Jens Kotlenga | Aug 7, 2018 | 1
I am Aislinn Chuahiock and this is why I shoot film
I’m incredibly pleased to bring you the words and pictures of Aislinn Chuahiock in this week’s EMULSIVE interview. She refers to her work as “mundane”, I beg to differ.
Aislinn, it’s over to you.
Hi Aislinn, what’s this picture, then?
AC: This is one of my recent favorite shots of one of the most beautiful museums I’ve been to, the Muséum d’histoire Naturelle – Jardin des Plantes in Paris. I think if I can sum up what makes me click the shutter, it’s capturing any scene that I subconsciously wish I were a part of.
The funny thing about this shot was that I was suffering from a very bad reaction to some Ibuprofen and was sneezing non-stop, had bloated fingers, and one eye swollen shut. But here’s this man with his stool and easel in front of a mammoth skeleton. He didn’t even take notice of the ruckus I was obviously inflicting upon a very silent museum.
Watching him gave me a feeling of aspiration… that one day when my hair turns gray, that I’d have the opportunity to sit down quietly, not a care in the world, in front of some great wonder of the world and just draw (or photograph….because I can’t draw). This shot was taken with a Nikon F2 and Ilford XP2 Super.
Ok, so Who are you?
AC: Hi, my name is Aislinn Chuahiock and I am from the Philippines. I am not at all a professional photographer (I am first to admit that my shots are mundane), but I am probably more obsessed with film and film cameras than most average enthusiasts. Oh wait, I’m actually a professional camera collector/hoarder too if that counts.
I’ve taken this passion recently to good use by launching FilmFolk in the Philippines. We’re now at the forefront of the film photography “resurgence” here in the country. It’s pretty exciting, and I am happy to be a part of it!
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
AC: I don’t think I remember a time when I actually was out of it. I was part of that lucky generation where in my teens, photography was transitioning to digital, so I already was in love with taking photos since I was kid. I am part of the group that had the privilege of enjoying both worlds… and witnessing the sharp decline of one.
Let me tell you why I will ALWAYS shoot film.
I love that it is tedious, flawed, inconsistent, grainy, experimental, has a gorgeous depth in character, unique, irreplaceable characteristics… I love that the process is magical and the elation of that perfect shot and/or the disappointment something that didn’t work out.
Today’s technology is all about instant gratification, which simplifies experiences at the expense of learning. Loving film photography opens up a different world and thinking process for me. It has given me a creative avenue that has never failed me yet.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
AC: Definitely mixed but my primary medium is film. I usually travel with four film cameras and a Sony digital camera. Three years ago I would have felt crippled traveling without a digital camera, but now I have enough confidence to rely heavily on my workhorses (Leica M6, Rolleiflex and Nikon F2).
The main driver of “what to use” is definitely the time of day I am shooting. Hahaha, since I rarely use anything above 400ISO, at night, I will take out the digital camera. Although if I feel extra hardworking, I’ve been known to drag all of my cameras plus a tripod on top of a mountain or down a fjord in the middle of the night just to take shots.
To be honest… I feel prouder of my mediocre shots taken by a film camera versus a perfect shot nailed by a digital camera.
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
AC: You know, I’ve never thought about giving my photography a persona or label up until I met someone (Hello Dan!) who asked me to define my work. Who was I really behind the lens & its output?
Up until then, I was “I shoot what I want” and I hadn’t taken photography seriously enough to consider the effect or response to my photos. As I began to be more active in the communities, I realized how important it is to give your work a meaning… if not on all your outputs, at least a good chunk of it. But at the end of the day, shoot what makes you happy.
So I have several challenges for myself because I, for a very long time, have known what my weaknesses are: Understanding the technical basics of shooting and processing.
First, I want to really focus on studying my shots and investing time to fully utilizing the basics and its relationships. I don’t think I’ve ever fully appreciated them enough to take my experiences to the next level.
