I am Richard Pickup and this is why I shoot film
I’m hoping you remember today’s interviewee from his wonderful contributed article discussing the importance and impact of effective visualisation for film photographers. If you haven’t read it yet head on over, we’ll wait.
Back? Excellent. There’s no arguing that Richard Pickup knows a thing or two about photography. Remember when you were at school and you thought that the teachers knew barely more than you? That’s not the case here.
Over to you, Richard.
Hi Richard, what’s this picture, then?
RP: I did a lot of street photography in 2000 when this photograph was taken. Looking back, it represents the moment when I began to really connect with the medium, surpassing what I’d done before.
I remember being interested in the idea of an ‘all over’ image, in which multiple elements come together and each plays a part. It’s also a classic street photography piece: chance elements interacting and seen in a fleeting moment. This is the first time it has been published.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RP: A good friend of mine suggested to me the other day that I’m a street photographer, because, in his words, that’s what I do best.
Strange though it may sound, despite my obvious interest in the genre, I hadn’t really considered myself one until then. So I think this interview is a good place to make it official, and go ahead and say ‘I am a street photographer’.
As well as being a photographer, I am a lecturer in photography at South Staffordshire College in the UK. I teach mainly sixteen to eighteen year olds who want a photography career. It’s magical because many of them have never shot film before and I get to be the one to introduce them properly to it.
We have a good darkroom facility and it’s a pleasure to see them learn the discipline.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
RP: I was given a plastic camera as a child and distinctly remember my disappointment that it didn’t actually shoot film. My family took the hint and I was soon furnished with a fully functional 110 film camera, probably at about twelve years of age. So, in short, I have been shooting film at least since my teens.
I am obsessed with photography, there is no other way to put it, and film plays a huge role. I never feel fully satisfied with what I have learned about film, and so continue to investigate it in many forms.
While my actual shooting tends towards 35mm and small cameras (like my beloved Leica M6TTL), I think I have some of the patience of the large format photographer and the darkroom printer. I am quite happy running my tests and experiments alongside making images.
I am always learning and, as my folders of test results build up, I have more and more to share with my students. The medium of film has a depth which sustains close attention.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
RP: Joel Meyerowitz was a huge influence on my approach to street photography. I could name many other names, but I remember being enamoured with the freshness and photographic nature of his vision.
I admire how he respects the medium and yet shapes it in his own particular way. It may be thoroughly conventional to say, but Ansel Adams is really important to me. Maybe not his images (although I do still find Adams lookalikes on my contact sheets), but in his disciplined and exacting practice.
His famous books on photography are also very clear and accessible, and I remember studying them religiously when I started to engage with photography seriously. They showed me just how the medium could be controlled and made to sing.
In more recent times I have been influenced by a number of master printers, both film and digital. John Blakemore is a name that comes to mind. I very much enjoy making prints, which so often have the potential to take one’s photography to a new level. There is a craft and commitment needed to get the best out of printing and I enjoy the challenge.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
RP: I would not describe myself as a mixed medium photographer, although I would certainly say I restlessly experiment with different processes. I give the caveat because I am philosophically invested in the idea that the medium itself is at play, just as much as the things we do as photographers.
When I shoot a street scene, I intend only so much, and then there is an ‘excess’ of detail and meaning that the medium brings in. Photography is not painting, nor drawing, nor sculpture, and so on. Perhaps this is a Modernist position.
I happily shoot film and digital alongside one another. Digital gives me flexibility with regards to printing, especially in colour; film has a special aesthetic that is impossible to reproduce exactly, and there is a metaphysical significance in how the image is formed on the emulsion.
I wonder from time to time whether I shouldn’t really decide between the two for given applications, but in practice I enjoy the flexibility (and am probably quite whimsical with my shooting moods and choices).
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?
RP: This is a tough question for me because I have so many things on the go at any one time, that it is hard to be totally clear.
I have been running my own website for about six months now, and I have been working hard on getting that going. There is a blog on my website, and I’ve rediscovered a passion for writing (although sometimes it is a love / hate one).
I’ve done a series of photography tips, and more recently started on a series investigating film and developer combinations called Pebble Project. So one answer is that I’d like to grow my site. I sell also sell prints and would like to see that grow too.
My fondness for experimenting does take me in many directions, so given that I’ve confessed to being a street photographer here, it would be good to produce a focussed body of street photography work. Perhaps the closest I’ve come to this is the exhibition I had at the Wedge Gallery of my work taken in India.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
RP: My subject matter is primarily urban and suburban scenes, with traces of social activity and interaction.
Occasionally I am drawn to abstract configurations or discrete objects, and sometimes I find myself interested in things that might echo the historical nature of the photograph (when you take a picture of something, it is already in the past). My scenes are often punctuated with little incidents or small but significant details and figures.
This is a hard question to answer because I don’t think I would necessarily rule out any situation I came across as a subject for photography.
