I am Rob Davie and this is why I shoot film
Today I’m delighted to bring Rob Davie for your intellectual consumption. Rob’s based in York in the UK and can be seen – I’m told – either looking through the waist level finder of his RB67, or sitting on a using the same camera as a dumbell…go figure. Over to you, Rob!
Hi Rob, what’s this picture, then?
RD: I call this one “angles”. In its physical existence the object photographed is a tractor sitting in a shed at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming near York, UK. That might sound like an odd way to describe a photograph but it makes sense if you think about it for a second. The photograph is not the tractor. A photograph is not the thing it depicts. A photograph is a piece of art created by sifting physical reality through the creative tendencies of a human being and some amount of physical process depending on the medium.
The question of whether photography is art will last forever. My own opinion is “it can be”. Much as paint can become art, a blank film in a camera can become art. Coming back to this particular photograph, the information that it is showing a piece of farm machinery from a particular angle is completely unimportant and frankly uninteresting. I choose to see it as representative of the fractured nature of reality based on perception and angle of view.
One of my favourite quotes from “The Matrix “ is “Eventually you come to realise that it is not the spoon that bends, it is yourself”. We create our own reality by will or by accident and my reality naturally influences how I interpret art and how I form my own photographs.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RD: I am an optimistic, friendly, depressed recluse. I am in my early forties and live in York, Yorkshire, UK. I have arrived at where I am today by way of a childhood split between Dorset and Germany (West Germany at the time), an adolescence and young adulthood in York and Hull (Kingston Upon Hull, East Yorkshire, UK) and the last ten years back in York. Photography is one of a few creative passions that I am fortunate enough to be able to enjoy. I also write both poetry and prose (I had a poem published in San Francisco once), and enjoy making an abstract mess on canvass when I get the opportunity.
I was diagnosed with depression in my early twenties and have lived with the Black Dog for all of my life. I am pretty well adjusted despite this (I think) owing in no small part to the support of those closest to me, and drugs. Depression is a funny thing (ho ho ho); it affects everyone differently and has nothing to do with being happy or sad. In my case it leaves me empty, devoid of feeling, ambition, drive and belief in anything other than oblivion.
I think that my photography reflects this emptiness quite often, and the tones that I gravitate to and use most often are certainly on the darker end of the spectrum. I have a family of my own now, and they understand me and help/slap me through the darker times. I am working on a book that combines photography and writing on the subject of depression, I will keep you posted on how it comes along. [EMULSIVE: In the absence of a portrait from Rob, I decided to use his My Little Pony photograph. Isn’t it cute?]
When did you start shooting film and what about now? What drives you to keep shooting?
RD: I first shot a photograph in about 1982. It would have been on either my dad’s Olympus OM10 or on an AGFA 110 point and click. I was 8 at the time so it was most likely the 110. I still have some 110 format photographs from a school trip to Bavaria (We were living in (West) Germany at the time).
I inherited my grandfather’s Pentax MX in the early mid 80’s and proceeded to shoot anything and everything I could afford to on my pocket money. I don’t have too many of the photographs from that time but I remember the camera was with me always and it was this time that drilled the holy trinity of ASA (ISO), Aperture and Shutter Speed into me.
I have been back in the film photography world for about a year now having spent the last 10 or so firmly in the domain of digital. Since picking up film again I have noticed two things – I haven’t touched my DSLR, and I haven’t taken as many shots as I would like, mainly through fear of the cost which is silly, but so is life. What keeps me shooting is a list of things, so here goes!
- The sheer love of the photographic process. If you read my review of the Mamiya RB67 that I use as my primary camera, I describe the steps required to take a photograph. You either love this or hate it, and I love it.
- It’s a mirror into my soul. What I shoot and create from the photographs is necessarily fed by my conscious and unconscious mind. If you believe in a soul then that is there too, nudging one way or another.
- It gets me outside. It’s very easy to sit inside on the computer, or watching TV or playing with my daughter. Photography gets me out of the house, into the car and off into the wilds of Yorkshire looking for subjects.
- I can’t imagine NOT taking photographs.
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?
RD: Expose more film! Conquer the fear of being rubbish. One thing I would like to really have a go at is nailing the zone system, at least as far as exposure is concerned. Control of the negative is something I am striving to improve. I love Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro but the closer you can get to the image in your head on the film itself, the easier that stage becomes.
Any favourite subject matter?
RD: I am a very abstract thinker and this translates into my photography. I like texture, line and form wherever they make themselves appear interesting. The subject matter can be absolutely anything since it’s most likely that I am most interested in a small facet or strange angle of it that produces a pleasing form rather than reproducing the thing in its entirety as a direct representation.
I think it’s partly as an escape from my day job which requires me to be very precise, clear and accurate. My photography goes the other way, veering off towards the darkness, the blur, the rough and the narrow.
