We’re incredibly pleased to have gotten some time to talk with Andrea Taurisano about his reasons for shooting film and the evolution his photography has undergone in the 30 or so years that’s he’s been latched to his various film cameras.
Thought provoking, gritty and evocative are a few adjectives that his images bring to mind but I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusions after absorbing his thoughts below.
Over to you, Andrea.
Hi Andrea, what’s this picture, then?
It’s a symbol of what photography is all about: A naive and illusive attempt to stop time and preserve what can’t be preserved. The fleeing moments of our lives. This picture is part of a still unpublished series of photos that I took of a relative of mine as he was dying a year ago.
I think it speaks by itself.
We can try to make photography become art or whatever else we like, but life is what photography is in its essence.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
Well, I’m a 43 year old Italian photographer based in Norway. By education I’m a geologist, which makes me brutally aware of the fact that nothing, really nothing, is meant to stay: no matter how well we fix our prints and negatives, no matter how immortal names like Mozart or Cartier Bresson may seem today, it will all disappear in the long run…
That’s why I said that my attempt above at stopping time and preserving a decisive moments was naive and illusive.
When did you start shooting film?
Oh boy, I started as a child in the 1980s. There was no choice then! My first camera was a Fujica MA-1, little more than a toy with infinite focus and only three aperture settings: sun, cloud and flash. But guess what? It worked just ok!
My first serious camera (a few years later) was a Pentax ME-Super and from that moment, I was hooked. I’ve owned (and actually used) dozens of different cameras over the years.
To mention only the ones I’ve truly loved: Pentax MX, Nikon FM2, Nikon F100, Leica M6, Leica M7 and two Hasselblad 500 series.
I had a digital period that lasted three to four years, during which my tool of choice was the Leica M9-P. Importantly however, I’ve learned that the choice of better and better gear does not automatically improve our photography.
On the contrary, when I chose cult cameras, I felt that my passion shifted from photography to those objects.
Furthermore, in the last few years my photography has become grittier, rougher, more abstract and impressionistic. Nowadays I strip my photos down right to the core. I shifted; aiming to convey moods, feelings and atmosphere, not details.
For that, toy cameras like Diana, Holga, box cameras and other old manual cameras that allow multiple exposures, pinhole cameras and an old Polaroid are just perfect tools.
These toy cameras and old consumer cameras cost close to nothing and lend themselves perfectly to the gritty, blurry photography I do now.
Last but by no means least, I like to travel light.
What about now, why do you shoot film?
I do it for a number of reasons.
First of all there are the aesthetic reasons: I just love the look of film, with all of its imperfections like grain, dust and scratches – these are things I feel make my photos tangible and just as imperfect as life itself.
Finally, there are romantic reasons: I enjoy objects that are entirely assembled by hand, whether they be cameras, or musical instruments. I love to load film into the camera, the feel of the advance as I recock the shutter, and so on…
As an aside, the photo above is one I’m particularly satisfied with: a young soldier was looking at me from the door between two train cars, somewhere in Siberia. I took a snapshot, but only back home did I realize that his comrade, standing a few steps behind, is transfigured into a scary figure by the effect of some water condensation on the window. This gives the photo a whole new meaning.
What drives you to keep shooting?
I shoot following my mood and since the latter is a bit inconsistent, so is my photography.
I may not shoot a frame for many months, then expose dozens of rolls in a few weeks. But the work of other photographers I admire inspires me a lot to do my own thing.
Any favourite subject matter?
I swing between some documentary work (e.g. my blog pages from Svalbard, Afghanistan, Russia) and more personal, mood related work. The latter is grainy, gritty and contrasty, often blurred as a result of pinhole cameras being used.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
Subject-wise, I would have to use my last roll capturing my parents, my brother and my girlfriend.