Why? Because I used to feel intimidated by technicalities. And now being part of the industry, I feel the stress to immerse myself further because people do turn to me for help.
Secondly, I have to spend more time shooting and experimenting with as many cameras and films as I can. As I’ve always said, I can’t have a real opinion until I’ve tried. So I’m on this phase right now and will probably be in the next year to shoot one new camera a month…. It justifies me purchasing more cameras anyway ahahahhaha!
And hopefully by sometime next year, I’d be walking around and shooting with a large format camera!
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
AC: As cliché as this sounds, I like shooting black and white in café’s, bars, libraries, and underground stations. I like to observe.
My secret obsession though…is shooting in cemeteries. When I travel, I purposely visit their oldest cemeteries. Whenever I divulge this obsession to someone, they automatically associate it to “obsession with death”, “love for darkness or morbidity”.
For me, it is none of those.
I love cemeteries because I love culture and how it clashes/compliments with nature. I believe nothing else defines a society or culture better than how they honor the lives of their loved ones in death, and how they would like to be remembered in the future.
You can tell a lot about a social unit by how their people channel their emotions. How they – as a community – design their cemeteries for me is a vocalization of that. I find the melancholy very unique and very telling.
I find it artistic too… the abandon and how beautifully deliberate nature is.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What to you take with you and why?
AC: Jeezas! That’s a nightmare scenario for me ahahahha! I’d probably take more time considering what lens I’d be bringing rather than the body.
But if I have to be faced with that challenge, I’d take my Leica M6 with my 28mm Elmarit. The camera has sentimental value to me and it has never let me down. I think I’d be more concerned if the assignment ended up as a portrait shoot, then I should have brought the 50mm Summilux.
It’s almost too damn predictable to bring a Leica. In a social scenario, that camera brings more attention (wanted or unwanted) than any camera that I’ve used (the other is the Rolleiflex).
I also find subjects are more inclined to be generous when they see the red dot, ahahahaha! I was in a museum (I forget where, I think Berlin) when the guards stopped me (geez I thought I was in trouble). They pointed to my Leica and said, “Better than iPhone”, and motioned me to carry on. Hahahaha!
My beater is a Pentax Spotmatic though. It’s the camera that’s always at arms reach for me. To test film, teach people, and it’s the camera I would recommend to any newbie who asks. I have 3 bodies and a slew of Russian lenses that I collected. I use those more often than my Leica.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, were do you go and why?
AC: Damn…. Hmmmm….. Ok Imma go out of a limb here and say…. SPACE.
I’ve always dreamed of being an astronaut anyway. That would be my dream job. Someone calls me up, tells me I get to train to be an astronaut for the sole purpose of documenting Space. And I’d like to travel with Canadian Astronaut, Chris Hadfield.
Hell, what does one bring in Space?? Guys? Help? And I need to rig it to a device that lessens movement ya? Suggestions welcome LOL!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
AC: Film… or photography… for me has always been about preserving memories and moments. My last roll of film would probably be a 120 roll of Efke 50, since it’s what I’ve been holding on for the longest time, and sits in a prime spot in my freezer. I’d have to say, I’d throw out all pretences and use it on my family… for portraits. I never shoot portraits, and for this, I’d even go to classes plus apprentice for someone who’s a master of it just for the last 12 film shots of my life.
Nothing captures the soul like black & white film.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
AC: Although I am not too sure about other markets, I am speaking from my experience in my region. Two very glaring misconceptions in this generation are:
First! Film and Digital Photography are exclusive of one another. The idea that you can’t make both work together is absurd! Now more than ever, photography is the most accessible form of art or self expression. Film is a medium, much like how a painter would choose acrylic over watercolor. Choosing one over the other doesn’t make you less of an artist.
