We grabbed some time to have a chat with David Lingham, Wales-based darkroom purist and ex-litho industry stripper (not THAT kind). David’s got some beautiful images to share, as well as some insight into his photographic journey and why he shoots film.
Over to you, David.
Hi David, what’s this picture, then?
DL: This is a small bay called Nolton Haven in West Wales UK. As I try to interpret rather than record a scene, I made a long exposure image using both a 3stop ND and a 25A red filter. Then made a heavy print, sepia and selenium toning the final print.
It was taken in early 2014 and the square format was a new departure for me, and one I continue to work at. Cropping the 35mm negative appeared to strengthen the composition, something I used again on the Four Rocks picture. I’ve also spent a lot of time at this bay as it is close to where we have a holiday home down along the coast in West Wales.
Nolton Haven attracts me on personal level, as does much of the surrounding area, which is a National Park. Because I’m down there so often, I witness the seasonal changes that the area goes through and how the character of the coastline changes (that incidentally is a very loose ongoing project).
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
DL: I would describe myself as just an obsessed amateur, no more than that. I only work in black and white, I still use film and make my prints in a darkroom.
I’ve recently taken early retirement, having worked for 47 years in the Litho printing industry. I started training as a film planner/retoucher in the late 60’s, that is what you call a stripper in the States! As computers began to take over my specific area of the industry, I moved over to work as a drum scanner operator then became a repro/mac/system operator.
Because of my daily professional involvement with Photoshop etc., and image manipulation in general, I kept well away from digital imaging outside of work, staying with film and darkroom for the pleasure it gave me.
How often I shoot is really dependent on the light. There is no hard rule or schedule, if we are at our place in West Wales it is perhaps easier for me to take off down to a beach for a few hours, morning or evening.
When did you start shooting film?
DL: In the early 1970’s using slide film and a Zenit-E, I began using B&W film a couple of years later, processing and printing at home in makeshift darkrooms.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
DL: Enjoyment, pure and simple. The whole process is so absorbing and the feeling of creating something with your hands does become very addictive. It is the involvement of the process that makes it so compelling.
My former day job has, as far as computers go, left me a little jaded. I’m not snobbish about film being superior to digital, and I don’t look upon B&W printing as a higher art form.
To put it simply, I just enjoy film and darkroom a whole lot more. The complete experience of producing something by hand from start to finish is both tactile and very rewarding.
To visualise, process and then realise you vision in the form of a darkroom print is a really satisfying experience for me. So you could say, yes I print for pleasure. I enjoy the control that working with film allows at every stage of the process.
Any favourite subject matter?
DL: Landscape mainly, but more importantly it’s light that interests me. Any subject matter in B&W without colour has to rely on texture tone shape and form, and they are all dependent on light.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
DL: 100 foot roll of FP4+, can I say that? (EMULSIVE: fair enough!)
Why FP4+? Well, I’ve been using it for a number of years now and I know how it responds to a variety of developers and EI ratings. So, I can vary the look of an image during both the exposure and development stages, i.e. overexposure in Rodinal will enhance the grain, whereas box speed in Kodak D76 or Ilford DDX gives a more conventional look to the negative.
It is really about knowing your materials and what you can do with them. It’s the same with darkroom papers.
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?
DL: Nikon F2, 50mm lens one roll of Ilford FP4+ and one of Kodak Tri-X 400.
I only have two cameras, a Nikon FM and F2. Choosing the F2 would be for its 100% viewfinder. The lens would be my 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor. I’m not a great fan of zoom lenses, and I only have a half a dozen prime fixed AI Nikkors. Taking just the 50 would be to keep things simple.
If I had a bag full of kit it would give me the opportunity to stop and swap lenses and check what it might give. Just a camera and standard lens would make me work with what I had.
As for differing approaches for Kodak Tri-X and Ilford FP4+, Tri-X I would be comfortable handholding, but I prefer to use FP4 with the camera on a tripod. That changes your approach and how you take pictures as well.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
DL: Venice, in the winter…it is magical. In November it is a little less crowded but the light is to die for.
Three years ago my wife and I went there for my 60th birthday. We travelled by train via Zurich across the Alps and into Northern Italy passing through the Lakes and onto Venice. It was so memorable that we have to go back.
Only this time, I’ll take more film.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
DL: As long as there is film there will always be the digital v analogue debate.
Many digital workers are confused why some photographers still prefer to work with film. Unfortunately there are film users who wrongly feel that there work is somehow superior to that of digital, which isn’t the case and that attitude does create division and misunderstanding.
Whenever I get the chance, I tell people to make prints, by what ever medium they are comfortable with, digital, film, alternative process, camera phone, pinhole anything as long as you make a print. If you are involved in photography, then you must enjoy what you are doing.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
DL: With Harman/Ilford making a pledge to support analogue photography I would like to think it has a future, only a small niche market. There is a one problem though, that is the lack of new equipment. Everyone who still uses film will probably be using 30-40 year old cameras.
…Ilford might keep making film, paper and chemicals but someone needs to make a new film camera.
– David Lingham
If you’re anything like me (and I bet some of you are), you like doing stuff….getting your mind and body engaged in an activity, or process. Cooking, tinkering with a car or motorbike, even making a cup of french press coffee, there’s something about getting mind and body involved that’s incredibly satisfying. It’s the way I am.
Doing more and more of these interviews (58 and counting), it’s become apparent to my slow-witted self that much of the pleasure and enjoyment photographers such as David glean from film photography is having a hand in the process – end-to-end.
Think about it for a while: finding the subject, previsualising the image, setting up the camera, squeezing off the shot, selecting the developer, development scheme and push/pull, running off a contact sheet, doing a test print, making notes, final print (or versions thereof!)…
The entire process is one which your physical actions are directly responsible for catching light and manipulating of various mediums to produce a tangible, physical result. I still find it amazing and personally, I’d rather be doing that than sitting in front of a computer adjusting levels and applying filters.
Then again, that’s just me.
You can find out much more about David over at his website, where he’s taken the time to share more of his work, background and thoughts. Please head on over and drop him a line.
It’s also worth noting that this is not only the first interview of February 2016 but also marks a return to a once-weekly interview format. This will hopefully free up some time for more in the way of articles, reviews and other musings but please don’t let that stop you from getting in touch if you’d like to be featured, or know of someone what you’d like to recommend for a spot here.
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.