I am Kevin Luyo and this is why I shoot film
It’s the beginning of May, spring is in full bloom (mostly), I for one can feel summer’s imminent arrival – it’s not soon enough.
So, it seems like the perfect time to bring you the work of another young, up and coming film photographer; today, in the form of Kevin Luyo, a 19-year old Rutgers Sophomore.
Over to you Kevin.
Hi Kevin, what’s this picture then?
KL: This is a portrait of my friend Thom in New York, I really am a sucker for bokeh and this picture has a ton of it. Thom and I were with four other friends and for some reason he refused to wait inside the laundromat for the rain to stop.
The neon light from the sign was shining on him so I went for the shot.
What really makes this for me is his red coat. Our friend Forrest just gave him that coat for no real reason, and it pops in contrast to the dark night. Also, it’s a candid shot which makes it even more intimate.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
KL: I’m a 19 year old student currently attending and living at Rutgers University in my Sophomore year. My immediate family’s small; mom, dad, older brother, and dog. These four make visiting home on weekends worth it.
Right now I’m in that all-too-familiar period of my life where I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m ok with that. As a freshly turned 19 year old I have my entire life ahead of me to lock in a career.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
KL: My high school had an art requirement and I was given the choice of what art class to take. I have the motor skills of a drunken sloth, so pottery and painting weren’t happening. In my Sophomore year I saw we had darkroom photography as an option.
So I thought, fantastic! All I have to do is a click a button and take pretty pictures of whatever cute girl I had a crush on at this point! I used to create really awful YouTube Let’s Play videos and I love movies so I figured this was right up my alley. This was also my first contact and most important contact with Mr. D.
He probably doesn’t know how much of an impact he had on me. He had a star pupil and constantly showered her with praise and attention. We would get one roll for assignment, but I would buy my own rolls and shoot independently. I was that guy. I’m fiercely competitive and I desperately wanted Mr. D to acknowledge my skills. From dusk until dawn my only thoughts were of being in the darkroom. Sadly the best I ever got was a “you have some nice shots Kev.”
I shoot because I adamantly feel like I have to. I’m a photographer, I need to take photos. Some people I know call themselves artists but my accounting notebook has more doodles than their sketchbooks. Taking photos is so natural to me now that photographer isn’t just a self appointed title, it’s legitimately who I am now.
If I don’t shoot, any and all potential pictures are gone. One of my biggest influences is Belinda McKeon, my freshman creative writing professor here at Rutgers. She taught me that if I want to write on Monday and hold it off until Tuesday, I’ll never get that Monday writing back. Maybe I’ll get a variation or a replica but that exact piece of Monday writing is gone. The same goes for my photos.
She once wrote a quote on the chalkboard, and while I don’t remember the exact wording it was something along the lines of “it isn’t hard to remember where you were when something happened, it’s difficult to remember how you felt while it was happening.”
When I’m out with friends and I take pictures of us caught in a downpour, I do it so I can capture how we felt during that.
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?
KL: Actually, I’m going to England during my Summer break! Therefore I’m going to try to take a lot of pictures there; my main concern is avoiding the generic tourist photos. The duration of my trip is only two weeks, so I’m gonna be crunched for time. Ideally I’d like to capture the culture of real England, time permitting.
I’ve been fortunate to have amazing and talented photographers that have been willing to work with me. Luis Rojas especially has been letting me shadow him, offering me shoots, and showing me how to utilize studio lights. He’s a great dude, and working with him is giving me heaps of experience. Headshots are his specialty, and if I can get even half as good as him in the next year at them then I’ll be set.
Any favorite subject matter?
KL: Portraits, by far. Street is a second, but there’s quite a gap in-between the two. I’m sure some of it has to do with the fact that my first portrait shoot contains some of the best photos I’ve ever taken. Objectively it’s probably not even that good, but I prefer looking at them through my rosetinted
I find humans to be the most fascinating subjects. While I can respect and understand the love of landscapes, I think that photographing people requires an intimacy that is missing when I take photos of inanimate objects.
KL: The feeling I get when I take a nice photo of a friend and I show them is unmatched. It’s almost like a body high. He or she will smile extremely wide and that smile is enough reward for me to be happy with my shoot. Then I’ll get the expected compliments on how I’m a good photographer, but a photographer is nothing without a great subject!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
KL: I’d get a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400. That’s the first roll of film I ever purchased and if I have to put down my 35mm camera it’s going down in full circle.
This is extremely cheesy but I think it’d b ea fitting way to close that chapter in my life! For extra authenticity I might try to borrow a Minolta from a friend and shoot it with that.
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?
KL: For starters I’d take my Canon K2 with my 50mm f/1.4. The really wide aperture allows me to worry less about film speed, so I’d bring a roll of Kodak Portra 160 for color and a roll of Ilford Delta 400 Professional for black and white.
