Today I’m sitting down with native Saskatchewanian, Bob St. Cyr. Bob’s had a lifelong love affair with film photography and it’s one which shows no sign of abating.
There’s a lot to cover, so time for me to take a back seat and let Bob do the talking.
Over to you, Bob.
What’s this picture, then?
This picture is a direct-positive print exposed on ILFORD fibre paper through with my 4×5 Harman-Titan pinhole camera. It is of a persimmon tree inside the grounds of Three Shadows Photographic Art Centre in Beijing, China where I was teaching a couple of workshops on pinhole photography and darkroom practice.
The exposure took about 15 minutes as the paper was rated at ISO 03 and the camera has an f-stop of f/206. I enjoy working alone most of the time, but love to bring the synergistic passions for photography & teaching together from time-to-time.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I am an undiscovered fine-art photographer and I’ve been practicing photography since the beginning of junior high school and it has been one of the constants throughout my life.
For me, photography is more than a past time or a profession, it is my therapy, especially when I’m in the darkroom.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting?
I started working with film as best I can recollect, back in grade 07 (EMULSIVE: that’s about 12-13 years old for our non-US readership). At an education fair, I saw the school darkroom setup and became interested in exploring what it was all about. At the beginning, I probably spent more time in the darkroom than I did out photographing.
I continue to work with film, nothing has changed save for the fact that I employ a little digital imaging from time to time for certain things that I need quickly, e.g., documents.
Film has always been my choice of tools and I don’t see that changing.
I enjoy the flexible control film offers as well as the way it allows me to express my particular form of artistic vision. I like the tangible aspect of film and the fact that I do not have to worry too much about storage media over time. I like the handling of negatives. When I evaluate a print, I usually want to see the negatives as well.
So, a friend may show me a beautiful print and that is nice — but show me the negative — the first generation of the image. I want to “see” the image in its purest sense, then I can appreciate the print all the more.
Now, this need to see the negatives I think stems from my time as a photo technician at a one-hour photo lab, where I had to interpret negatives and push the correct button for properly exposed prints.
What’s the next challenge…your next step? How do you see improving your technique, or what aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
Hmmm, next challenge … to explore the prairie to the east and the Rockies to the west, now that I have recently relocated. There are many places I would like to visit to capture more abandoned communities and the natural geography.
I would really like to improve my printing technique in the darkroom. I am no where near where guys like Alan Ross or Bruce Barnbaum are at – and I’d really like to be printing at their level with their knowledge.
Any favourite subject matter?
I love beautiful landscapes, & unique patterns. God has given us so much beauty on this planet and I hope to capture a small sampling of it through my work.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
Perish the thought! I really don’t want to answer this question. But if you must know … well … okay … ILFORD HP5+ or Fuji Acros 100.
I like the film base of Acros, ease of exposure and development, high acutance of the film, easy to remove sealing band, easy sealing tab when having finished a roll – the overall engineering of their 120 roll. HP5+ is also easy to expose and process, it provides great prints with good tones. This is the film I recommend to my students because of its ease of handling and versatility in exposure.
Subjects for my last roll of HP5+ could be anything, but especially street scenes, or night-time photography. The Acros 100 would be better for bright landscape days, and wide-angle photographs or where enlargements greater than 11×14 inches would be needed.
I had put the print above (made at a local autumn fair), into the developer after exposing it on my enlarger and then turned around to look at negatives on a light table. I did not realise that light contamination had seeped into the developer tray. After finishing the process, I was very happy to see the result of this: a one-of-a-kind Sabattier print.
On New Year’s Day I like to start off making my first photographs of the year. It is also a time to reflect that I have come through another year still able to work with film in my artistic practice and look forward to continuing onward into the new year.
This particular wet new year’s day in 2013, I visited Francis King Park with my Toyo 45 A II camera, not far from Victoria, BC. Here I noticed a single apple hanging upon a tree whilst others had fallen. I wonder what metaphor will fit this image?
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?
Toyo 45 A II & 150mm Schneider lens, two sheets? ILFORD HP5+ & Provia 100, Sekonic L-608 light meter.