I appreciate that film shooters can be overly protective about their craft, but I think it’s also time to realize that preserving this medium is also about adapting to the tools of the time. I’ve met some film shooters (all over the world) who seem to be allergic to Photoshop or Lightroom or any modern form that could “contaminate” the process. I have full love for them and in fact learned a lot about film through their generous tutelage. But if you want to really push forward with the medium, you have to keep doing whatever it is that inspires you to pursue it. Whether it’s mixed media or exclusivity to traditions, consider all influences with a grain of salt.
Second. Film is for the pros. Coming off from the first point, a lot of the younger newbie’s that come up to me say that they’re intimidated by film. Underlying reasons are because it’s expensive to screw up, and you need to be a technical pro to shoot film. I do agree with the first point ahaha, but I also say the rewards are priceless when you nail the perfect shot. I tell kids that photography is where it is right now because of film and their fear of the technical is the direct result of having everything handed to them by modern technology. Being part of the “short-cut” generation, I think once they realize how fun the process is, how empowering knowledge can be, and how diverse the experiences can be when you shoot film, there’s just no turning back. Film gets you hooked on photography for all the right reasons.
How would I set it straight? By being more of a patient ambassador. I urge people who have the knowledge to share, the experience to impart, and the tools to show should be patient with new shooters of any age. You’re not doing anything for film’s future if you do not invest a few moments of your time in teaching. Kids I hang out with are so afraid to ask questions for fear of being mocked. The fact that they asked you, means your opinion matters.
Constructive criticism only please. Don’t screw up that moment. We’re all in this point in our careers/collections/obsessions because someone once took the time to help us out.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
AC: There’s a lot of films being revived on the smaller scale right now, and it is absolutely giving the industry the defibrillation it needs. It’s so exciting to be shooting film right now, but this in my view, is a short term solution.
The only way the industry can be sustained is if a major, well-known brand re-launches an affordable entry-level film camera. My dream is the resurrection of the Pentax Spotmatic or Minolta SRT (wishful thinking). I know companies like Lomography are into this revival and a great handful of fantastic artisans have been creating magnificent pinhole cameras and LF cameras… but I think the biggest stamp of approval that this market is here to stay, is if the analog industry is acknowledged by a Nikon.. or a Canon… know what I mean?
There are only so many film cameras in the world, and we are just sharing them amongst ourselves.
The other is, supporting your local labs or homegrown labs. We know that film developing is not longer being done in the scale or prevalence that it used to, hence most franchised labs have closed down. But now, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts are starting to rebuild these facilities in their own backyards. We need to support them. And they in turn HAVE TO TEACH.
Teach film development, traditional printing, and everything in between. Much of the kids these days love to learn… they just need a friendly community to latch onto.
Selling film and co-running a lab, I always try my best to make sure none of my customers, especially the newbie’s, walk out thinking less about film. I don’t want them to be turned off by imperfections or mistakes or failure to produce a desired image. I would spend an hour of my day contacting these people and asking them of their experience. And if there’s something I can’t answer, I usually look for someone who can.
That’s how we save this industry.
There are not only beautiful images here but also generous helpings of introspection and thought about the future of film. For me, it’s Aislinn’s answer to the last question that resonates the most, especially this:
“Teach film development, traditional printing, and everything in between. Much of the kids these days love to learn… they just need a friendly community to latch onto.”
Being able to teach or pass on what you know isn’t something you need endless knowledge, training or formal qualifications to do. It can take just seconds and can be as simple as expressing what you do know in a manner that effectively informs and inspires the person you’re communicating with.
Teaching, knowledge transfer, or simply inspiring others is something that we should all be doing. As regular readers will be aware, I often bang the drum of, “doing my bit”. As individuals we may not have the power to affect more than those immediately around us but collectively, we can be a powerful force to not only keep the medium we love alive, but to see it expand and flourish, moving into areas we haven’t yet had the foresight to consider.
Well, a huge thanks again for Aislinn for stepping up. I think we can all put a lid on her “mundane” comment above, and help her move on with much less self-doubt.
Speaking of moving on, so must I.
As ever, I’ll let you know that there’s another interviewee lined up for next week and remind you to keep shooting, folks!
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