35mm, medium format, instant and Large format; they’re all fair game for today’s interviewee, Andrew Bartram. When he’s not scouring the Cambridgeshire Fens, Andrew’s most likely to be found in his darkroom on a quest to perfect the art he’s spent the past 30 plus years working on.
Time to take a step back and let Andrew do the talking.
Hi Andrew, what’s this picture then?
This is a very personal photo, taken about 10 years ago with a Voigtlander Bessa R3a with light through the window. Today we all have cameras with us and really good ones at that, in our smart phones. But I’ve always had film cameras lying around because film is what I do!
The fast lens on this rangefinder was perfect for capturing the moment when my Daughter put on those gloves and head scarf and began washing up. And that’s what photography is all about; capturing that moment. It happened to be on film and it was one of the first I scanned for Flickr. It’s not a great scan but I have the print and that is the important thing.
Georgia is still my model, albeit a reluctant one, and she can be seen in many of my Fenland Flikr posts.
OK so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m a Husband, a Father, a Christian, a film photographer and printer, a sales manager – how do we define ourselves?
As this is about film photography, let’s focus on that part of my personality.
Film photography is my release, my passion, my craft (I would never consider myself an artist), and my way of making sense of the world around me. Getting in the darkroom and completing the circle is what I love best – I can’t draw, play a musical instrument or paint, so this is my craft.
When did you start shooting film?
Over 30 years ago, what else was there?
My Dad gave me his FED 4 rangefinder, then his Zenit TTL and while I unfortunately I no longer have either, I was hooked and would burn through colour print film and get the resulting negatives printed by Boots the Chemist.
A year or so in and I joined a local camera club and learned to develop my first roll of Ilford FP4 in ID11. Funnily enough, I often return to that developer these days, although though with Ilford’s HP5+ as my go to film.
Soon after getting to grips with developing, I got hooked on printing and made a makeshift darkroom in my Parent’s walk in cupboard, then bathroom.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
Because I am constantly excited by the whole process, from choosing a camera and film (using cameras that are over 30 years old in most cases), working with light, visualising the final image and best of all going into the darkroom – my sanctuary – and making a print that hopefully has some of my spirit and feelings in it.
This scan of a darkroom print is from an ongoing project documenting the Cambridgeshire fenlands with a Sinar Large format camera. I have only just gotten into LF photography and love printing using the Devere 504 enlarger.
It was Garry Winogrand who famously said “I take pictures to see what something looks like as a photograph” and it was Henry Wessel who said “I photograph anything that catches my eye, that’s the best reason to photograph”.
These two quotes go a long way to answer this question; I have a split personality when it comes to making pictures. There’s the Lomo approach and the Henry Wessel approach of shooting on instinct and recording that moment because once you stop to analyse a scene in front of you the image has gone, it has passed you by. On the other hand I go out in the car, not too far from my home, with a large format camera and spend 3 hours exposing just a few frames.
Any favourite subject matter
Many of my images are made within 10 miles of my house on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fenlands. This flat expanse of rich peat soil was drained in the 17th Century by Dutch Engineers and now the drainage ditches, straight roads (called droves), electricity poles and wide open skies draw me back time and again.
In recent years I have begun capturing the fens on expired Polaroid 669 film, the otherworldliness, colour shifts and swirls on the print can lend a painterly feel to the final images.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
Until recently I hardly ever moved from Ilford FP4 or HP5, they remain my stock and much loved favourites. In the last few years I have shot and developed colour film from Portra 160NC and VC, 400NC and VC, 800 (PDF), to home wound cheap colour film to make redscale.
I love expired polaroid film, Impossible project film and Instax; and for large format, Fomapan 100 – so if I had to shoot one last roll it would probably be a pack of Polaroid 669 in my 250 Land Camera
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?
Now this is a real tough question as there are so many variables that could form part of the assignment and to have no idea! Boy, I think I’d probably refuse the assignment!
But if pushed then probably my Olympus OM1, 28mm and 135mm lenses and Ilford HP5 – I would have a flexible film that can be shot from 200 to 1600 and produce great results. The lenses would give me versatility of shot making….but I’d run away and hide rather than take up that challenge!
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
I am tempted to say Fenland – but if you guys pay then New York – we had a brilliant time there in 2012 and shot with a Holga, a Polaroid 250 and an SX70, so give me lots of HP5, FP3000b and expired 669 and a ticket to NYC, please.
Finally, what do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
I think there are lots of misconceptions – film cant be bought, it’s expensive, not such good quality – on and on.
I would probably ask them to spend a weekend with me in the fens with a large format camera and a flask of coffee, let them experience the peace, solitude and wonder that LF can bring; as well as slowing everything down.
Back in the darkroom, I would show them how to develop and then make a print.
In your opinion what is the future of film photography?
Love it or hate it Lomography has helped and so in a strange way has the prevalence of great cameras in smartphones – photography is now the most democratic art form ever and it seems to me it doesn’t take long for youngsters to ask “what is film?” “What is that film app on the phone, how can I get a different look from this over photoshopped, weirdly sharp image?”
A quick search on Google and eBay and the wonderful world of film photography opens up.
~ Andrew Bartram
Thanks Andrew, amazing shots.
I used to chase subject isolation in my photography and then (re)discovered rangefinders, which made me crave images with huge depth of field and edge to edge clarity.
I’ve never appreciated (my own) instant snaps, Holga/Diana shots, or even pinhole captures. Something always seems a little…”off”. I don’t know if it’s because I’m overly hard on myself, or if it’s a case that my own experience, talent, or vision aren’t up to scratch (most likely). Whatever the reason is, I find myself looking at work like that kindly shared by Andrew here and telling myself that maybe I should give them another try and see what I can do If I really put my mind to it.
Since these interviews started a few months back, I’ve been lucky enough to see and enjoy many images from many incredibly talented photographers. As I’ve said more than once before, it’s been a very humbling experience and has helped me to apply some form of context to the snaps I take, as well as to guide my eye toward styles of photography I maybe hadn’t considered before.
On to the point; many of the 20-30+ year veteran photographers who have been featured on these pages seem to run through a similar transition, or at the very least, find their abstract sides surfacing more than it perhaps did when they were a little younger. I may be wrong and perhaps I don’t yet have the vocabulary to express my thoughts but in the simplest of terms, I personally find greater enjoyment and depth in the abstract and experimental work of photographers with decades behind them, than I do with that of younger, less experienced eyes.
Maybe it’s because to me it’s an interpretation of a world already seen, rather than a world being witnessed for the first time. I’ll have to think about that for a while.
It’s certainly not a clear-cut opinion and I’ll point out that I am in no way disparaging the work of the young and artistically inclined. For me the best analogy to make would be that of watching a seasoned news anchor drop the serious facade and read the nightly news while wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt and drinking a tall glass of cold beer. It’s unexpected and wonderful at the same time.
Right or wrong, for me, Andrew’s that serious guy with a mischievous glint in his eye.
That’s all from us for now. We’ll be back again soon and as ever, keep shooting folks.
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