HP5+ is a flexible film regarding exposure and easy to process. It gives enough speed for most subjects and since I use a tripod can use slow shutter speeds below 1/60 of a second if needed. On the other hand, Provia gives me the colour option without more colour saturation than necessary.
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I was up island (Vancouver Island) with a fellow large-format photographer. It was afternoon and we were heading through a small community called Honeymoon Bay, which had a lot of small stalls where people would sell things throughout the summer months. We visited in autumn as I recall, so had the whole place quietly to ourselves.
I only exposed a few sheets of film here as I was not inspired by much of the scenery until I saw this simple little window with a lace covering. I set up my Toyo 45 A II and this is the result.
I love working in large format. When you get to hold up to a light a large 4×5 or 8×10 negative/transparency and see all the tonality, acutance and minute details, you really appreciate the effort. This camera also gives me a lot of flexibility especially if I’m not sure what the subject will be, e.g., a very large group shot for the UN or a spectacular waterfall.
I enjoy photographing in the Canadian Rockies as much as the prairies. Living in Calgary gives me easy access to either landscape. Here I was spending the weekend near Jasper, Alberta with another fellow large format photographer and we got here early enough to avoid the summer crowds. Made with my Toyo 45 A II upon Fujichrome transparency film.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, now I’m a happy camper 🙂
Sorry, I have two places: The Canadian Rockies and Saskatchewan.
A reflection made in an abandoned Saskatchewan village. I love capturing old communities on film, especially old buildings like grain elevators, shops and schools. Here I was working with a small Nikon camera and noticed this old abandoned truck and thought it would make a unique perspective to my usual elevator images.
I grew up in Saskatchewan and have been working with this subject matter since I started photography. I just find so much in the prairies that excites me; rolling hills and glacial erratics, the colourful flowers from cactus to crocuses.
I also spent several years in the mountains during my early 20s and grew to appreciate the diverse beauty in this region as well. Finally, ease of access on a modest budget is another important consideration.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
Maybe that it is old, outdated (which it is not), or that it is expensive (have you ever had to buy ink cartridges for a printer?). Or that it is too hard.
This last one is interesting from a philosophical and cognitive perspective. If things become easier and easier – and we rely more and more upon computer technology, what becomes of the human brain? What happens to our ability to solve problems and follow procedures to accomplish something?
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
I hope the demand remains such that manufacturers will justify making product.
I’m doing what I can, but without patrons/sponsors or a personal darkroom it is very challenging for me – but I’m doing my best to support it through practice and through teaching.
I have taught an undergraduate university class (for university credit) in film photography, and hopefully some of my students from each class will continue to use film. I think it has a modest but stable future.
~ Bob St. Cyr
“If things become easier and easier – and we rely more and more upon computer technology, what becomes of the human brain?”
I was having a very similar conversation with a friend a few days ago. It’s no secret that the internet and subsequent rise of search engines has had a huge impact on the way we remember facts and figures, as well as the way in which we recall what we remember. I know a handful of people that seem to somehow store their short-term memories on their mobile phones and would be lost to remember their appointments, important phone numbers, and recently digested news without access to them. So, in some ways one might say that the impact on the human brain has been to increase our reliance on external processing and storage systems…at least that’s the way it seems when you consider my examples.
The crux of our discussion revolved around how we both felt that whilst we rely on digital devices to manage and act as gatekeepers for more aspects of our lives than ever before, what we are able to recall about those things truly valuable to us hasn’t diminished. Rather that storage and recall has increased, sharpened and broadened.
We are inquisitive by nature and for each task that computers free us from performing, there is another that picks up the slack. For me, one is photography and amassing as much knowledge and skill as I can bring to bear on the subject. The other is roasting meats but that’s probably a story left to another some and another website.
Please take the time to connect with Bob either via his blog, or Twitter account. Take some time to look around whilst you’re there, there’s a world of beautiful images and considered thought to explore. Head on over and see where it takes you.
We’ll be back again very soon but in the meantime, 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.
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Well this was a great read.
This is one of the best interviews of Bob I have ever read keep it up!