I think that some of my favourite photographers and works show something of what I aim for. Among the works that I keep coming back to are Alexey Titarenko’s “City of Shadows”, Michael Kenna’s “Forms of Japan”, Tim Booth’s “Show of Hands”.
Having said all that, I love cars. And bikes. And pretty much anything with an engine. One of my favourite and most popular photographs is of the head of a Bugatti engine in Bealieu museum. Unfortunately it’s not a film photo but I am hoping to get back there sometime with a film camera to see what I can get. Once again though, it’s not a picture of “the Bugatti”, just the cylinder head of its engine.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the one thing I have no interest in photographing at all, and that is colour. Colour does nothing for me beyond the way it influences the shade of grey on a black and white film stock. We (almost) all see the world in colour every day so I don’t see any point in reproducing it.
There is also an interesting philosophical question around whether we all see colour the same way. I see “red” as I see “red”, but you may see it in the same way as I see “green” but you still call it “red” as it is the same physical object with the same atomic properties etc.
What influenced your photography when you first started and who continues to influence you today?
RB: When I first started taking photography seriously my two heroes were Ansel Adams and Charlie Waite. Both amazing and very different practitioners of the landscape photographers art.
These days my inspiration comes from all over the place. Michael Kenna made a huge impact on me when I first saw his images. I love the simplicity of them, especially his Japanese series. There is one lonely tree, leaning out over a lake in Japan that he has gone back to again and again like an old friend and photographed from different angles over the years, I love that.
Ben Horne is a big inspiration and it was a pleasure to interview him for this site. His focus on the shot is something I am striving for; that ability to visualise the end result comes with experience and caring passionately about the craft and art.
There are many others; inspiration comes from many sources, and not just photographic ones. Picasso and the Cubists have influenced me over the years and helped me see the world from a different angle, to develop my own sight.
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?
RD: It would have to be the RB67 with the 90mm lens and a roll each of FP4+ and HP5+. There isn’t anything (besides colour…) that you can’t do with those! I like to think that I am pretty creative so even if it’s a sports assignment which would be the RB’s weakest link, I will get something in the can.
The quality of image that comes out of the Mamiya is stunning and makes any subject a pleasure to work with. Added to which, I love using the old workhorse.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll and why?
RD: I am thus far very limited in what I have tried. I am exclusively an Ilford user. With that in mind, probably HP5+. I love its grain and near infinite pushing ability. I have a roll of 36 in my OM10 at the moment (The same OM10 that my dad had in the 80s), that is being pushed to 1600 and I can’t wait to see how it comes out.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
RD: A body art/modification convention. I am a huge fan of body modification and think a lot about post- and trans- humanism. I think that piercings, tattoos, scarification and surgical alterations of one’s own corporal home are art in the most visceral sense and very beautiful.
I appreciate that there are many people for whom anything beyond a pierced ear or nose and a “tasteful” tattoo is extremely unsettling but I am the reverse, the more extreme and bold the better.
I think part of the reason is that I have always failed to be the person outside that I feel I am inside due to the pressure of work (wanting a good job to enjoy the money that comes with it). I am closer that ever now though, especially at home, and I am coming to appreciate that there are ways to be individual whilst wearing a suit ☺.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
RD: That it’s not worth bothering with in today’s instant gratification world. I agree that it isn’t instant – unless of course it is… – but I would argue that is exactly why it’s perfect for an instant world. Why do one more thing that adds to the “right now” feeling of modern life when you can spend some time, unplug, chill out and enjoy the process. As a Zen master may say … “wash your bowl”.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RD: A bit scary and unknown. I hope that it is strong and that new stock will continue to become available but I can’t help (due to my nature) being somewhat worried about the possibility of it become too expensive for me to enjoy. Having said that, right now it’s great ☺
~ Robert J Davie
Ever heard people say, “black and white is easy”? I have, more times than I care to recall. People – mostly digital photographers seem to think that getting a good black and white picture is simply a case of converting a JPG or RAW file and slapping up the contrast before hitting that big red HDR button – I swear it’s labelled as “AWESOME” in some apps.
Anyway, black and white photograhpy – real photography in my book – is anything but easy. It really is a craft and takes time to learn. Visualisation and pre-visualisation are in my opinion much more important in black and white photography than in color. In order to succeed, the photographer needs to make the final result sing without having anything but his experience and wits to guide his or her eye and exposure. …and without talking about development and printing, well, that’s less than half the story.
I admire Rob’s black work very much, especially when close up and wide open. It’s a style which speaks to me personally as someone who things he has an eye for capturing the little details. Thanks for sharing, Rob. You can see more of Rob’s work over on Facebook and also catch up with him on Twitter. If that doesn’t give you your fix, then head on over to have a read of Rob’s contributions right here on EMULSIVE. He’s reviewed his Mamiya RB67, provided some background on the image “Bars” above and even completed a wonderful interview with Ben Horne. See you again next week for another film photographer interview and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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