Welcome to 2020 here on EMULSIVE! I hope you all had a peaceful ringing in of the new year. For my part, I was in bed ten minutes after the fireworks finished. I’m pleased to be able to kick off the year off with my first film photographer interview of 2020: number 210 to be exact.
Say hello to Carlos Lopez Medrano. Over to you, Carlos.
Hi Carlos, what’s this picture, then?
CLM: This photo takes me back to my student days, the good old days, I got my first medium format camera probably in 1998 and took it with me to Prague I think it was 2001, my school had a few exchange programs all over the world and my first exchange was Prague.
I remember well I went out with my tripod and the Hasselblad and stopped at this scene, I never expected the swan to move across the frame I actually didn’t know it was in the frame, it was a nice surprise, it gave me so much joy when I noticed it once developed, you can also see a thin hairline to the left of the castle which is an airplane trail, I don’t know if it was landing or taking off but you can see how it descends or ascends, who knows.
I think the exposure was 30 seconds or a minute I’m not sure, so long ago… But this photo brings me good memories of good times. It reminds me how much I have enjoyed film photography and how long it lasts. I also printed this photo back then in a Durst Lambda at 1×1 meters.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
CLM: It’s me Carlos! Haha, I enjoy the good things this life has to offer, friends, food, music, culture, art….
I grew up in a family of commercial pilots (father, brother, friends…) for some reason I didn’t go for it myself but I’ve been lucky to have been able to travel around the world since a very young age.
I went to business school and I tried 9-5 jobs for about 8 years and nah, it wasn’t for me. I have lived in Mexico, the Czech Republic, Australia, Spain and lately the USA. I quit my corporate job 10 years ago to go to film school and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I always felt I needed to be in a creative field, but you know, it took time and courage to go for it…
What else…? I like strange things, haha! I used to train hawks (falconry) when I was a teenager, I enjoyed being with them and taking them to hunt in the wilderness.
I never enjoyed team sports, I learnt to play classical piano instead, I feel very moved by classical music, I wish I have more time to practice the piano… I like lap swimming, ocean fishing, kayaking, all those “time with yourself” things. Photography, of course, falls in the same category but somehow I’m a really social person as well.
I enjoy hanging out with like-minded people.
Finally, 10 years ago I moved from Madrid, Spain to San Diego, California. It’s been a fun ride. In the last 8 years, I’ve been making a living as a full-time photographer.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
CLM: In the mid-1990s, I had a neighbor that was a photographer. My dad used to run with him and told me that he was a professional photographer and had a studio. I was like, ask him if I can meet him and see his work and learn from him! A few weeks later I was blown by this new thing for me. He was the most technical photographer I’ve ever known (he was an engineer, that quit to become a fashion photographer) I remember he was like a human light meter; he could accurately tell the right light reading in different lighting scenarios.
It was very frustrating at first because he didn’t let me take photos, I was just learning the technical stuff. My first assignment was reading The Zen in the Art of Archery! (intended to be an analogy where I was to learn when to click the shutter) Yes! Then The Negative by Ansell Adams, but still no taking pictures, only technical stuff.
And then when I started taking pictures it was only pictures of a gray card, what for?
To learn the zone system and to calibrate our own grayscale and developers. I guess I didn’t see the benefits of that till later. As a teenager, I just wanted to go out and shoot photographs… Well, a few months later I decided I wanted my own darkroom and I convinced my dad to convert a spare room in our house. I was very lucky and got a full room. We went to New York to B&H to get all the darkroom equipment, what an experience.
I had a 35mm/6×6 Beseler enlarger to process my workflow. I used a Nikon FE2, and later a medium format Hasselblad 501CM, and I was processing all my black and white film in Kodak D-76, it worked and it was good. My color film was sent to the local lab.
Then the 21st century came and the digital wave seduced me and got derailed for about 15 years!… Until 2017 something inside me started itching about film, I went through Craigslist looking for my dream camera, the Fujifilm Panorama G617, and strangely one was up for sale locally, it was a Fuji G617 with the fixed 105mm. I got at a great price an in like-new condition, I was the happiest! That same week I met Ben Horne who was very helpful in my return to film.
I shot 3 rolls with the Fujifilm 617 and sent the rolls to develop to a “local shop” and was very disappointed with the amount of dust on the film… I spent hours removing dust, I said, this is not going to work, and I sold the camera.
