I am James Tarry and this is why I shoot film
If you’ve not come across today’s interviewee before, you’re in for a treat. He’s a mixed medium, mixed format but not mixed message photographer (currently based in London, which he loves/hates).
If you have come across him before you’ll know that he’s active, engaging and his work is thoroughly mesmerizing.
It’s the one and only James Tarry!
Over to you, James.
Hi James, whats this picture then?
JT: This is the picture that got me on my way to the project/technique that I am currently using.
Initially I had picked up a monorail technical 4×5 camera after watching a Julius Shulman documentary (Visual Acoustics) to help improve my digital day to day, but as I started to experiment I could tell in my bones I could do something different with it.
This particular image was shot on the Southbank in London, I met a free runner showed him the camera-asked him to do a backflip and that was that!!
Well that was over a year ago and it has since changed forms, films, and cameras types several times since
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
JT: I am a professional photographer shooting interiors/architecture in London. I am also a stock photographer and artist. I’ve been doodling, painting, drawing, clicking and sometimes doing nothing at all since I was born. 10 years ago I went professional, 2 years ago I started showing my art work more frequently.
I have strong opinions and I’m probably known more on Twitter for my rants about my deep rooted love/hate relationship with London than anything else 🙂
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting?
JT: I remember as a kid – lets say 30 (cough) odd years ago – always having some sort of camera. I had a variety of cameras, from the store box (preloaded) ones, to Kodak Discs and couple of old Canons – this was all pre digital.
I used to drive my parents nuts – all my holiday photos were weird angles, photos of pavement slabs and random oddities. My folks (I think), must’ve always known that I would end up down the creative route and encouraged all my hair-brained ideas (or at least tolerated them!)
I went on to study art, design, film studies and photography at GSCE and A-level (UK school examinations at 16 and 18 years old), but stopped from going onto University after being put off “chasing the dream of working in the arts” by the teachers: “you must pick a trade, no one earns a living doing art, you will never be an architect there’s too much competition etc, etc.”
As a result I didn’t touch a camera for 10 years after that, I have never drawn again and up until recently hadn’t touched paint either. For years I bounced around various random jobs until I got made redundant from a delivery driving job. I figured that the only thing I REALLY enjoyed was photography, so I picked up a digital camera and started building a portfolio of sorts and went around finding a photography job(sadly all my work/negs were binned by my college before I could pick them up after leaving).
Lucky I fell into photographing peoples houses for sale/rental and that got me back on track.
My journey back to film started about 5 years ago when I bought a Hasselblad. I can’t exactly recall why, it was a bit of a whim I think – and it didn’t get used for about a year because I couldn’t figure out what to do with it!
Not long after, my girlfriend and I quit our jobs in London and took 6 months off. We spent 3 months around California travelling and resting, as we were sick of London and needed to sort our heads out.
I was doing a bit of freelancing in San Francisco where we were largely based, and my girlfriend was writing her book. We took to the roads and I started to shoot a lot of the trip on the Hasselblad…I found I was enjoying my photography again.
When we returned to UK I just kept on using film….until last year when I figured out that using film for stock shots/work etc., just wasn’t for me. It was too hit and miss and too much like hard work. Carrying the gear through airport security, developing the films, binning half of them…it was clear that for my work, digital should be my go to, especially when travelling and I want to fill my stock photography boots up!
However, what became abundantly clear was that while digital was good for the business side of my life, it wasn’t for my creative side. With digital I can never figure out how to do what’s in my head – I’m sure someone could do what I do with Photoshop in the blink of an eye but I despise editing so much that it wouldn’t be fun at all to me, or as meaningful.
I also don’t really want to sit at a desk and click around with files for my art pieces, as half of my day is spent doing that for work. Somehow with film I can figure out a way to get results that fester in my brain. It might take a few tries, or months (or even years) but I can often get what I want organically.
That’s half the appeal – the physicality of the negatives, the connection with seeing a photograph start as a roll of film, developing it in the bathtub, cutting it up, chucking it in the pile of yes/no’s, getting it dirty and scratched, having to go out with another roll/sheet and do it again – maybe with a different camera or format, or an expired film – there are so many possibilities that with I find limiting when using digital.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
JT: Currently, the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat helped me get back into painting/spray paints, I know that he’s definitely been a big help to me but photography wise; no one influenced me really when I was starting out – quite the opposite as my teachers all but destroyed that “dream” and as such I think even today, no one really does still.
I do not have one particular favourite photographer and I rarely look at any other photographers body of work (books, etc.)
Influences work-wise have largely come from within, and art-wise “inspiration” has always come from various mediums music/art/exhibitions/walking around. I do love the work of Ansel Adams, William Klein and William Eggleston, though.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
JT: My day job largely dictates my choice of film or digital. I always use digital for work and always use film for creative projects. I use digital primarily for ease and speed; and film for everything else because I can usually get what I have in my head using the medium.
With film I can ‘work it out’ either by trial and error or by physically holding the negatives-they make more sense to me.
Mixed medium…I guess I am heading that way – spray painting a massive print was the first step towards that…well, second…I’m not counting the first as I hate it haha!
My next step involves paint also but in a slightly different way (If i can figure it out!! See below!)
What’s the next challenge…your next step? How do you see improving your technique or what aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
JT: After dabbling further with my 4×5 camera, and expanding on a triple exposure technique which also involved cross processing old expired Kodak Ektachrome, I got bored one afternoon so watched a documentary on artists and skateboarders.
