Well this is a spot of luck.
We’re sitting down today with Kilian Idsinga, a relative newcomer to the world of film photography and someone that you may well have heard a little about over these past few months. We are of course talking about the brains (and brawn?) behind the hotly anticipated issue 00 of Let’s Explore Magazine, which saw its successful Kickstarter funding on December 7th 2015!
We caught up with Kilian a few days after his return from South Africa to talk to him about the LEM project, as well as finding out a bit more about why he made the jump to shooting film.
Over to you, Kilian.
Hi Kilian, what’s this picture, then?
This is the first photo I shot on film after shooting only digital for little over ten years. It’s probably not technically well composed/metered, or even interesting for everybody…but it does represent my rediscovery and new found addiction to shooting film.
This image was from a test roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 from a Canon AE-1 I had borrowed from my father. I shot the roll mostly to see if the camera still worked and so far, my father has yet to see the camera back, haha!
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
Hi, my name is Kilian and I am a graphic and editorial designer from the Netherlands. I mainly design books and magazines for my day job and two years ago I launched the online platform letsexploremagazine.com.
I am currently Kickstarting its 176 page printed launch issue, themed “Belonging”
(EMULSIVE: see the foot of this interview, and this recent article for more.)
A few years ago I rediscovered photography and started investing again, both in time and gear. I will not call myself a photographer (yet), but I am shooting and learning pretty much every day.
Who knows what will happen in the future…
When did you start shooting film?
My first memory of shooting film was back when I was a small boy. My parents bought me a few disposable cameras each holiday and sent me on my way. “Go have fun!”, they said. So I did. It’s somewhat of a vague memory but what do I remember vividly is the suspense of waiting for the film to come back from the grocery shop / lab – it killed me!
Years later, when I was attending art school, I took (obligatory) photography classes as part of my graphic design education. This provided me with the chance to experiment and go all out. We were able to work with 35mm, medium format and large format films and cameras and on top of that, we had a pretty big dark room on the premises to use as well!
I kind of regret not taking full advantage of the possibilities open to me at the time…but I am catching up.
After art school I didn’t really shoot much and when I did it was on digital only. These past few years I have been teaching myself to shoot again and have quickly found myself following a whole bunch of incredibly talented film photographers on Twitter. They were, and still are, such an inspiration to me and without them knowing, they triggered me to ask my dad if I could borrow his old camera…yes, that same one that he’s yet to see back 😉
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
When I first grabbed that Canon AE-1…the feeling of pressing its shutter release and hearing the shutter snap for the first time in ages and not getting instant result…it literally made my heart rate go up by 50 bpm! From that moment on, I just knew I had found myself a new addiction. That’s what also keeps me going.
I haven’t shot that much on film just yet but what I have noticed is that almost instantly after starting, my digital photos got better.
I slowed down when I wanted to take a picture and I “forced” myself to go for the perfect shot every time I pressed the shutter release instead of just shooting like a mad man. I stopped thinking that I could simply fix problems in post-production, or alter settings and shoot until I got what I wanted.
Basically, shooting film is making me a better photographer (ok, I realize I just called myself a photographer after saying that I don’t!).
Besides the technical aspects of film, I also fell in love with the delay between shooting and seeing my results. That which had frustrated me before, now became a ‘win’. Not only do I get to relive moments from the past in a much more vivid way, it also makes choosing the keepers easier.
Because of the delay, I am now looking at moments that I captured instead of just a folder of images!
I feel more emotionally attached to the subject matter in my film pictures and find I can fill in the blanks from memory if something isn’t captured, instead of needing 5 or 10 more images. The photos become something you talk about with others and not something you simply look at by yourself. It’s those “oh yeah, remember that?” moments that I really get to appreciate and look forward to with each roll.
Any favorite subject matter?
I am not one to take centre stage with anything and the same goes for when I am out shooting. I love to be a fly on the wall and just observe what’s going on around me whilst trying to capture those moments the best way I can.
…but I am also a graphic designer by trade and in my heart, so I have a yearning for lines and patterns that lead the viewer. These can be from architecture, infrastructure, gestures, gazes or a repetition in color.
Combine all of the above and you can probably put a label on it, although I wouldn’t want to because labels can be limiting and I am all about exploring, learning and discovering.
One thing I don’t really like shooting though, are portraits – unless the person doesn’t know I am taking their photo.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
I really can’t answer this!
If you’re putting a gun to my head and making me choose, I’ll have to say Portra. It’s soothing, doesn’t scream at you and doesn’t necessarily take center stage but it can pack a punch if needed.
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?
