David Hume | Jul 10, 2018 | 6
I am Fabian Schmid and this is why I shoot film
You might remember today’s interviewee from part one of his beautiful 2017 travelogue. I’m so glad to be able bring more of his words and pictures here today.
Over to you, Fabian!
Hi Fabian, what’s this picture, then?
FS: This is one of my favorite black and white pictures I’ve taken. There’s not a lot on it, it’s quite minimalistic. It’s part of an ongoing series I call Stillness. I like its mood that transmits a certain calmness – or stillness – and is created by the simplicity of the picture, a beautiful landscape along with the weather and the grain of the film. It was taken on a lens and camera combination that cost me no more than 150$.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
FS: I’m a photographer from Bern, Switzerland, with an emphasis on travel, street and editorial as well as architecture photography. I shoot film whenever possible and digital whenever necessary, which means I mostly shoot digital for client work and shoot film for pretty much all personal work. I also work as a filmmaker.
Travel has always been the biggest source of inspiration for me. It was also what brought me into photography in the first place. A while ago, I got into darkroom printing and I recently started an online print shop, in which I offer a selection of hand-made black and white gelatin silver prints as well as digital color prints for purchase.
I work with small, medium and sometimes large format film, most of the time with a Hasselblad 503 CW and a Leica M6 rangefinder. My favorite film stocks are Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400. They’re both very versatile – when exposed accordingly.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
FS: I picked up a Pentax K1000 on a trip to New York City about five years ago. I started shooting it every now and then and got more into shooting film, while still mostly shooting digital cameras. I completely switched to film for personal work after I’d finished an exchange semester in Gothenburg, Sweden, where I bought my Hasselblad. Of course, I did shoot film as a kid on school trips and family vacations too, some fifteen years or so earlier.
It’s the distinct look, the colors, the grain, and perhaps most importantly the slowing down in the process that fascinate and motivate me. I choose – and compose – my subjects much more carefully when I know that I’m limited to 12 or 36 frames and that I’ll be paying a dollar (or two, three) for each frame. For these reasons, I’ve been sticking to film for the last few years.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
FS: When I first started out in photography, there were many different, mostly unknown photographers who inspired me. I was fascinated by everything new I discovered. For a while, I was very much into Vincent Laforet’s work, long before he started the (very impressive) Air series.
A little later, I began to admire the work of the big street and documentary photographers Cartier-Bresson, Friedlander, Walker Evans, Vivian Maier, and probably most of all Robert Frank. Those guys are still among my favorites and a big inspiration.
A more recent inspiration is Johnny Patience. I discovered his work at some point during my transition to film, probably while researching something about my then newly-acquired Hasselblad. And I really liked his style, his personal and honest writing and his approach to photography, which I believe is similar to mine – probably thanks to him in part: using as little gear as possible but as much as necessary, not always playing by (possibly outdated) rules, guesstimating instead of metering… I’ve learned a lot in his darkroom printing workshop, from reading his writing, and from following his work.
Anna Strand, one of my lecturers during my exchange semester in Gothenburg, influenced me as a photographer – and so did many of my fellow students there. And finally, Susan Sontag’s writing was and is a great inspiration.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
FS: I do shoot both film and digital. I shoot film for personal work and I mostly use a digital camera for client work, although I’m trying to get more client work done on film. I recently switched from Canon to a Leica M in order to sort of get closer to the experience of shooting film. If I could choose, I would probably shoot film for pretty much everything – but bring a digital Leica as a backup.
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?
FS: I love portrait work and though I’ve always wanted to do more of it, it’s never been my strong point. The guys at the Against the Grain podcast have started a project where they take a picture every month, week, day, or just whenever they feel like, and don’t develop the exposed rolls for a year.
So far, 49 people have joined in. I joined too and decided that I’m going to take (at least) one portrait each week with the Pentax K1000 that I hardly use anymore these days. At the time of writing, I’m eight weeks in and I’ve taken ten portraits of nine different people.
Besides improving my portrait work, I want to work on projects and series more often and also shoot with more of a concept in place, rather than just go out and shoot whatever catches my eye – which I don’t think is a bad thing and I definitely won’t stop doing either. Rafa Badia recently called the difference between his travel and street photography searching for pictures versus finding pictures in Carrete zine.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
FS: I like taking pictures that lead the viewer’s eye towards the center of the image, like shooting directly into a street, alley etc. I often shoot sort of geometrical too instead of, say, following the rule of thirds.
For some reason, I’m drawn to shooting windows and façades of buildings, as well as other simple things of the everyday that make for an interesting pattern or have a nice texture or something. In 2015, I made a book(let) called The Ordinary that was all about patterns in the everyday.
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?
FS: The Leica M6 because it’s awesome, versatile, light, compact and sturdy, and being a 35mm camera I’ll have 36 frames and not just 12 (or less) as with other formats. For the lens, I’ll bring the Summicron 50mm f/2 because it’s pretty much the only lens I shoot on my M6 at the moment, with a few exceptions. It’s super sharp, it has a good in-between focal length, and it’s light, sturdy and compact too.
Kodak Portra 400 and Tri-X 400 so I can choose between color and black and white, and those are the film stocks I shoot most of the time. Also, both are very versatile and great in bright sunlight, yet able to perform well indoors or even at night, if necessary.
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?
FS: I’m going to New York City because it never runs out of new and surprising subjects to photograph and because it’s a wonderful, crazy place. I’m going to be shooting Tri-X 400 because New York is black-and-white in my mind (thanks to all the famous street photographers). Also, I want to improve my black-and-white shooting.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
FS: I’ll shoot it in Bern, Switzerland, because it’s my hometown and it’s a beautiful city. Since I’d bring Tri-X for the previous question, I’ll choose Portra this time. I will overexpose it by about 2 stops but I won’t know exactly because I won’t have a meter with me. I will take a portrait of my girlfriend in the old quarter of the city.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
FS: Tough one! Perhaps that shooting film is complicated and difficult. I think it’s much easier to take a decently exposed photo on color (not black and white) film than on a digital camera. I seriously don’t know how I would set that straight. Keep spreading film photography and passing on knowledge, I suppose.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
FS: I’m expecting the current boom to continue for a few years and then probably slow down. I think a bunch of photographers who switched to film will go back to digital, but many will stick with film. I also expect more manufacturers and big companies to discover that film is not dead, like Kodak has, and create new products for the film photography community or bring old, discontinued products back to life, like it’s already started to happen with Impossible, Polaroid and many other.
~ Fabian Schmid
A huge thanks for Fabian for jumping it. It was good to learn a little more about the man himself.
Fabian has asked me to let you know that he’s extending the print shop discount he offered in his travelogue retrospective. If you’re interesting in snagging yourself a 10% discount, please visit his website and used the code “EMULSIVE.ORG”.
Tune back in next week for another interview and in the meantime, please check our Andreas Zieroth’s #5FramesWith on Lomography Color 800 negative film, or jump on over to Tobias Eriksson’s double review of the Voigtlander Vito B and A&K Arkarette II.
As ever, keep shooting, folks!
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