David Hume | Jul 10, 2018 | 6
I am Chuck Miller and this is why I shoot film
Today we’ve dragged Chuck Miller away from his day job to tell us a bit about himself and his often seen “splitfilm” photography. In case you’re not familiar with it, I won’t spoil it here. Rather, I’ll keep my mouth shut and let the man himself do the talking.
Over to you, Chuck.
Hi Chuck, what’s this picture, then?
This photo, “The AGFA Bridge Over Ansco Lake”, was my first truly successful entry into “splitfilm” photography.
In “splitfilm,” one rolls two different films together and then exposes the images simultaneously in the camera. For this experiment, I loaded a pack of AGFA Vista 200 color print film, which has a high primary color content, into a roll of Ansco All-Weather Pan black and white film from the 1960’s.
The Ansco film was about to turn, and you can see the emulsion degradation in the picture – while at the same time you can see the 35mm print of the bridge, along with the sprocket holes that seep through the one film strip to the other. The photo was shot in a 616 AGFA Chief point-and-shoot box camera from the 1940’s, which I chose because of its simple construction AND because it could handle two films in one spool without jamming.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I am a writer, blogger and photographer from Albany, New York. I am someone who does not believe that just because a camera is old, that it is no longer useable. In fact, some of my favorite cameras in my arsenal – including my Leica M3, my Kodak Medalist II, and my AGFA Clipper Special f/6.3 – are about as old as my grandparents. And I don’t consider my grandparents “old” or “unuseable”. 🙂
When did you start shooting film?
Other than using a disposable camera on family vacations, I took my first film shots in 2009 with a Kiev 19 Russian 35mm camera that I purchased – believe it or not – for its Helios 81-H lens. Gotta love that Russian bomb-sight glass. And although the Kiev 19 was an ugly camera, it was a workhorse. I used that camera for about two years, then donated it to the Film Photography Podcast – they re-gift donated cameras to film students.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
There’s a beauty and warmth in film photography, and there’s also a great construct to it. You’re essentially using film as your own personal tool to create your expression and emotion in a stable image, and to do that, you have to consider all your variables before, during and after the shutter button is pressed.
For example, in this photo, “Jessica: Instamatic Dichotomy”, I wanted to create a photo that shows the everyday struggles of those who don’t normally fit in a rigid, restricted environment.
To do this, I had to work with vintage Kodak Instamatic film, which I rolled parallel into a 616 spool. Then I used my AGFA Clipper Special f/6.3 and took the shot. I knew the Instamatic film was not fresh – heck, who makes Instamatic film these days?! – but because I knew the colors would start to shift, I used that to my advantage.
Yeah, I’m sure there’s an Instagram filter out there, but for me this allowed me the chance to make a camera and film achieve what they’re not normally built to achieve.
Any favorite subject matter?
One of my favorite subjects involves “ghost signs,” vintage old advertisements that have remained painted on buildings long after the products have since disappeared.
These ads can be found anywhere in the United States, mostly on old barns and brick buildings, and mostly hawking everything from Uneeda Biscuits to Mail Pouch Tobacco. The tricky part is trying to capture these images and get the detail of the original ad in full view.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
It would be a frozen-and-thawed pack of Kodak EIR Infrared “Aerochrome” color slide film, 120 format that I would respool as 620 film and shoot in my Kodak Medalist II camera.
To be able to create images with brilliant red foliage and black-white water, with monochromatic blue-white clouds… it would be like one last pass through the beauty of nature.
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?
So I figure I’ll have 72 exposures maximum. And I have to use what’s in my current camera arsenal. For the body, I’ll take my Nikon F100 35mm shooter, with a Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens on the chassis.
As for the films, I’ll use one pack of my favorite B&W film, Efke 100. I love the high-contrast images one can get from Efke film, and although I have used other B&W products – Kodak Tri-X, ORWO, AGFA Scala, Svema – I keep returning to this product. I still have a few rolls of it in the freezer, and am always on the hunt for more. Assuming this might also involve color, I think that I would choose Kodak Ektar 100 print film just for its distinctive tonal qualities and appealing grain.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
In upstate New York, there are six million acres of forever wild forests and mountains called the Adirondacks. Between the fall foliage and the winter landscapes, the heritage railroads and the sunrise through cabin windows, it’s a beautiful and magical location. You can photograph anything from star trails to raging rapids, from abandoned campgrounds to breathtaking chasms.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
Besides the fact that film’s not dead and that we can get it developed, yes we do have digital cameras and we know they exist on our phones, and no, we don’t all wear skinny jeans and neckbeards and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and live in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn?
Ha… No, I think the biggest misconception today is that people automatically think that digital photography has eclipsed film photography in terms of quality and reliability. Film photography is like painting. Your films are your oils, the camera is your brush, and the view through the lens is your canvas.
And the fact that people feel they need to add some VSCO filter to a digital photo to make it LOOK like a film photo means that there is still love out there for the aesthetics and beauty of film photography.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
I believe that there are so many aficionados of film photography, those of us who still experiment with film and how to take pictures, that the medium will continue to move forward.
You have boutique companies like Revolog who manufacture “prepared” film (film with streaks or bubbles or marks on the emulsion). You have organizations like Lomography and the Film Photography Podcast who still sell heritage films for a specific image concept.
Film is evolving into a higher form of art, a way to achieve an image with the collaboration of all the tools to finish the project.
~ Chuck Miller
Thanks Chuck, great read.
I first came across Chuck’s splitfilm when a friend introduced me to his work as a few screenshots via instant messaging a few years ago – why he didn’t just send me links was beyond me. I was inspired enough to give it a go for myself but at that time, I had neither the ability, nor the patience to do it right. Needless to say that my first attempt was an unabashed failure.
Fast forward to a few months ago and a familiar name happened to appear in my Inbox. Could it be the same man? There was only one way to find out.
Regular readers know that I have slant slightly toward the experimentation side of the film photography spectrum but it’s reasonable to say that I experiment with only one roll of film at a time in my cameras. I’m not one for creating a scene to shoot, flipping a lens, or doing much more that the most simple of modifications myself but it’s a trait that I truly admire in others. When I looked over Chuck’s (expanded) collection of images whilst putting this interview together I couldn’t help be overcome with excitement at being able to share his work. I also felt that little spark go off in me – the one which nearly always results in cut hands, devastated rolls of film and the occasional plastic camera smashed on concrete in pure frustration.
As Chuck rightly said, “Your films are your oils, the camera is your brush, and the view through the lens is your canvas”. It’s a sentiment that I think many photographers share, especially those that lean toward the more creative and experimental side of things. I can’t say that I deserve to use those words for myself, considering the current state of my output but I’ll get there.
I’m sure we all will, at some point.
Thanks very much for reading and please make sure you catch up with Chuck’s latest writings over at the Times Union, or via Twitter at @chuckthewriter.
We’ll be back again very soon with another film photographer interview but in the meantime (and as ever), keep shooting, folks.
EMULSIVE 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.