I am Ian Bartlett and this is why I shoot film
If you remember 2017’s Mamiya C220 TLR review, or spend any time at all with the wonderful film photography community on Twitter, then you’ll be more than familiar with today’s interviewee, Ian Bartlett.
I’m looking forward to this! Over to you, Ian…
Hi Ian, what is this picture then?
IB: This is a shot of Summerhill Force waterfall and, behind it, Gibson’s Cave in Teesdale, Northern England. This recess behind the falls is named after a 16th century outlaw who hid from his captors behind Bowlees Beck as it leaps over the top.
I more or less stumbled across this place–which is sometimes the best way of doing this photography lark–when following a path from the car park to see where it went. This path passes a much lower waterfall, more of a cascade before reaching this spot, and on this day I was armed with my Bronica ETRS, Kodak Ektar 100 and a Lee filters Little Stopper. Am a sucker for the blurry water, but hey, who isn’t?
OK, so who are you? (The short version please)
IB: I’m a returning analogue photographer, though dallying with digital for days out / family trips. Am trending towards medium format over 35mm, and can shoot 6×4.5, 6×6 and 6×9 in this format.I have recently acquired a Hasselblad 500CM after a wait of near 40 years. I still consider myself to be a landscape photographer.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
IB: I’m of an age when my first camera was a Kodak Instamatic shooting 126 cartridge film. We’re probably talking about late 70’s. I’m fairly certain I progressed from that via some Halina models. I borrowed my brothers Cosmic Symbol at times, then had a Zenit E before settling into a Yashica FX-D Quartz through my teenage years and 20’s. I the got myself a Bronica ETRS (no, not the one that took the image at the top!) before it all went to raise funds for a move to London in 1992.
Then followed a very long break until I took up a camera again after University with a poxy Fuji digital compact, then an Olympus 4/3rds DSLR. I now shoot Canon digitally.
As the majority of my time on planet earth has been in the analogue realm, it was a natural that I would return to film, and its been a GAS strewn route but am now more settled. For me, it’s the whole shebang – the look, the feel of the film, the smell as I pop open a film canister, the sound (in my OM1 – the ‘hiss’ as the silky smooth wind on extracts the film across the gate – I can hear that!; the soft click-click-click-click of the Bronica winding crank or the double KER-PLUNK of the 500 CM); and then the whole developing process at home. I’m actually creating something from (almost) nothing. Moments in time, little rectangles never to be repeated, never captured before.
This image, mundane as it might appear, is one from my year recording a local site for some ‘project’ work (I set myself these each year). I’m trying to capture the change over the year, and forestry operation is part of that. While the colours I thought luscious, when I next returned shortly after, this entire pile had gone. Never to be repeated.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
IB: My real abiding interest during my first ‘phase’ of film shooting with the trusty Yashica was capturing my walks in the English Lake District hills, (which is why I think of myself as a landscape photographer) but at the time, my interest in and research of other photographer’s work was limited to perusing various walking magazines. I walked alone in those days so had not even a companion’s images to compare to. I don’t feel that this impacted in anyway particularly, I liked what I knew and knew what I liked.
Now, it’s a very different story. Through the good offices of Twitter, I have grown to know and appreciate the work of many fellow photographers, and am amazed by the amount of work that’s put ‘out there’ by them.
I spend far too long admiring these for my health, but its allowed me to be able to purchase small print run photobooks (published by the likes of @kozubooks, @AP_books and @TripleKiteBooks) which I would never have been aware of otherwise. Its also led me down a book-collecting route that’s injurious to financial health, but hey – you can’t take it with you, eh?
It’s a bit unfair to single out photographers, but I have a particular liking for Michael Kenna, good old Ansel Adams (obvs.) – not that I produce anything like their imagery, but that’s not the point – its all about inspiration, not repetition.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
IB: As noted above, I shoot Canon digitally as well as film. I find that I plan my photography more with my film work, and my annual projects I set myself helps with this. When I leave the house with my film kit, I’m generally by myself, generally heading somewhere specific in the landscape. With digital, its more spontaneous, I just sort of pick up the kit as we all leave the house, usually to some city centre, and find myself being ‘freer’ with it, taking images I probably wouldn’t dream of on film.
