I am Rebecca Joyce and this is why I shoot film
Today’s interviewee is a real treat. A mixed media labrat who, although having moved on from minilabs, has kept a love of film and an eye for those details that life normally causes us to pass on by.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Rebecca Joyce!
Hi Rebecca, what’s this picture, then?
RJ: When I first saw Imogen Cunningham’s photograph The Unmade Bed, I was struck by how powerful the simplest of images can be. I saw it for the first time when I was still learning photography and finding my own voice. Seeing that it was possible to create moving, emotional images with simple subjects inspired me to create still life photographs documenting moments of my own life.
This photograph of my own unmade bed was taken at a time in my life when I was settling down after a large, challenging change. In many ways, I’d hit the reset button on my life and started over. In some aspects, I was depressed and disappointed by the financial aspect of this fresh start, such as sleeping on a futon in a small studio apartment. At the same time, I was freer than I’d ever been.
What strikes me about this image now is that I don’t remember whether I took it in a moment of sadness and loneliness or in a moment of freedom, so it makes me reflect on all the emotions and thoughts I experienced at the time.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RJ: I’m Rebecca Joyce. I grew up in England and El Salvador before moving to the United States when I was in high school. Sadly, I didn’t develop an interest in photography until college, and failed to document all the adventures of my well-travelled childhood.
I studied Psychology and Sociology, excelling mostly in the statistical analysis of research data. I started learning photography on my own while I was at University and got a job at a photo lab when I was 21 years old. Financially I was not able to continue graduate studies and pursue a career as a statistician or researcher, so I kept working at the photo lab. Eventually I was the lab manager, but as the digital wave came and business slowed to a crawl, I was forced to train in camera sales. 16 years later, I still work in a camera shop, both in sales and as a photography instructor.
I still am interested in Social Sciences, as well as Architecture and Design. I have other analog interests, such as using antique typewriters, collecting vinyl records and fountain pens, and exchanging handwritten letters with pen pals.
I’m represented by Fathom Gallery in Los Angeles and have published a book of my work. I’m also a founding member of Henrietta, a collective of women photographers. We’re looking to get more women into exhibits and publications.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
RJ: I’ve always shot on film. I started shooting in the 90s when it was all that was available to me. I kept shooting film as digital overtook it in popularity, it helped that I worked in a photo lab at the time, and could work on my own negatives and prints. My work requires me to stay current with technology, and it became more economical to use digital cameras on large volume jobs, like weddings, so I reluctantly went digital around 2005.
In my personal work, however, I never felt a connection to digital images the way I did with film. The waiting, the anticipation, the process — it was all gone with digital. Nowadays, I have better digital equipment, a better editing workflow, have learned to work with “raw” files, and don’t have an aversion to creating images with a digital camera. But I prefer to shoot film for most projects as I enjoy being fully engaged in the entire process from the time I load the film until I develop the negatives and see the results through a loupe.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
RJ: In 2004, the Getty Center put together an exhibit called Photographers of Genius. It was displayed as a timeline of the history of photography. I was at University at the time, had already been working in a photo lab for a few years and felt a strong passion for photography. I thought being a “professional photographer” meant working at a portrait studio or being a journalist, jobs like that. So I struggled to reconcile this interest with my intended career in academia.
This exhibit taught me that there is much more to photography, the artform, and the technical advances. It was where I first saw the work of Brassaï, Atget, the still lifes of Weston, and Strand. I saw something that mirrored my interests and the subjects to which I was drawn.
The exhibit encouraged me to continue pursuing photography and inspired me to take some art and photo classes in my last term.
Today I continue to be influenced visually by those masters and others, like Imogen Cunningham. I’m also fortunate to have the most encouraging partner who inspires me, as well as a sister who’s been a patient model for me to practice with since she was a kid, and many friends and family who hang my photographs on their walls. They all inspire me to keep learning.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
RJ: I am a mixed medium photographer, in more than once sense. Much of the film I shoot gets scanned and printed as a digital file. I also shoot on digital cameras on jobs that require faster turnaround, high volume shooting, or the high ISOs capable on modern digital cameras. Although even for weddings and portrait sessions, I incorporate film as much as possible. It’s what sets me apart.
I shoot mostly film on personal projects, when I want to feel connected to my work. I experience the connection partly through the tactile nature of film photography: loading film, developing, hanging negatives to dry. I get fully absorbed into the process and find it engaging, meditative. I enjoy spending time in a darkroom as well, but I don’t have the space for a permanent setup, which is why I mostly scan my 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?
