Currently based in one of my favorite parts of London (hint: US movie buffs might will recognise it as being near the main location of that Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts film), today’s interviewee, Roy Clark is a professional writer, photographer and educator (not in that order).
We’re here to catch up with him about his thoughts on and drive for shooting film.
Over to you Roy.
Hi Roy, what’s this picture, then?
RC: I took this image this very week in Kew Gardens in London. A stiff breeze was blowing through the bulrushes behind this lakeside Cyprus tree.
Rather than start with an early, successful or representative image I thought I would give an example of a new image.
This is where I am.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RC: A good question and one I often ask myself. One of the reasons I take photographs is an attempt to find find the answer… or at least explore the options. I work professionally as an artist-photographer, writer and educator
When did you start shooting film?
RC: I started with photography in 1977 using an old Pentax Spotmatic. My first new SLR was a Ricoh KR10. (I couldn’t afford the Olympus OM2 I craved).
I am a self taught photographer; a conscious decision which for me was a much better schooling. I often think it is ironic I later spent many years teaching on photography degree programmes.
I choose not have a gallery style website. I have in the past and am keeping it under review. I tend to send tailored and sequenced time limited series of viewable images to interested parties. I also make prints of course.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
RC: Nothing replicates the feeling of having a mechanical camera in your hand and held to your eye.
The knowledge that there is a physical artefact inside the box recording my image making, somehow informs my vision and compositional choices.
Shooting film affects my aesthetic in ways l don’t entirely understand nor wish to analyse. I try and obtain the finished image in camera and rarely edit my images using post production software.
As an artist who works with photography rather than a commercial photographer I am fortunate that there is less of a cost imperative to consider when choosing film, the decision for me is a creative one.
Were I working to a client’s budget, I would almost certainly have to work exclusively with a digital workflow. I should add I am not anti digital… far from it, each form has its own strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages.
Any favourite subject matter?
RC: Can I choose two? The intersection of the built and natural environments and the effect on the perception of form created by light and shadow. This gives me a wide range of location options including the street, the countryside, architecture and interior spaces.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
RC: Hmmm…that is a tough decision. Ilford HP5. If film was set to totally disappear I think it would be poignant for my last roll to be an emulsion that has remained virtually the same since it was introduced for plate negatives back in the 1930’s.
Still a wonderful performer; I have been using it since I started in photography.
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?
RC: Olympus OM1 and Olympus Zuiko 35mm 2.8 lens paired with Ilford FP4 and Ilford HP5.
The OM1 is my usual tool of choice and the Zuiko 35 my favourite prime lens. Together they cover most eventualities (inc battery failure with only the meter being powered by such).
I do sometimes use other brands of medium and semi fast film but always return to Ilford when reliability is crucial.
I would also carry an orange and a red screw on filter to give myself more options with contrast plus some homemade filters to diffuse, soften and limit the focus point.
For some years I have been making my own lens adapters and filters from a mix of common or easily obtainable objects. These include magnifying glasses, bullseye lenses from old oil lamps, rubber vacuum cleaner bag holders, cardboard…and not forgetting Vaseline.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
RC: To one of my favourite locations, Holland Park near my flat in West London which has a wide range of habitats and inhabitants. I like the ordinary…which is in fact anything but.
Alternatively the south Kent coast near Dungeness.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
RC: To many born into the digital era, film photography is incomprehensible and any arguments I could employ in its favour are only likely to illicit a facial expression on the listener which says…why bother?
That said there are many younger film photographers who are producing interesting work and finding new ways of working with the medium.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RC: A secure one…I hope. Over time it will become more difficult as old film cameras become increasingly hard to repair and service due to a shortage of parts.
Although one or two brave companies are pioneering re-engineered film emulsions and rebooting instant film, the overall trend is a reduction in choice and an increase in price.
Ultimately I think this will result in film photography being highly specialised much like tintype and glass plate negative photography is now.
~ Roy Clark
And there we have it, thanks Roy.
One trend that’s easy to see if you’ve been keeping up, is the number of photographers who latch on to Ilford’s films “when it counts”. They’re not in the minority by any stretch and I count myself amongst them.
If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have told you that Tri-X is still kind of high-speed black and white but this series of interviews has got me thinking whether or not that’s true. I’ve got a feeling that it may be less so.
Roy has an upcoming exhibition is a private commission from an organisation called Staying First, a large Social Enterprise Business in West London. It is a series of staff portraits in the colour palette and (loosely) compositional style of Dutch 17th century painting. We’ll be getting details very soon and will post a Film Culture article as soon as we pry the fresh copy from Roy’s steely grip.
In the meantime, please consider giving Roy a follow on Twitter. Rather disturbingly, Roy’s also (freely) given us his email address for you to use to contact him with any questions, comments, or commendations. Drop him a line but be nice: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll be back soon with another interview.
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.