At the end, something clicked in my head and I turned out a box of 120 negatives and figured out how to make the exact look that I had been trying to get with the 4×5 for ages…..and when I mean ages, it was months of shooting, and boxes and boxes and boxes of 4×5 sheets.
SO, I ditched the 4×5, went back to the Hasselblad and started again……yes, again!
This whole project has been an ongoing slew of changes. Just when I believe I’ve “got it”, I change it or discover something that takes me in a different direction. Now I “have the look” and earlier this year I took it into public forums and exhibited at The Other Art Fair in London. It thankfully seemed to go down well and also sell.
Now, saying all that, during a trip to Portugal I was mulling over an idea I had since I had seen my girlfriend spend several hours in awe of her favourite artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in Bilbao. At the time I was unfamiliar with his work (and story) and was keen to understand why she loved his work so much so
I watched documentaries and jumped into his work full tilt and am now a massive fan myself, which in turn lead me down this new path……I wanted to paint again, but also wanted to combine it with photography. I sent off one of my images to be printed up and I set to it with paint.
I was happy. I was posting the whole process on social media and it was getting a good response. It was so good to be painting and splashing colour around, but as ever something wasn’t quite right (that old niggling sensation).
I took out the Hasselblad went back to a very famous London landmark (which I had tried, and failed to get the right result on before), and armed with a new 250mm Zeiss lens, I reshot it. I took the roll home, developed it, played with negs, scanned the image, sent it off to be printed at 45 by 45 inches, bought some spray paint and set to it.
This is now my next challenge. This image was framed and shown in an Tribe16 Art Fair in London in September 2016, and there are other public shows on the horizon – hopefully something will come out of it all!!
Oh, I’ve also that nagging want, like many over the last year or so to get a Hasselblad Xpan. I have a wonderful idea on what to do with it-but there’s a 4×5 Pinhole from Ondu arriving this year (hopefully) that I need to do something with first!!
Do you have a subject mater or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
JT: As hard as I try not to, I usually end up gravitating back to architecture or something within those realms. I’m fascinated by portraiture and I used to do only that at school/college but now my confidence is shot for that side of things.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What to you take with you and why?
JT: Ha, now if you didn’t say film I’d be answering that with “my Sony A7R mkII and 16-35mm” but you did and thats an easy one: Hasselblad 500 with the 80mm lens and Fuji Pro 400H.
I like to think I’m fairly adaptable with it, its about 200 times lighter than my Horseman 4×5 and its reliable as your oldest friend.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
JT: Because of the nature of what I do to my images, the film type never really comes into it too much. I just buy whatever’s around.
Having said that, I really enjoyed messing around with Kodak EKTACHROME and I did a small Kickstarter project called “One Shot. One Print. One Owner.”, with the my last remaining boxes of 4×5 FP100 – and that stuff was flipping gorgeous!
But, if I could get my hands on a 120 roll of Aerochrome it would be that just because I love Richard Mosse’s images – they knocked my socks off when I saw them in all their gigantic wonder at the Photographers Gallery, London.
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?
JT: Darn. Either back to Tibet or California……I was lucky enough to spend time in Tibet a while back but wasn’t shooting film at the time – it’s such an amazing place with lovely people and its sadly being destroyed.
I fear though that going back now I would see very different and for that reason I’ll pick California. Yup-out of all the places in the world I’ll go back to California (specifically L.A). Man alive, we found it insanely inspirational there and again, I was lucky to be out there long enough to see some very interesting things that if time and money weren’t a factor, I’d love to go back and capture properly.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
JT: I expect you’d think I’d say that “it’s dead” but its not that, I think there’s more than enough of us pro’s and amateurs that know that isn’t the case.
I think the misconception is that in a world of Instagram, Snapchat and digital phones/cameras, film doesn’t really have as much of an important place as it used to, or is being used as much. But there are still an abundance of top photographers using it, artists are taking it adapting it and turning it into something else, the #believeinfilm folk yacker all day about it.
Heck, there’s a reason why so many movie directors are using film again in their productions. Sure, its perhaps not as visible as it used to be but I don’t doubt that its still important to photography
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
JT: I think Apple will merge with Impossible to create a iPhone/Instant film hybrid camera phone that will spit out full colour instants as soon as you hit that little button on your Instagram account……hahaha.
I have no idea, but its not going anywhere just yet.
~ James Tarry
I like, no LOVE James’ mixed medium work. I love the way he mixes experimental photography with physical materials and makes something else. We’ve seen similar techniques used by other photographers featured on these pages in the past but the vibrancy of James’ work is a departure for me.
I’m sure there are photographers out there who scoff at the idea of using a Hasselblad to create anything other than “serious art”. In fact, I’ve had more than a few questions and comments directed at me along the lines of, “can’t you use different camera to make double exposures?”, and “why bother shooting ‘street’ using that?”
I guess it’s easy to forget whilst it’s possible for a camera to be a beautifully engineered object of desire, deserving a spot on a shelf to be admired for eternity, they are – 99.99% of the time – designed to be used to make photographs. They’re tools and should be used for whatever photographic method person behind the lens wants, regardless of any brand or model perception.
By the same measure, I believe that painting on, drawing on, or otherwise physically meddling with a negative should not be considered a desecration of art and more an expression of it. We should all learn to be a little less precious and remember that many have come before and used much less to create work that we still aspire to. Great work is the result of vision, determination and luck, not what badge is on the outside of the “light capture device”.
You’ll have another chance to catch up with our next interviewee next week, in the meantime why not take a minute to have a read of some of our past interviewees. With over 100 photographers featured so far, there must be one or two you’ve missed 🙂
As ever, keep shooting, folks!
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