with digital technology comes down to scanning negatives with a standalone scanner, for editing purposes only. Afterwards, I take proofs on 13X18 cm RC paper and final prints on A4 FB paper, which are scanned. That is, the only step I eliminated in the whole process was the contact sheet.
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?
PM: I am becoming more and more interested in cameraless photography, particularly lumen prints. I hope to be able to improve my technique, so as to have better control over the final result.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
PM: For me, it’s important to document what is predictably going to disappear. Thus, it seems fundamental to me to document popular culture because it is the culture that identifies and characterizes a people.
Documentary photography has the capacity to make known and preserve the memory of those peoples who are often forgotten, but which are fundamental for making our world more beautiful and culturally rich, in a constant struggle against stifling globalization. In addition, the contact with these rituals brings me to my childhood memories, the age at which an individual’s personality is formed.
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?
PM: I would take with me a Leica R5, fitted with a Leica Summicron 35 mm lens, yellow filter B+W 022 and two Kodak Tri-X rolls. It is a very versatile set of equipment that can be used in many situations: bright, low light, for action photography, indoors or outdoors. The 35mm lens allows for optimal distance to the subject.
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?
PM: I would choose my Leica R5 and R6, Summicron R 35mm and Summilux 50mm lenses, and the eternal Kodak Tri-X 400.
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I would go to Trás-os-Montes, Portugal. I would photograph the landscape and the architecture, but my main focus would be rituals with masks. These are ancestral practices, rooted in Celtic and Roman cultures, which continue to be practised by a people proud of an ancient culture, of which they are a faithful depositary.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
PM: First of all, just reading this question freaks me out.
Already recovered from the panic attack, I will get my last roll of Kodak Tri-X, and go to my backyard to photograph my cats. They are faithful friends who have been with me for years. It makes sense to use my last roll to photograph them.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
PM: That is hard and boring. Nothing more wrong. Whoever says it, must do so out of ignorance. Believe me, film photography is easy and fun.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
PM: In recent years, we have seen a resurgence of interest in film photography.
Missing products have reappeared and new products are being made, mainly films and chemicals. Unfortunately, the number of photo paper manufacturers is very small. However, there are excellent papers on the market that can meet the needs of the most demanding photographers, and it seems very likely that new references will appear in the coming years.
If film photographers support the industry and if it knows how to captivate young photographers with interesting, user-friendly and high-quality products, I think the future could be very bright.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone just getting started, or thinking about jumping into film photography?
PM: Whether you take color or black and white photography, the quantity and quality of materials available on the market is large and excellent. Also, there are excellent opportunities to get good gear both new or secondhand. Do not be afraid to try these excellent sensitive materials and the whole panoply of cameras.
Try it, try it, try it!
Try it until you find your way. When you find it, go deep, explore your discoveries to the limit and you will not be disappointed. And it doesn’t matter what kind of photography you do: documentary, portraiture, landscape, nature, or whatever. Film photography is very conducive to experimentation and discovery. Finally, share your findings. Film photography lovers thank you.
There you have it. Thanks so much for stepping up, Paulo! See you all next time.
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