Delta 400 is just a beautiful film in my opinion, and I would shoot it no matter the occasion. Portra is one of those films where I think it’s extremely hard to go wrong. The ISO is just grainy enough, skin won’t come out beet-looking, and the colors are still nice.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
KL: Hands down Japan. I’ve been to Japan once before when I was extremely young but I remember being absolutely flabbergasted with the beauty of it. People like to think New York City is hectic, but Osaka is just as, if not more hectic.
The lights and hustle and bustle could make the calmest of people on edge. I could only imagine how more hectic Tokyo is. I could get my fix of street and fashion photography, then take a quick train ride away to visit my extended family and take portraits of them.
Asia is truly a marvellous place to visit.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
KL: Especially in this day and age, people’s greatest misconception about film is that it’s an inferior form of photography.
Why take time shooting film, developing it, and printing it, when I can take pictures on my iPhone and put some filters? People seem to think that photography is based on how modern and pricey the equipment is. One does not eat a fantastic steak and compliment the chef on his expensive grill.
I’d like to relate film and digital photography to cinema. Digital photography is like a hollywood blockbuster while film photography is like a smaller operation. Sure one is more expensive and flashy, but that doesn’t mean that the smaller budget film is inherently worse.
You can’t judge film photography on the same standards of digital photography, because film isn’t trying to emulate digital.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
KL: New films will come out, and (hopefully) new bodies will come out. I love a Pentax K1000 as much as the next guy, but through time they will start to become too old to use. With modern lenses, film could look absolutely stunning if you could mount say, an L lens.
With cool new films like Cinestill coming out, I think film itself has a bright future. The community is passionate and stubborn, it’s not going to go away any time soon.
As long as there is money to be made in film, it’ll continue to stay afloat.
~ Kevin Luyo
One particular comment in Kevin’s piece really stuck with me:
“People seem to think that photography is based on how modern and pricey the equipment is. One does not eat a fantastic steak and compliment the chef on his expensive grill.”
I’d never thought of the steak analogy before and I’ll be using it as my own from now on – who’ll know the truth about where it came from?
On to the point: who’s to say that using a Leica to shoot 35mm film will result in better images than those taken by and old Canon Rangefinder, or a busted up FED2? Who’s to say that a Hasselblad will produce far superior results than a Kiev 88, or Pentax 645?
The user, that’s who (mostly).
There’s no doubt that film photographers are a passionate and loyal bunch – just look at the chatter surrounding the newly announced Leica M-D, another digital model with no LCD screen – but I really do feel that we need to take a step back from brand fanaticism/fanboyism. I’ve owned and used cameras and lenses bearing brand names from both ends of the spectrum, from terrible generic-brand zoom lenses, to wonderfully machined primes, and from truly awful plastic cameras to what some regard as the pinnacle of mechanical SLRs. Whilst my experience might not be the broadest, I have my two cents on the matter and here they both are:
A terrible photographer will always take terrible photographs, no matter what gear they use. A camera is not a tool that will hep you attain dizzying photographic heights, it’s not a performance enhancing drug and it’s certainly not a Matrix-style upgrade for your abilities. It’s just a tool to capture a bit of light again and again and again.
Sure, a well made, ergonomically sound and mechanically reliable camera might slightly influence our photography by removing worries about equipment from the photographic equation but I for one see little difference in the quality of my results from let’s say, a Minolta CL vs a Leica M6 using the same lens (I’ve tried).
Perhaps I’m just one of the terrible photographers I mentioned above, unable to take advantage of the magical properties of the super brand…
Why do I personally favour the M6 over the CL? Does the presence of the red dot on the former of the two hold me up in moments of photographic malaise? No, my reasons are painfully simple and rather pedestrian: The M6 is a bit wider, it’s easier to nail focus with a 90mm lens (0.85 viewfinder magnification, thank you), and it feels more balanced in the hand. Oh, and it provides accurate metering with one of my favorite lenses – something the CL couldn’t reliably achieve. If the CL had hit even just the second point in that list about nailing focus, I’d still be using it today. The other items aren’t deal-breakers, they’re just nice to haves.
I’m in the same camp as most of you; I love discussing and learning about gear. It fascinates me; the histories, the designs, the engineering, everything that goes into the entire process from concept to rolling out of the factory. I love my Hasselblad, I love my Leica but I also love my Plastic Fantastic and I love my Nikon FT3. I use whichever camera feels right for me and what I want to go out and shoot. I’m happy to say that the equipment I now have and use is a direct result of my own personal journey.
Your results may vary and what works for me might (and probably won’t) work for you.
Don’t listen to people braying on about this or that being the “best camera/lens/thing ever made”. I’ve had a couple of items bestowed with that cache in my stable over the past few years and the fact they’ve all been sold should tell you all you need to know.
TL:DR; There’s not point buying the “best” if it’s not best for you.
Thanks again to Kevin for plucking up the courage to get involved, it takes guts and we’re incredibly pleased you did. Here’s hoping that you have a long and bright photographic future ahead!
We’ll be back soon with another film photographer interview – and rant, if you’re lucky! In the meantime, keep shooting, folks!
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