I am Paolo De Jesus and this is why I shoot film
Today I’m very pleased to be able to bring you the thoughts and photography of one of the youngest members of the film photography community on Twitter. He’s talented, enthusiastic and above all else, passionate about film. It’s the one and only
Pajamas Paolo De Jesus!
Over to you, Paolo.
Hi Paolo, what’s this picture, then?
PJ: That is one of my closest friends, Jaisan, and yes that is how her name is spelled. We have known each other for about two years or so, however, she and I got much closer sometime this year. She is a super encouraging figure to me, I mean she lifts me up whenever I feel down and she is one of the few people I go to whenever something is wrong. I am super grateful that she is a part of my life. I put this on here because I always have an interest in people, I honestly do not know why though.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
PJ: My name is Paolo Joao De Jesus [This is pronounced Pah-low Shu-aw Deh Heh-soos, I put this on here because often times my name gets mispronounced and also misspelled], but my friends and family call me P.J., Peej (one syllable), and sometimes Pajamas. I also get called Jesus often as well just because of my last name.
I am a Filipino-American and I was born in the city of Miami, Florida [or as I like it to call it “Northern Cuba”], a place you cannot really get anywhere if you do not speak Spanish. I would know this as I lived there for more than ten years and I had people speak to me directly in Spanish assuming that I understood everything that they said even though I did not. Apparently, people think I am super exotic whenever I tell them I am from Miami… for some reason. (I do not consider myself as someone who is “exotic” though.) I pretty much grew up in what seemed to be, in my eyes, a different country [even though Florida is a US state]. Being an Asian kid made growing up there super awkward and I pretty much stood out amongst the majority of classmates since most of them were Hispanic (more specifically Cuban). Needless to say, this fact alone was a double edged sword.
Although, I am residing in Houston, Texas as of writing this. I actually like the diversity of Houston, I met various people from different walks of life here. Life here is super different than it was in Miami.
I really like my surname, De Jesus [It means “of Jesus” in Spanish] since it ties into the fact that I am a Christian. Maybe that seems a bit coincidental. I strongly believe in God, however, I do not exactly shove religion down people’s throats because I am not a man that supports intolerance and I am not a man who spreads fear. “For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 (HCSB). I mean I believe in showing the love of Christ to others regardless of who they are and where they came from.
I am a character of a melodramatic story, the sort of life that consists of mostly sadness, loss, rejection, and heartache. Despite the feelings of isolation, having various relationships not work out, the loss of loved ones, the disappointments, the anxieties, the broken promises, despite all these things being a part of my life, I still stand strong and keep my head up for I know God is with me no matter what.
“Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff- they comfort me.” – Psalms 23:4 (HCSB).
I want to be an encouragement and reach out to others as I do not want others to suffer the same way I did.
I am super passionate about the arts in general whether that would be the performing arts (like theatre and music), the literary arts (like poetry), or even fine arts (like drawing and photography). Art is pretty much my life and I have been an artist for about seven years or so. I also love to listen to music in which I pretty much listen to everything except country and heavy metal.
I was born on March 2nd and I am twenty years old as of writing this [yes, I am a 90s kid and I am a millennial…I think I am] and I probably might be the youngest person to be interviewed here, but I could be wrong. [EMULSIVE: Sad to say you got beaten to it by Hudson Jacobs at age 14!]
I am pretty much an analog man in a digital world, an old soul in a much younger body. Not only do I take photographs, but I also go hard on the paint [I do not play basketball though] and also make fast sketches in which every single piece is called a Quick Draw.
Whenever I can, I write poems [which are written in all capital letters because I’m a capitalist]. I am also a complete history and geography geek.
I am the sort of person who enjoys socializing with people, I guess you can call me a socialist. I can be described as someone who is hyperactive, enthusiastic, and extremely silly. I am the sort of person that is free-spirited, the sort of person that loves to have fun, the sort of person that is not afraid to speak their mind. I am an eccentric with a bit of cheekiness mixed in. I am also a man who is super emotional and not exactly the most easily understood.
My mind can often go all over the place and I am super easily distracted. I am also not exactly a super organized person either and I just turned this into an Oscars or Grammies [or any televised awards ceremonies] sort of speech since it is not straight to the point and that I made it way longer than it should be; this part of the interview may as well be measured in kilometres since this can go the entire length of the Nile River!
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
PJ: I actually started out shooting film when I was about five years old, well, this was in 2001; back then my parents would like buy these bundles of Kodak Fun Savers. I would just take pictures of pretty much anything.
Then, my entire family transitioned to digital a few years later [to be exact, it was early 2005] and there was a period of time where I pretty much shot only digital. Then in late 2011, my dad and I went into our local Salvation Army Family Thrift Store and we bought a Nikon L35AF (this is the 1000 ASA version which by the way, is still in my possession) and I shot some film again, which I would buy only C-41 (colour negative) films as they are the ones that seem to be the most easy to get my hands on. Now, this would be on and off and I do not exactly want to show my colour negative photos because well, most of my colour negative rolls have not been developed and the ones that have been developed… well, they are super terrible.