Next year I went to China with the family and the wife said bring your “Pro Camera” which is the Canon digital camera I use for work, and you know what? I just didn’t feel like bringing it. Why? When I use it I feel like I’m working, and it’s boring haha. I don’t feel motivated to take digital photos. I was and am still numb by digital, it’s boring to me. I think it’s like everything in life; if something is easy you lose interest, if something is easy it is less appreciated/valued.
So I went to China with only my iPhone. On day four of our trip we visited Xingguang Photographic Equipment City (two interconnected 4 story buildings dedicated to photography, used and new) and that was it! I saw the cameras that I have always wanted (a Fujifilm 6×17) but this time it was the Fujifilm Panorama GX617 with the 90mm lens – my much-coveted dream camera.
I visited the store three days in a row to negotiate the price (unsuccessfully). It wasn’t until the last day of my trip that we came to an agreement and I got it. I said to myself, there must be a way to deal and control the dust part, I’ll figure it out. And yes, I now produce super clean negatives and slides almost dust-free!
I think I already explained why I like shooting film, but aside from being bored by digital, I like the fact that film is tangible, it’s real, it exists, it’s a craft, it’s somehow a mystery until you take the time to develop it, and if you develop it yourself even better, it requires skill, time, concentration, being present. And it won’t disappear if your hard drive fails. Also, you can scan it in the future with whatever technology is available, like I’m scanning my 20+ years old negatives today. The reward and way it makes me be in the present is what keeps me going back to shoot more, the simplicity of the cameras, the vast variety of quality gear and films available too.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
CLM: The very very first time I got interested in photography, I mean manual cameras, not the 110 cameras I used to have when I was a kid, was at high school, I remember seeing an art photo exhibition at school made by the older kids, the “cool kids” and I was hooked, it was great, I thought it was so interesting and artistic, I heard you have to learn how to control things like the aperture, speed, etc, I was like this is not gonna be easy.
By mid high school I met my neighbor and he was definitely an influence as well, he also showed me the work of Sebastiao Salgado, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston among others and I kept falling for photography.
In my university days I was lucky to go to school in Australia for some time and on a day around the city of Cairns, I walked by Peter Lik’s gallery and I was amazed! This was probably in the year 2000, the photos were all panoramic, all made with film obviously (at that time) and they were all huge prints, they were beautiful, I couldn’t believe that you could make such high-quality large prints with a camera. And then it was there, for the very first time I met “The Fuji GX617” it was showcased behind a window with a brief history about how he used the camera to create all these photos.
I was with a friend and that loves photography too and I told him we must find out about this camera. The internet was still in its infancy but later we found that the camera was $$$$ so I was like, well this is a dream camera, maybe one day…
So definitely Peter Lik was a big influence to my panorama dreams back then. He has a local gallery here where I live in San Diego and I visited it not so long ago and somehow the feeling has changed.
Today, I don’t have a photographer in particular, I just see a lot of photos by different people, some I like some I don’t, I volunteered worked for about a year at MOPA (Museum of Photographic Arts) here in San Diego and I saw a few exhibitions come and go, it’s great to keep learning how everyone has a way of seeing things, a different POV.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
CLM: Yes, my choice is simple, I’m a wedding photographer for a living, the fast pace and high volume of photographs demanded by the industry makes digital photography the best choice for it, I enjoy shooting digital for this kind of photography, it is great, it’s fast for focusing moving people, you can switch ISO in a second, so when it gets dark you push the ISO to the limits and use flash and get great results. It’s great!
For everything else there’s film. I found that shooting film gives me a very different feeling, I shoot my personal work, landscapes, seascapes, street, portraits, I slow down, relax and take my time, it’s meditation photography haha, even developing with a good music playlist is such a joy.
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?
CLM: I’m very comfortable these days with the developing part, I’ve been trying different films and I love slide film, especially Fujifilm Provia 100F and didn’t really like color negative but I think I figured out how to scan it properly, so I love it now. I’m developing B&W, C41 & E6.