RJ: On the technical side, I’ve challenged myself to master flash photography this year. I have plenty of experience and am comfortable with it on digital. But on film, I often rely on a digital or polaroid test shot. I’d like to reach a point where I can get good flash exposures using only my flash meter or just by doing the maths.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? why?
RJ: Visually, I’m very attracted to the architecture, geometry, structure of the urban landscape. Emotionally, I’m drawn to subjects that evoke a sense of nostalgia, that reflect both conflicts and conformity with the environment. And I approach creating photographs this way.
For instance, I have a series of photographs of payphones. The payphones themselves definitely add a nostalgic element to an urban scene, but they can change the scene by the way they blend into their drab backgrounds, or sometimes stand out on a block of new structures.
I grew up in three countries and each move was very challenging. The potential for being uprooted loomed well into my adulthood. So, my first subject when I became interested in photography was my adopted hometown, Los Angeles. I wanted to document it for my own memories, for safekeeping. As I grew older and spent more time here, the photographs became more of a way to document a rapidly changing city.
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?
RJ: I’d grab my trusted Canon EOS-3 with a 35mm lens. The camera can handle most situations: it has a fast enough shutter for bright light, can autofocus, and operate a TTL-capable flash. For me, 35mm is a versatile focal length. It’s not my favourite at all, but I can use it in almost any situation.
I’d take Fuji Pro 400H colour film, which can be shot at 100 if need be, and some Kodak Tri-X 400 because it can be pushed to 1600.
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?
RJ: I’d take Fujifilm Pro 400H to Japan. I have a fascination for Japan and all things Japanese. Or at least my romanticized version of what I think Japan is like. But I think it would be diverse in scenery and interesting enough to keep me busy for a few decades.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
RJ: I’d load my Hasselblad with a roll of black and white, Neopan 400 if I still have some left, and shoot most of it on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s familiar territory and where I shot some of my first rolls. I’d love to compare my last roll of film to my earlier ones and compare how far I’ve come as a photographer as well as how much the town has changed. I’d also shoot a few frames at home, as I usually do to remember periods of my life.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
RJ: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is about the age groups shooting film. I very often hear of two stereotypes: the antiquated, old man who can’t adapt to new technology or admit how far digital photography has come, and the hipster who wants photos that look like they’ve come out of a low-fi app but has no intention of learning anything about photography.
While those two types do exist, it’s my observation –from more than a decade in camera shops and labs– that older photographers do not shy away from digital cameras and many younger photographers have a lot of respect for the craft and a desire to learn it well. And that a large portion of film photographers are actually people like me: we’re old enough to remember our parents’ film cameras if not our own, young enough to embrace new technology. We choose to shoot on film, not as a fleeting trend, but with desire to keep film going.
I try to correct this misconception anytime I can through conversations with my clients.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RJ: For many years I’ve been afraid for the future of film. I’ve been watching film stocks disappear, manufacturers halt production of analog machines, and photo labs closing. The conversation on many forums has been about how to keep shooting as the price of film keeps rising.
But most recently there seems to be enough interest to attract new manufacturers to the business. Companies like Cinestill and Japan Camera Hunter are making me hopeful that there will be cycles of increasing/decreasing popularity, but enough of us film shooters to keep driving the industry.
~ Rebecca Joyce
I often wonder why we seem to have this insatiable need to pigeonhole ourselves and those around us. Deep down, do we lump the world around us into categories and narrow groupings to make it easier for us to understand what’s going on, or is it an attempt to help us differentiate those we don’t understand and fear?
That distinction between understanding and fear and been playing on my mind quite a bit over the past week and the cynical part of my mind is telling me that many of us have more people, things and places in that fear group than in the understanding one. Like I said: cynical.
I’ve a friend who is relatively new to film photography and it seems that her age, demeanour and the film camera on her shoulder are enough for 99.9% of the people she meets or hangs out with to label her as a hipster. “Nothing but a passing fad”, is what I heard at dinner recently. Forget about the Fine Arts MA she worked had to finally get last year, it’s all about outward appearances, right?
I’m not painting myself as some kind of saint, I’ve been guilty of making the same assumption about other people before and if running this little website had taught me anything over the past two-odd years, it’s to never ever to judge a book by its cover – a saying that should be remembered means not to under or over estimate something or something on first glance.
Ask questions, open up a conversation, engage in a bit of dialogue. You might find you have more in common than you think.
A huge thanks to Rebecca for joining in with these interviews, it was an absolute please featuring your words and work!
If you’re not already connected with Rebecca, please catch her over on Twitter before you head on over to her website and spend an age going through more of her photography and musings – youll also find details of how to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.
Thanks very much for reading and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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