I have shot more and more black and white of late, and so am beginning to see this as quite central to my practice. I do shoot with the print in mind, and so pay attention to the processes needed to achieve the print I visualise. This does have an influence on what I will shoot.
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?
RP: Easy. My Leica M6TTL, a roll of Ilford Delta 100 Professional, and a roll of HP5 plus. I know the films intimately: Delta 100 has fabulous tones and minimal grain, a great ‘outdoor’ film; HP5 plus, while certainly not lacking in tonal quality, is quite magically flexible and pushes well to cover low light.
I shoot a 50mm prime most of the time, and its fast speed also adds flexibility. I suppose I’m stuck with black and white in this scenario, but who would argue with that?
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?
RP: One of the things that intrigues me about photography is recording little snippets of everyday scenes and moments. I therefore don’t think my photography is location dependent, inasmuch as I think I could find things of interest wherever I was. There’s plenty of everyday to go around.
Having said that, I had a great time when I went to India and found that it refreshed my vision. New locations can have that effect. So, I would say a culture that I haven’t yet experienced as the destination.
As for what I would take, it’s my trusty M6TTL again, probably accompanied by my Sony A7II for flexibility.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
RP: I recently wrote something on my blog of which I’m quite proud: ‘digital pictures image people; film ones bear their imprint’.
If it was to be my last roll of film, I’d want to shoot people I know and love. I’m not a portrait photographer, but there is something special and profound about a film portrait, and as the last roll is valedictory, I’d want to make it personal.
As for the roll for this purpose, HP5 plus in all probability. (Although a certain FP4 Party on social media has shown me how great FP4 can be for portraits, providing some competition here.)
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
RP: I would wager it’s the idea that film photography just isn’t practised any more, that the digital revolution is complete and all-encompassing. I think that’s the most common misconception, although there are others.
In a sense, it is part of my professional raison d’être to set this straight, through my teaching and more recently my website and social media activity. I suspect most readers of this interview will be aware that film is most certainly alive and thriving, and that a vibrant, knowledgeable and highly committed film community supports its use.
Sending a non-believer to have a look at EMULSIVE’s website would be a fine place to start. [EMULSIVE: Well, thanks!]
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RP: The photography industry has clearly and near completely migrated to digital technology. It is interesting to me that digital has always been pitched as a choice to be made: ‘have you gone digital yet?’ was always the question-begging mantra.
More recently, however, I think people are beginning to speak not so much of film or digital, as film and digital. I regularly hear of digital practitioners going back to film, at least in part of their practice. Michael Reichmann, one of the champions of digital, was a famous case before he sadly passed away.
I know not of the numbers, and my evidence is only observational and anecdotal, but I imagine if you put the people who never gave film up together with people returning to or taking up film as they begin photography, you have a market to support continued production.
What I do know is that those who use film are very dedicated and enjoy its beautiful aesthetics and rewarding craft. As generation after generation of automation is built into digital exposure and processing technology, it is precisely the imperfection of film and the central role of the user in its mastery that makes it so very attractive.
~ Richard Pickup
If I’m totally honest, I’m a little in awe of Richard. His presentation, dedication to the craft of photography, and professional role as someone who spends his working days preparing the next generation of photographers is admirable to say the least.
The man is also voracious in his photographic appetite and doesn’t seem to stand still. This statement says it all for me: “I never feel fully satisfied with what I have learned about film, and so continue to investigate it in many forms.”
If you haven’t heard about Richard’s Pebble Project, please scroll back up and give the site a read. For something so simple, there’s a lot going on and it’s quickly becoming a fantastic resource to understand the subtle differences development choices have on the final result. It’s knowledge transfer like this that keeps me so excited about the future of film.
Richard’s doing his bit to advocate the use of film and dispel some of its mysteries and it’s my belief that we should all be asking ourselves what we’re doing in the same vein. It needn’t be something big, small gestures add up: giving a fellow film photographer a roll of film they’ve never tried, sharing your favorite development scheme via blog or social media post; or even lending a “digital native” friend a spare film camera to shoot for a couple of weeks.
These little acts help to develop and raise our collective knowledge and abilities, as well as promote the idea that film isn’t dead, it’s just under most people’s radar.
More to the point, it helps humanise film photography as a passion of everyday people.
Thank you for everything that you continue to do, Richard.
stalk find Richard over on Twitter as @richard_pickup and I’d highly recommend a visit to his website: richardpickup.com. In fact, if you head on over to richardpickup.com/fine-art, you’ll also be able to get a 30% discount on Richards prints by using the promo code EM38549.
You’ll have to wait another week to meet the next EMULSIVE interviewee but in the meantime (and if you’re quick!), you can still register for EMULSIVE Secret Santa 2016 and please take the time to submit a question for our latest Community Interview with Billingham.
Thanks again and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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