Fast forward to four years later (2015), I would buying and shooting more film now that I bought a Canon AE-1 Program (which I also still have) with an FD 50mm F/1.8 lens from an antiques shop. This is the starting point of me actively shooting more film. To put it more shortly since I am such a blabbermouth, I have been actively shooting film since 2015.
The thing that drives me to keep shooting film is just the fact that suspense, the excitement of not knowing what the pictures will look like until development.
Another thing that drives me to keep shooting film is the fact that there are distinctive looks to the various films, the diverse formats, and also the different kinds of developers and developing. There is so much diversity when it comes to shooting film and I like that.
Also, shooting film makes me think more about my shot; the planning, and the composing, getting the right exposure, and it slows me down. I feel that for every shot I take, I capture a part of history and that by doing this, I document some bits of my life and that the camera is my third eye.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
PJ: I would say that when I started taking photography super seriously, which is sometime in late 2011- early 2012, I would say my older brother, Kevin. Now, he would make me model for his various assignments for his Advanced Placement Photography class. It was because of him that I realized that there is much more to photography than just pressing the shutter and that photography itself is an art. [I never would have pictured myself being a photographer back then.]
The biggest influence in my photography is my photo teacher, Ms. Rueb. Now, I took both of the photo classes that were offered at the local community college for the Spring and Fall semester of this year, 2016. When I first started out in the photo class, I would shoot entire rolls of film and have only three usable shots out of a thirty six exposure roll.
There were many instances where she would stress the hell out of me, whether it would be reprinting photos or giving me harsh criticisms on my photos, but you know what… I am grateful for this, because without it, I would not be the photographer that I am.
All the frustration, all the mishaps, all the failures, it was all worth it. I went from having rolls of film with almost no usable pictures to having rolls of film mostly containing photos that I can be super proud of. This is a big step up in my photography!
I also tend to find some inspiration from paintings, magazines, and also movies. The people that I interact with on social media whether it would on Instagram or on Twitter also have a bit of an influence on me especially the #Believeinfilm Community. You guys are super awesome! 😀
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
PJ: I do not exactly know how exactly answer this question since my answer for this is both yes and no. The thing is that I do not exactly have a plan or a mindset as to whether or not I want to go strictly film, strictly digital, or even go with both.
To me, it is all about what seems convenient at the moment. However, when it comes to shooting events [Church Youth Rallies, Parties, etc.], I always shoot hybrid. However, I shoot mostly film as of right now, I always have a roll of film or two on me and at least two cameras. I say at least two, because one of them would be my main shooting camera, and the other is a backup.
I shoot with my DSLR which is a Canon EOS Kiss X2 12.2MP Camera (it is also known as the EOS REBEL XSi here in America and the EOS 450D in Europe) if I need to. I mean I mostly use that to scan my film most of the time though which is why I still have it.
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?
PJ: Well, I want to make more series of photos and I have been super inspired to do so by a few people on YouTube, specifically Dan Dao of Shawnee Union and Ted Forbes from the Art of Photography. I have a lot of ideas in mind, but where to start is always a big problem for me and that the absence of limits would not make me super creative.
I also want to do more experimentation with film photography. Maybe, I might even create a photo book or maybe a zine sometime in the future. I also want to shoot some slide film (E-6) or maybe some more colour negative (C41) in the future as well. :3
I have a plethora of ideas of what I want to do to improve on my photography. I mean, I do not consider myself an expert or a photo guru [although, my classmates in my photo classes called me that].
I never will stop learning!
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
PJ: I might get into some legal trouble for this and I could end up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, but I… shoot people.
The thing I enjoy doing is candid portraits. I actually like doing these because it is more “in the moment” so to say and more natural. I, as an artist, see beauty in people and I am super fascinated by them as well. Most of the portraits that I do are pretty much just pictures of my friends.
The thing I like the most about doing portraiture is that the photo will never change even though the subjects of the photo do. I mean, I try to see beauty in everything that I see, that is just the artist in me. Again, art plays an important part in my photography; I delved into this world of photography with an artist’s background.
I also like to take pictures of architecture while attempting to have a minimalist style to it. This is inspired by the works of Michael Kenna, Piet Mondrian [I know he is a painter, but he is a Minimalist artist], and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
I try to emphasize the negative space within a certain scene, I try to keep it simple. I also try to see lines and shapes within a particular scene. I photograph architecture because I feel that there is a beauty in man-made things. I take photos of whatever I find interesting within my surroundings.
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?
PJ: The camera I would use is my trusty Canon FTQL with an FD 50mm F/1.8 lens. The two films I would is Ilford HP5+ <3 (my favourite black and white film) and Fujifilm Pro 400H. I shot with HP5+ before and it is my go to black and white film.
However, I never shot with Pro 400H, but I believe that it would be super versatile for whatever the assignment is. I chose the FD 50mm F/1.8 since it is the lens that I use most of the time.
PRIME LENSES FOR THE WIN!!!
