I am Anil Mistry and this is why I shoot film
It’s Anil Mistry, everyone. To regular readers or EMULSIVE and listeners of the Sunny16 Podcast, that name should at the very least ring a few bells. For everyone else, let me introduce you to the work and words of this “serial creative”.
Over to you, Anil!
Hey Anil, what’s this picture, then?
AM: This is a mop in a bucket – in the toilets of an Egyptian café in Leicester. I saw it in the corner when I went to take a leak after having some falafel and I thought: “That would look great shot with Ektar 100 and a forced flash.”
Luckily I had my Canon Sureshot Multi Tele half-frame camera in my pocket for just an occasion, and POW! There it was. An everyday mundane object captured in a way it normally…isn’t. This is not indicative of all my work but does hint towards my approach – I like to try stuff out and see what happens.
I’m not precious at all.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
AM: I am a serial creative. My life has been spent in the worlds of Fashion, TV, Comedy, Art, Design, Digital, and more recently- photography. I’ve previously worked as creative director for Paramount Comedy and Pan European Creative Director for The Walt Disney Company, as well as a bunch of other creative roles. In my day job, I’m now a freelance creative director – developing big, exciting ways to help brands sell shit.
I love to come up with ideas for all sorts of stuff, and now I get paid for it. I am slowly making my photography pay a little more each year. I find it very hard to sit still, and I’m an insomniac, so photography has given me a purpose – a way of filling those moments in between the moments – with creativity.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting today?
AM: Weirdly, I only properly got into it about 3 years ago after teaching myself photography all over again from scratch. Despite learning it in art college and directing film and TV shoots in my day jobs, I never really got into it myself until quite recently. I bought a DSLR and then started buying a whole load of film cameras and messing around with them.
The thing that keeps me shooting is the joy of finding the ones that do stuff in a special way that the others don’t. No camera is a panacea. I see each camera as a slightly different way of capturing the world- much in the same way that you can draw with a pen, pencil, pastel or charcoal – but they all make their own unique mark. Cameras are like that. Then add the lenses and the film – and you have endless permutations of creativity.
This variety of ways of capturing reality is what excites me – that and the fact that some cameras are just so damned gorgeous. I love the tactile nature and aesthetics as much as the output. Cameras are exciting on many levels. Every week I discover a new one to my wallet’s dismay.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
AM: As a creative director I’ve spent decades immersed in art, design and photography. There are so many influences: David Hockney, Bruce Davidson, Gordon Parks, Martin Parr, Daido Moriyama and Helmut Newton are but a few of the people whose work I’ve marvelled at.
When starting out you go through phases of trying out different styles to see what you enjoy. I’ve discovered that I find it hard to stick to one style or approach, instead I use my cameras as tools to experiment with. I shoot portraits and documentary stuff, but I really enjoy constantly trying new ways of shooting. I think I’m influenced by everybody. I see merit in all work- art, design and photography.
There’s always great stuff online too but I’m wary of overload. It’s easy to see endless amazing work and feel like nothing is original anymore so sometimes I ignore it all and just go with what I feel.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
AM: I shoot both film and digital. Sometimes I enjoy the slow, “mindfulness” thing and the delayed gratification that film photography provides but I also love playing with Lightroom, and pretty much all my paid photographic work to date has been using one of my Nikon DSLRs. But I love the crossover; using old glass on new cameras.
My favourite lenses are manual focus ones from the 70’s. Usually, when I take a day out to shoot, I’ll have a DSLR plus a film SLR/rangefinder plus a small film point and shoot. I have a lot of cameras so I need to keep rotating them to ensure that I get to know them well.
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?
AM: I am putting a lot of focus into 3 areas: Portraits, Documentary and more experimental styles of photography – I designed a special device that I’ve had built which allows me to shoot in a new way – I can’t say much more than that at the moment as I’ve only just started tinkering with it but I’ve always strived to try and find a unique way of shooting and this could be one of the paths towards it.
I think all photographers are striving to find a “voice” and I’m no different. I think that one’s style slowly develops over the years. I just want to get better. And for me good isn’t just about technically good, it’s about having a distinct view of the world. Focus and sharpness are overrated. Composition and content are what matters to me. I recently made my first photobook, Goodnight Sweetheart – 3 years worth of photographs of dumped mattresses combined with poetry and prose. I’d like to publish more books definitely. I’ve also tinkered with the idea of buying a professional printer.
