There’s salt in the air and it must have something to with today’s interviewee, Thom Axon. Thom’s a busy man. Work at sea can take him away for long periods at a time and when he’s back well, let’s just say that life carries on.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also spent the past few months putting an exciting new website together…but we’ll let him tell you about that himself.
Over to you, Thom.
Hi Thom, what’s this picture, then?
I chose this image as it was on a roll of film that was a real turning point in my photography. It was from the first roll of film that I developed myself.
The satisfaction of seeing this image appear out of the developing tank and then onto paper was my ‘moment’.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
My name is Thom, I live in Falmouth, Cornwall, on the very South West tip of the UK. I’ve spent the last ten years or so at sea, sailing big old Tall Ships and smaller traditional vessels.
I have spent the past few months creating a subscription-based film photography site. The idea is to source every single type of film, from all formats, in an effort to encourage creativity and experimentation. I hope that it will offer a great platform for the smaller ‘craft’ film makers out there that are creating some incredible films.
I am also currently in the process of setting up a darkroom space in Falmouth, available for anyone to use and grow their developing skills.
In short, if there’s not a wooden deck beneath my feet then there will be a camera in my hands. Or indeed, both.
When did you start shooting film?
My first camera was a toy camera I got when I was about 7 years old. My second was my sister’s hand-me-down Nikon, which I used when I went to study an art Foundation Degree.
‘Shooting film’ was just what everyone did then, as there wasn’t the digital alternative. We’d take crappy shots of our holidays, send them away in the post and be disappointed that we’d left the lens cap on for one roll, hadn’t wound on the film on the second roll and that the third roll was ruined at the photo lab!
Then, in my late teens digital cameras ‘happened’ and I had a point and shoot camera, from which I would never load the photo’s onto my computer. I always lost the thing and really didn’t care much for it. So I stopped and began taking arbitrary snaps of everyday things and sunsets using my phone.
Then, early in 2015, something happened. I inherited my Grandad’s old Bronica and I stopped taking pictures and started trying to make images…
When I got the camera, I didn’t dare open the bag at first. I sat for a while, just staring at the rectangle of faded canvas, with its bulging pockets and the worn strap. I sat there and thought about how much I missed the gentle, old man that used to carry it and of the photo’s that he would take.
He died and the camera ended up with me.
I showed it to a friend of mine who became increasingly excited about it; we went for a walk with my second roll of Kodak Tri X and I took my first shot. The first roll was wasted trying to work out how to put it in the camera!
This was in March 2015 and since then it has quickly consumed my life.
What about now, why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
The mechanics, the processes, the techniques, the history and the alchemy of film photography all cry out to me. When I first pushed the shutter of that Bronica and felt it buck and bark in my grip (it has an immense mirror slap), I felt nothing really. Then I took the roll to my local photo lab, waited an hour and BOOM! I was in love.
These shiny square images in the palm of my hand were exciting. I proudly showed them off to my friends and gave most of them away to the more interested people. Then I finished my second roll and another friend suggested that I try ordering them on matte paper. I was blown away by how they looked. So much depth and contrast from these amazingly pin sharp edges of an image not hindered by pixels, mega- or otherwise.
I ordered ten more rolls of film. Ten days later I ordered ten more. With every shot I’ve taken, I’ve learned something technically, artistically and most importantly I’ve learned about the moment.
An important element of shooting film is that whenever I’m looking down the waist level viewfinder of my Bronica, or Flexaret VII, I feel as though my Grandad is at my side. He’s always been an inspiration for me and through film he continues to be.
Any favourite subject matter?
I do seem to be taking an awful lot of pictures of boats, although working on them and living by the sea might have something to do with that. Mostly, however, I am in a sort of ‘anything goes’ stage. Trying different subject matter in order to test my camera and myself.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
Well… Wait, what? That’s not fair! [EMULSIVE: yes it is, now carry on]
After some hard thought and a few funny noises, I’ve decided to take a roll of ILFORD FP4 PLUS. It is a film that I adore for its super fine detail, its extensive variety of uses and also because it is the film that I started learning to take, experiment and develop with.
It can be pushed, pulled and generally abused and always have luscious depth and detail to it.
Damn this question!
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’d take my Minolta 202 with a 50 mm lens. The films I’d take would be Ilford FP4+ 125 and a roll of Fujichrome Provia 100 slide film.
I have a lot of time for 50mm lenses. The standard one with my Minolta is extremely sharp, fast and has a beautiful depth of field. A real ‘go to’ bit of glass. The camera itself is a dream to use, quick to load and wind on. Its TTL metering is simple enough for me to use and the mirror lock-up function is a bonus.
I think that these two films cover enough ground for most eventualities. I know I might be standing alone in the Fujichrome corner, but whenever I develop this film I’m always stunned by the colour quality, especially it’s rich blues.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Where I always go. To sea.
Every moment here is different and there’s beauty within and upon it. Landscapes of mountainous water tower above you, deserts of flat, calm, painted oceans expand forever. It is an environment filled with wonderful vessels, animals and people. The light at sea is completely different from that on land and I would never get bored of finding and taking photo’s here.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
That it is difficult and expensive to get into, when in fact there’s never been a better time to turn your hand to it. A camera worth hundreds of pound twenty years ago can be bought today for a song.
Film can be picked up second hand or from Pound shops (Dollar stores, or 100 Yen stores for our international friends), and then it can be developed onto paper or put onto a USB stick for post processing (if you wish), or to share online.
Film photography is compatible with modern techniques and processes and fits very snuggly into the modern, digital age. It’s amazing how many people haven’t quite cottoned on to this yet.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
Film is to digital photography what Vinyl is to MP3. It’s a medium that excites the senses and will grow in popularity.
There are the stalwarts that are driving the industry, who have been around for years – Kodak, Ilford and Paterson to name just a few. What excites me though, is the wave of newer companies such as New55, New55, KONO! And Washi film that are creating great products.
Then there’s the push of companies that are helping film and digital to go hand in hand. Companies like Epson, Polaroid and Impossible, who make scanning and sharing images easier. This fits brilliantly into an ever expanding era of sharing images. With technology surpassing what we can ever dream of on a daily basis, I’m excited to see just what someone is cooking up that the world hasn’t yet thought of.
As a film photographer, it is an exciting time to grab a camera and fall in love with film and it’s role in the digital universe.
It’s a wonderful medium to create a tangible, emotional response to what is happening around you.
~ Thom Axom
I can reveal that Thom told us a little white lie up top. Remember where he wrote, “if there’s not a wooden deck beneath my feet then there will be a camera in my hands”? Well, it’s not true. Sometimes, he also has oven mitts on his hands, as evidenced by his feature in the very recently launched Salt Journal. Shame on you, Thom.
There’s something so incredibly alluring about images of the sea. Whether on the water, or at a dock, simple images of rigging, or the detritus left on land by the fishing industry. It always gets me, hook, line and sinker (pun intended).
Thom’s journey with film photography is a relatively new one and one which he’s walking with open eyes and an incredible vigor for both the medium and process.
His images at sea and on land are striking and I especially like his black and white work. High contrast and full of texture. If you want to see more, please give Thom a follow on Twitter, you won’t regret it. You can also find occasional ramblings (better than this one), at: http://www.deckheads.blogspot.co.uk/.
We’ll be back again very soon but in the meantime, please take another look at Thom’s images above and 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.
Share your knowledge, story or project
The transfer of knowledge across the film photography community is the heart of EMULSIVE. You can add your support by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.
If you like what you're reading you can also help this passion project by heading over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and contributing as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.