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?
PJ: Ugh, I cannot decide on an exact answer for this one! ARGH! I mean the wanderlust in me is too strong. I have this urge to go everywhere. I mean, I want to travel to big cities around the world such as Berlin, Madrid, Tokyo, Miami [my hometown <3], Los Angeles, Portland [Oregon], Seattle, San Francisco, Seoul, or even Manila (again).
One of places that I would love to visit is Guatemala City (or as the locals call it “Guate”) mostly because of the history of the place and also my bestie, Sofia, lives over there as well. I also want to photograph the city of Singapore [again] since it is a super beautiful place! I mean, I could go on with the list of places that I want to go to.
To put it shortly, I would say that I would use my unlimited film in a big city/urban environment. However, this answer could change within a few years as I stated earlier, the wanderlust in me is super strong.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
PJ: I would use my beloved Ilford HP5+ and I would use up that roll with portraits of people and places that mean a lot to me. Although, I would be super sad if I could never shoot film again. :’(
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
PJ: The biggest things that people think about when it comes to film are the cost and the time consuming process [if they think that getting film developed is time consuming, they should try eating clocks!]. People nowadays think that shooting film is a broken pencil, by that I mean pointless; this even includes my parents, because digital has such a strong presence right now and also people want that instant gratification which is the exact reason why most of my friends have Polaroid/Instax sort of cameras and DSLRs. [Even though in my world, digital is sooooo not in, it’s so not in, that it is pretty much out!]
However, I am not super enthusiastic about digital since I cannot really tell the differences between most of the newer cameras that are coming out and it seems like the digital camera market feels oversaturated. However, this is just my opinion.
The thing about film is that, yes, it does take some time for the pictures come out and yes, it does take a lot of work. However, for me, it is not always about going to the destination, I think of more of the journey. Hard work really pays off. Haste makes waste!
I mean, sure, it takes a lot of effort to think about the shots and to also do the developing, but in the end, it is worth it to see the results. The film developing process is an art itself. It is such a magical thing! In my honest opinion, it is much better to see a physical photo, something that is timeless. With digital, you would only have a file and you would be mostly limited to seeing it on an LCD screen, but with film, you have your pictures on negatives, this is something that is more physical. Seeing a PNG or a JPEG of a painting is not exactly the same as seeing the painting itself in a gallery or a museum; Whenever you actually are seeing a painting in a gallery or a museum, you can get up close to it and see the full details, it is super intimate and more interesting seeing the art this way.
However, I am not one to argue which is better, film or digital? I say this because they both have their place inside of this world. I just prefer to shoot film and I will pretty much leave it at that. If you shoot film, that’s awesome! If you shoot digital only or do hybrid like me, that’s fine too. Who am I to judge what people can or cannot do? If I judged people, I would been a Supreme Court Justice by now!
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
PJ: I believe that the future of film is a pretty bright one. I mean there are these new, smaller companies diving into the industry of film such as New55, Bergger, and Cinestill and the Impossible Project (my least favourite film company) just to name a few. I am also super excited for Film Ferrania as they seem to be closer to actually getting their film manufacturing plant in working order so I cannot wait for them to actually release their film stocks :3.
I know that Fujifilm is not exactly a super strong supporter of film as they seem to be discontinuing film stocks. However, Kodak has reported that they actually returned to profitability as of August, 2016. I find this is to be super awesome! I mean there is pretty much a renaissance of film photography going on right now.
This makes me super happy. I am pretty optimistic about the future of film as far I can tell.
~ Paolo De Jesus
A massive thanks to Paolo for putting his hat into the interview ring. As I’ve said many times before, seeing the passion and desire to learn that drives so many young photographers featured on these pages raised my spirits and has been a fantastic source of motivation for me on a personal level.
Whilst Paolo may still be at the start of his photographic journey, he already seems to have hit upon the same problem many of us with a little more experience have:
“I have a lot of ideas in mind, but where to start is always a big problem for me and that the absence of limits would not make me super creative.”
Whilst I am largely a “not-particularly-focused-largely-opportunistic photographer”, I do have a number of projects running around my mind, many of which still sit in my to-do pile, or have found themselves stalled. I made a concerted effort towards the end of last year to rectify that and my advice to you, Paolo, would be to simply start. Plan if you have to but the sooner you start – no matter how much or little you initially achieve – the better. The longer you wait, the harder it’ll be and the more barriers you’ll place in your own way.
That’s not to say you should apply a splatter gun approach to realisation, however. Act on the plans or concepts you alread have and refine on-the-job. You’ll probably have some fun and may find a direction you hadn’t considered while getting your feet wet.
Enough advice from me. If you’re not doing so already, please find and follow Paolo over on Twitter. He’s a joy to talk to and has a very infectious passion for film. You can also find him on Tumblr, if that’s your poison.
We’ll be back next week with another film photographer for you to get stuck in to. I have to admit that I’ve been looking forward to this particular interviewee for some time. For now though, my lips are sealed!
As ever, keep shooting, folks.
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