I’ve realised that photographs mean nothing until they’re printed as tangible objects. Selling prints and having an exhibition of my work. That’s something I’d definitely like to do.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
AM: Street portraits. I love to stop strangers on the street, engage with them and shoot them. I love the instantaneous and fragile moment that develops, and the challenge of capturing it. I’ve also realised that it’s something I have a natural knack for and as a result, I’ve put a lot of time into getting better at it.
I also love strong graphic shots of objects. Things that – when photographed – are taken out of context, and take on a new personality – like the mop in the bucket. In fact, come to think of it, I think that I am an experimental photographer first and foremost. I find it hard to stick to one thing or one way of doing things – if you ask me this question a month from now I’ll have a different answer for you.
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 do you take with you and why?
The Nikon is so easy and instinctive to use for me, and super reliable. It has a top shutter speed of 1/4000s, so I can shoot at f/1.2 in bright light without overexposing. It’s aperture priority, which gives me one less thing to do, and it’s as hard as nails and can work without a battery at all speeds.
The Nikkor 50 f/1.2 is my favourite lens. I use it on my Nikon D850 too with gorgeous results. With that camera and lens, I’m ready for anything – and Portra 400 needs no explanation. The NEOPAN 400 is just so beautiful… I’ll be gutted when it’s gone. Sharp and smooth and punchy. Special stuff.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, where do you go and why?
AM: I think it would be London, and with Fomapan 200! London takes on a different look with each season. It has a very culturally mixed (and stylish) population, there’s always something going on, and each area has its own vibe.
Despite places like Japan and India appealing to me, I like the constant “newness” that London provides. And there are more pubs to stop off at along the way. If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of photography. And Fomapan 200 has this lovely timeless retro soft feel to it. I think a lifetime’s worth of Fomapan 200 shots of London could be quite an interesting body of work.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
AM: Cinestill 800T pushed one stop on a night out in Shibuya, Tokyo. It would be a night of fulfilling my neon-soaked Ridley Scott fantasies. I love black and white, but I’d want to go out in a blaze of vibrant Technicolor.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
AM: Well there’s the misconception that film is just an expensive passing fad for hipsters. This will slowly change, because film is slowly filtering down to the masses, just like vinyl. It will just take time, and teenagers getting into Instax is helping.
I actually think the biggest block is that people don’t realise that film – and film developing – is still available. If the Jessops’ of this world started to advertise their film services a bit more it would help to speed up the process, if you pardon the pun. But the fact that new independent labs are popping up is really encouraging.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
AM: I think the future of film photography is very exciting. Kickstarter and 3D printing have decentralized production and brought it to the bedroom, so every geek out there is trying something new out, be it a quirky lens adapter, a way to use old film formats in newer cameras, or even building box cameras from scratch.
Despite many films dying out, many more have appeared. And there’s enough money in it for people to start developing more cameras and gadgets- which they are doing. And the big corporations aren’t ignorant of this fact. A new film camera from a big brand in a few years from now wouldn’t surprise me.
Just like music on vinyl, people are realising that they can enjoy both digital and analogue for different reasons, and it’s not a competition. You can have both.
The rising price of film cameras is a big indication of the interest in the medium.
The mantra, “I like to try stuff out and see what happens” has gotten me laughed out of internet forums and been the cause of a few strange looks amongst friends but I stand by it and am glad to know that I’m not alone.
The beauty of photography – film or otherwise is that once we realise that breaking past the established norm for how a photograph should be conceived, taken, processed and presented, presents a whole world of creative possibilities. Sometimes it works, sometimes don’t but you won’t know until you find out; whether you break out of the established norms of one aspect of the process or the whole thing.
In all of that, it’s worth remembering that whilst you should, of course, try to learn from others, what works and doesn’t work for you is unique to you. Go with your flow.
Please make sure you check out Anil’s personal photography website and professional website. While you’re there, please also take a peek at Goodnight Sweetheart in his shop. It’s in support of a very worthy cause and as a bonus, you get to read a contribution from yours truly (don’t let that put you off, though). Finally, you can catch up with Anil on Twitter and other social media (link on his photography website).
That’s the end of another interview but I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with fresh blood for you all. In the meantime, please take a look around, there’s a lot going on here on EMULSIVE.
Thanks for reading and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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