I am Christopher P. Michel and this is why I shoot film
Ladies and gentlemen I’m incredibly proud to bring you the first EMULSIVE interview of 2018, and it’s one I’ve been waiting for myself for quite a while.
Indulge yourself and sink into the words and pictures of Christopher P. Michel.
Over to you, Christopher…
Hi Christopher, what’s this picture, then?
CPM: There is only one ship that can reliably make it to the North Pole – and this is it, the Russian nuclear Icebreaker, 50 Years of Victory. And what’s better than arriving at the North Pole? Flying above it in a balloon. If you’re interested, I’ve written about it here.
We inflated and launched the balloon when we arrived to the Pole via the nuclear icebreaker.
From a film point of view, I’ll never forget how quiet it was at the Pole and how the shutter actuation sounded particularly pronounced as I sat alone amidst the ice drifts.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
CPM: I’m a freelance photographer and writer. I love many types of photography, but my first love is adventure travel and environmental portraits. This is my third career!
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
CPM: I started shooting film seriously about 7 years ago. Well, what drives me to keep shooting in general is an absolute love of photography.
My camera is the golden ticket to see and do anything in the world – and there is so much to see and learn! It’s also incredibly rewarding that my images are used by non-profits throughout the world to help their conservation missions. Why film? Well, I love old cameras, the film process (much more considered), and the output – special and archival.
The modernization of cameras has brought us better images, faster and more reliable shooting, and smaller form factors. But there is something to be said for the traditional tools of photography – levers, gears, and glass. No software upgrades ever. Just a simple, fluid man-machine interface.
Like many people who shoot both film and digital, I find film shooting much slower (mostly a good thing) and methodical. It’s more of a meditative rhythm about the entire process. From a working point of view, I mainly use my digital camera — and almost always bring a film camera for me. I’m headed to the again South Pole in January and will be bringing a Nikon D5 and D850; and a Mamiya 7II with 25 rolls of Kodak Portra 160 & 400. And when I see something I love, I’ll use the Mamiya to make the photograph.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
CPM: Once I was given a good camera (in 1998), I was forever hooked. And it’s been an obsession ever since.
What got me hooked? Well, I’d say it was finding purpose in my everyday. I wasn’t just seeing things – I was now seeing and making. The process of creating is reward in itself; and after that, it was the challenge of creating good photographs…the joy of small but real improvements as I learned. Today, the true reward is the photographic life.
I’m influenced by so many photographers, but my primary influence is my teacher and friend, NatGeo Photographer, Sam Abell. Sam has forever changed my view about the photographic life, how to make images and their role in the world. This video is worth an hour of your time.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
CPM: For me, there is a sense that a film picture and physical negative is more real, more archival and increasingly special in a world of bits.
I choose film when I believe the subject is worthy of creating something really special (and the circumstances allow it). So, when I traveled to Sudan, Svalbard and the North Pole, a medium-format film camera was my first choice.
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?
CPM: My photography has evolved significantly over the years. I often think of assignments in terms of poems – do the 10 images tell a compelling, soulful and truthful story? I am also deeply committed to attempting to make the very best photograph possible within the circumstances.
Compose and wait. I care deeply about the composition and micro-composition of the image. Edges matter. I don’t need hundreds of photographs – I just need a few that matter.
So, if storytelling is technique, then yes, the evolution I expect to undergo over the coming year is more to do with it’s refinement!
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
CPM: Yes. I regularly find myself in some of the world’s most remote places photographing humans navigating the extremes of the Earth – both poles, under the sea, the jungles of Democratic & PNG, the deserts of middle-east, the edge of space and even in solitary confinement in a super-max prison. These are often empty, dangerous places where humans struggle to survive.
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?
CPM: Well, to be honest, if I didn’t know the assignment, I’d bring a Nikon D850 + 24-70 lens. If I had to choose a film camera, I’d take my Leica MP, 35 & 50mm lens. Portra 400 & Portra 800 (just in case)
My MP is like an old friend – I know her like the back of my hand and she performs – even in rough conditions…always.
It’s hard to go wrong with Portra color film! I’ve pulled out great detail from mis-metered shots many times. Honesty, it’s a delight to shoot with any equipment that just works.
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?
CPM: I take the Mamiya 7II and head back to Antarctica (headed there for the 6th time in January – back to the South Pole).
Antarctica is a place materially untouched by humans (except for the melting ice). Being there, often alone in the expanse, feels incredibly special. It’s also wonderful to be able to make pictures of one of nature’s most beautiful landscapes.
Oh, and the Penguins!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
CPM: I’d head to Big Sur with my girlfriend and take photographs of her. The images that touch my heart are the ones that matter the most.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
CPM: YOU CAN BUY FILM ON AMAZON!
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
CPM: Stronger than ever. People love film.
~ Christopher P. Michel
Not all travel, or destination photography is good photography, even with sprawling landscapes and moments of far flung lives at your fingertips. It still takes an eye and vision to produce something special.
Christopher’s work is grand, yes – especially the examples you see above – but there’s also a certain personal perspective on the environments he’s shown us today. I like it, a lot.
Please take a moment to find and follow Christopher over on Twitter, Flickr and Instagram, where you’ll not only be able to see more of these amazing landscapes but also his more personal portraiture (my personal favourites).
Thanks so much for reading and a huge thanks for taking the time out to step up. It’s very much appreciated. I’ll be back next week with a slightly different photographer who very much takes the “film slows you down” sentiment to heart.
Until then, take care and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
Write for EMULSIVE
The driving force behind EMULSIVE is knowledge transfer, specifically creating more of it in the film photography community. You can help by contributing your thoughts, work and ideas to inspire others reading these pages.
Take action and help drive an open, collaborative community: all you need do is read this and then drop me a line.
Lend your support
Like what you see here? You can support EMULSIVE by helping to contribute to the community voice on this website (see above), or by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and considering financial support from as little as $2 a month.
As if that’s not enough, there’s also an EMULSIVE print and apparel store over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique prints of photographs made by yours truly
In short, I want to continue building this platform and I’d love your help to make that happen.