Where I’m interested now and want to learn more is the printing aspect. I currently print at my local store which is very affordable and great quality but there’s one problem, they only have one choice of paper and limited sizes. I went to an exhibition recently and I saw photos printed on different papers, the one that made me drool was Ilford smooth cotton rag, it’s beautiful, it looks so natural, I don’t know if I can find a place to print with different papers at a decent prices or if I have to get my own printer and start trying different papers, but I think that’s gonna be expensive, having to buy expensive ink refills, paper rolls for long panoramas…
I’m not really interested at the moment in darkroom room prints but there was a way in the early 2000’s that was great, I used a lab where they scanned the film and then project it digitally with LED lights into photographic paper that was developed in the darkroom, I remember well they used a Durst Lambda, I have no idea if this is still a thing, if it has evolved into a something else or what, I just remember that the prints where awesome, so yes, the printing part is the next challenge.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
CLM: Yes, I love panoramic photos, landscapes, seascapes, street, anything in panoramic, horizontal or vertical, I think it’s beautiful, cinematic, very natural and pleasing to the eye. I’m thinking about doing environmental portraits, I want to incorporate humans to my landscapes/seascapes. But I also love shooting 6×6, 6×7 so I’m not fixed to a specific format, one day I feel like shooting square, the other I feel like panoramic…
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?
CLM: I think my Pentax 67ii with the 105mm f/2.4 lens. I think this camera is so versatile and practical, it has aperture priority, a bright viewfinder that’s easy to focus, a fast lens, 3 metering options, shutter speed up to 1/1000 and a large and beautiful 6×7 film area.
I’d choose the 105mm lens because it’s close to “normal” (50mm in 35mm) so it’s versatile. As for film, I think a roll of ILFORD HP5 PLUS is a must, especially if you don’t know what the assignment is and the available light, I love using this film at EI 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 and I think it works fantastically. This film would cover anything B&W. As for the 2nd film, I would pick color: Kodak Portra 800. I think having the option of high speed is great, if you don’t need it you can always use a smaller aperture but not the other way around (assuming no tripod)
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?
CLM: That would be so cool, it’s like you’re asking me where do I want to retire. I think New Zealand, and with the current cameras I have, I don’t need more or less.
New Zealand seems like a great place to be a photographer, I landed at Auckland airport once and I just remembered they had floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking a foggy rainforest, it was breathtaking. Besides, the LOTR movies portray it as a beautiful place! I think I could retire there to be a full-time film photographer till the end of days haha.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
CLM: Ahh, this is a sad question. If that was to happen today I would say Provia 100F in the Fuji GX617 / 90mm. I would take it to the motherland, the North of Spain, Asturias and take photos of Los Picos de Europa, Covadonga, Cabrales Llanes, Santander, Gijón, take one photo at each place until I finish the roll.
I would definitely require a 220 roll to have 8 shots. How will I expose it? I’ll use my handheld light meter on spot mode and take the time to get the perfect exposure.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
CLM: Film is not dead, it was just taking a nap while we were all blinded with the marketing-technology. It’s just a better model for corporates to make digital cameras that have to be replaced every 3-5 years because they become obsolete, they’re outdated by the new version with more megapixels, more focus points, better noise reduction technology, etc…
We have film cameras 40+ years old that are still in great working condition and capable of making better photographs than the 2019 digital cameras.
Film photography reached maturity in the late 90’s and it didn’t fit the 21st century model where everything needed to be replaced every 3-5 years.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
CLM: It’s bright, but companies can definitely kill it. It’s up to us.
As everything, supply and demand controls the market, if we start demanding more film, companies will be forced to make new and bring back old films, it’s already happening, large companies haven’t jumped into making new film cameras but in this age of DIY there’s a handful of companies and even random people making 3D printed cameras at affordable prices (Big cheers to them), so I think the future is bright.
We need more camera makers to keep this alive, old cameras will eventually fail, parts will become scarce. The challenge is to make new cameras. There is a growing niche of people interested in taking the time to shoot film. The same as people trying to go back to basics in their lifestyles, eating habits.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone just getting started, or thinking about jumping into film photography?
CLM: Go for it! It is very rewarding, slow down and enjoy the process. If possible develop the film yourself. Yes, you can just touch your phone screen and get a very similar final image than what you can get with film but it’s definitely NOT about that, it’s about enjoying the process, about the craft, the mistakes, the skill, the joy of creating something that is really unique to you and that is real/tangible.
Thanks to Carlos for stepping up and thank you for reading. Please take out an extra few minutes to check him out and give him a follow over on Twitter and IG and when you’re done, head back here, scroll up and give it another read – it’s only fair.
Wishing you a wonderful start to 2020 and a prosperous and healthy year ahead.
As ever, keep shooting, folks.
The community 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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