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?
IB: I may be a mixed media kinda guy, but I want to build a darkroom next year (I’ve been saying this for the last 13 years). I used to print in the early days in my parents’ house loft, and thought I was just dabbling really, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Besides, scanning negatives is cheating, right? I constantly battle with the ‘conversion of analogue to digital, why not just shoot digital then?’ question. I have no satisfactory resolution to that yet. This will be a big step for me and would add another string to my bow.
I am hopeful that the sheer expense of my new Hasselblad (which you’ll see me tag as #BladTheImpaler) will force me to take more time over my picture making, producing fewer, but better, images. I also want to get a better grip on filtration technique.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
IB: I can’t say I do. My subject matter is fairly eclectic, though its always outdoors! So maybe my regular subject matter is ‘the outdoors’! I would rather be outdoors most of the time.
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?
IB: Bronica ETRS with the 40mm lens. Two, film backs one with Fuji Acros 100 and the other Kodak Ektar 100.
The 40mm (about 35mm in 35mm terms) is just wide enough for most things I find. It’s an f/4 so I hope its sunny. The Acros is a recent new discovery for me, and its flawless grain is superb but I’ve only shot it in my Hasselblad (spoiler alert) but look at the flawless grain!! The colours of the Ektar are luscious and I know it will scan really well.
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?
IB: The English Lake District. Recently extended to cover over 2300 square kilometres and with 3,100 km of footpaths, its got enough to keep me occupied through all the seasons for the duration. Gonna have to be the Hasselblad (as I’ve waited so long!) and Ektar 100 for the reason above.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
IB: Kodak Portra 160, and images of my family shot on the classic studio camera, my Mamiya C220 TLR. Shot at box speed – no risks being taken here! That said, this image is from an Olympus, but it shows the films classic muted palate well, and it’s this palate, which some may see as ever so slightly ‘off’, that would appeal for this family portrait session.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
IB: That it ‘makes you slow down’. I can burn a 36 exposure roll in no time, given the right circumstances. Granted that it effectively costs money each time you hit the shutter, compared to the price of a semi-pro DSLR, this is still in your favour for a good while.
Also granted, that if you shoot large format, it really does slow you down but if you want to come away from a location with 1 or 2 ‘keepers’, one can achieve that digitally too. Exerting a bit of self-discipline should mean that, just like with film, one thinks of the composition and lens, sets up the tripod, chooses the filters as required, set your exposures, wait for the light, shoot. Once. Get it right in camera.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
IB: Its in rude health I would say, with the determined players (Kodak and Ilford) being joined by lots of small scale returners (Ferrania) and new players (Bergger, Silberra) coming to the party.
Of more concern perhaps is getting these films developed if you don’t do this yourself, and the inevitable decline in the availability of film cameras. I see myself as a custodian of my cameras and have no compunction in having them repaired if required (like my recent clean-up of my 80mm Mamiya TLR lens set). They have lasted this long, and I’ll be darned if they fail on my watch.
~ Ian Bartlett
It’s so difficult for me to choose a favourite between Ian’s back and white and colour photography – do I have to? I hope you’ll join me in scrolling back up and giving Ian’s work and words a second, third, or even fourth glance.
You can find Ian on Twitter, or over at his website. I’d highly recommend the former, expecially if you’re not already on Twitter. There’s such a vibrant and generous community there, so jump on, introduce yourself and get stuck in!
Another fresh interviewee will be with you next week but in the mean time, please have a look around, there’s lots of fresh stuff already posted this week and if I may, I’d like to draw your attention to a little blind test of Kodak Portra 800, Lomography Colour Negative 800 and Fuji Natura 1600.
Thanks for reading and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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