I am going to cheat here, just so you know.
1) Going with what’s most familiar (digital): Canon 60D and 24-105mm f4/L This is my work horse so to speak. The lens is wide enough to shoot large scenes, but can zoom just enough for fly-on-the-wall portraits or streets-scene-details. The 60D has a crop sensor so I am missing out on a bit of the wide angle, which is a shame. But hey, play the cards you have been dealt, right?
Canon 60D…our first ever digital shot!
2) Like I said, I am not a full fledged film shooter yet, so I just have to go with “my” AE1 and a 50mm f1.8 lens. The film stock would be Kodak Portra 400 and Tri-X 400. The reason being that these are the only (somewhat) film photography constants at my current level of experience. I like taking calculated risks, but on an assignment and with film…not so much.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Oh that’s not a fair question! But…from November 2014 until February 2015, I travelled through South East Asia with my girlfriend and one of the highlights was Myanmar. The country is simply stunning and I think that it would be my destination of choice, even though it’s not the easiest place on earth.
In cities like Yangon and Mandalay there’s an urban lifestyle and culture like you wouldn’t believe. The street scenes, markets, architecture and energy are incredible and a true visual overdose. Head to the countryside and hike from Hsipaw to Inle Lake and Mother Nature will take your breath away. Last but not least, explore Bagan for an amazing shot of cultural heritage.
The best thing is, that all these aspects provide limitless options to experiment with film stock. From the bright and colorful, toward darker and desaturated scenes. You can go wild!
Jeez, now I want to go back! Anybody willing to sponsor the trip and a bag of film 😉 ?
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
…that using film is incredibly hard, that digital is easy and therefore film is obsolete.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think shooting film easy. It’s just that – I believe – people often don’t have the patience and/or determination to do something really well. Things these days have to be immediate and immediately perfect, even if that means paying someone to do something for you.
Photographs from film don’t have to be perfect!! Every mistake is an opportunity to learn and there’s nothing more awesome than getting better at something and feeling the gratification of stepping back from a project and feeling content!
And let’s be honest, shooting digital is just as hard. Well, it is if you want to create a single image that you can be proud of, instead of 100 mediocre ones.
Setting it straight? Simply ask them “why” they believe what they believe. Explaining your opinion well is the hardest thing ever and opening up a dialogue like this MIGHT enlighten both film and digital parties. Let’s learn from each other.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
Predictions are hard. I do see a similar thing happening with my much beloved medium of print. When the iPad came along and digital publication became the next best thing, a discussion arose about which of the two would survive: print or digital.
The beauty is that now, after the “Print Is Dead” buzzword has lost some of its power, we’re learning that it is not a case of print or digital, but rather print and digital. They are not the same medium and therefore have a different purpose.
I am not saying the same will happen in the film vs digital discussion. But I do believe film has a lot of properties that are unique to it and can NOT be substituted by something else. So, we should really be looking at the strengths of the different types of photography and let those flourish instead of getting rid of one or the other.
Certain unpredictabilities of film from cross processing, accidental (!) double exposures and light leaks, just to name few…these so-called “happy accidents” can’t, in my opinion, be replicated. So let’s embrace that. Every film photographer will say he or she slows down while shooting film when compared to digital, so maybe we should train ourselves to slow down a bit while shooting digital, as well.
So, it’s safe to say that I believe that not only is film here to stay in a physical manner but it also has a place conceptually.
Even when we go overboard in either direction, there will always be people wanting to know how things originally started and that’s the best way to learn a craft like photography, or graphic design for that matter.
And there we are, thanks for taking the time out, Kilian.
As I’ve said before, I believe that Kilian’s LEM project is an important one. All of us in the film photography community have at one time or another talked about how film makes us slow down and consider the world around us before pressing that shutter and committing to that shot. But each and every day, we digitally gorge ourselves on image after image, getting our fill before moving on to something else…only to head back for a quick bite when our eyes feel hungry again.
In a world of so many digitally presented images and so many places to drink from the proverbial firehose, Kilian’s Let’s Explore Magazine project is (to me), incredibly important. Just looking through the pre-release issue and reading his thoughts on the magazine in our recent piece tells you that the man has both passion and an eye. In fact, looking through the images in this interview, I’d be happy just to see a photobook of the many places he’s visited, regardless of if those images were taken on a film, or digital camera.
At the time of this update, LEM’s Issue 01 is out there in the real world and issue 02 is being worked on as we speak. It’s been a fascinating journey watching Kilian’s passion develop into something that has brought so many photographers so much joy.
Thanks for reading and as always, keep shooting folks.
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