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I would choose Kodak Tri-X, since it’s one last roll. I’d actually always chose Tri-X if it wasn’t for its nasty tendency to bend as it dries. In fact, that’s why I normally use Rollei RPX, which looks very similar to Tri-X when developed in Rodinal but dries perfectly flat and is much easier to scan.
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?
If I don’t quite know what to expect from that assignment, I’ll grab my favorite compact camera, a Nikon 35Ti, and two rolls of whatever black & white 400 ISO negative from my fridge (I keep T-Max, Fomapan, Rollei RPX, whichever will do).
With this I can do just about anything, while traveling super light and enjoying the trip.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
To the inuit villages of northern Greenland. To document the dramatic changes the Arctic is undergoing and the way they affect those people’s life.
Finally, what do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
Ordinary people just assume film no longer exists, and I prove them wrong every day when they visit my gallery.
If you mean what is digital photographers’ greatest misconception about film, then, honestly, there aren’t misconceptions: film photography is indeed expensive, time consuming and delivers «low-fi» results compared to modern digital cameras, particularly in poor light situations.
Frankly, I see no logical reasons to use film. But fortunately life is about so much more than rationality and convenience.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
There will always be passionate film photographers. Even if all film producers shut down, we’ll go back to 1800s, making our own experiments with materials that we photosensitize and develop at home.
Choosing film means refusing to be part of the madness of continuous gear updates chasing higher and higher pixel counts and frames per second, rather sticking to the basics.
No matter how cheap and easily accessible fish is in the large food stores, there will always be people who love fishing and even claim that their own fish tastes better.
Whether that’s true or not is not for me to say. After all, it’s a totally subjective experience.
~ Andrea Taurisano
Quite a few of the photographers we’ve spoken with have talked about their own evolution from capturing the crystal-clear, to the more “muddy”, “gritty” and “lo-fi” end of the spectrum.
It’s left me wondering if this is a an eventuality for all long-time photographers of our age, or something limited to those with a creative vision that extends away from the capture of a moment to grasping deeper, more profound emotions, or ideas. For some, the evolution is quick and as simple as deciding to take a left of right at a junction. For others, it seems to be something that they’re led in to – what are your thoughts?
I for one find that the type of images I want to capture, and the clarity I want the final image to have will change as I switch between SLR, Rangefinder and guess-focus cameras. My own style has (as one would expect) developed and evolved over the years but I’m not sure if this is an evolution in skill, or storytelling. The limited experience I’ve had with Large Format introduces other changes in my style – changes which I’m not yet in a position to describe, or even explore fully.
What does seem to ring true is that photography isn’t limited to the latest and greatest glass and other gear. As Andrea himself says, “the choice of better and better gear does not automatically improve our photography“. I’ve seen better work done by others with identical gear to mine and continue to use that as a resource for learning how to capture the world around me in a way that resonates with what drove me to tap the shutter button. Without vision behind the images we take, they could easily be taken by anyone with a proficient technical skill with the camera at hand.
All that said, I think it’s time to step out of my own box.
Please take a few minutes to visit Andrea’s website at http://ilcimento.com/ and drop him a line. He’s a busy man but might surprise you with a wonderful reply!
As of September 2015, Andrea’s “Il Cimento” is also a physical space; a photo gallery and meeting place for lovers of photography. If you find yourself in Trondheim, Norway, head over to the heart of Bakklandet and drop in for a chat.
Andrea is currently showing around 50 of his most recent pinhole images there and also has a growing stock of photobooks from his favourite photographers: Petersen, Sobol, Ackerman, d’Agata, Moriyama and Araki to name a few, which you can review (but not buy!)
Most appealing, is his swap a camera concept. The premise is simple: bring a roll of film in 35mm or 120 format and swap one of his cameras with whatever you happened to walk in with. When you’re done, just head back and swap back – it really is a very nice idea and once we wish we’d thought of first. Did we mention that Andrea also rents the space as a gallery for exhibitions?
We’ll be back again soon but in the meantime, thanks for reading and 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.