I am Rob Hawthorn and this is why I shoot film
Well Rob’s back with something a little different. Feast your eyes on this…
Hi Rob, what’s this picture then?
RH: This photograph comes from a shoot I did this past summer close to my home in London. It’s one of those times the location, the light, the film stock, the personality of the model and the mood came together to create something special.
Pro 400H is a film stock I know well. I know how to get the look I want out of it by exposing it in different ways, or manipulating the light. This allows me to create the whole image in the moment, rather than partly in the moment and partly later in front of a screen.
I like the fact that the moment the picture was created in it’s entirety is the same moment that is depicted in the photograph, which is when I had the feeling of creativity and confidence in my intention for the image.
If I tried to do the same work with a digital camera I’d likely falter when it came to editing the look of the image at a computer. I’d feel detached from that moment, almost as if I’m editing someone else’s work.
So, who are you? (short version)
RH: In my day-job I have a video production business, which is all totally digital as you can imagine, and guided by the needs of my clients. There can be plenty of creativity and personal satisfaction in that kind of work, of course, but I do find I need a purely artistic, creative outlet in order to stay sane, and that for me is photography.
I shoot portraits. I do enjoy travel photography, street photography and even landscapes on occasion, but portraiture is what I really have a passion for.
I suppose what I try to aim for in my photography is creating an image that I feel tells a story. Reading that sentence back, it sounds like such a cliché. Maybe I should elaborate on that point a little.
The shots I love are the ones that subtly communicate to you some deeper human story. This story could be the truth, or it could be a total fiction known only to the viewer. It doesn’t actually matter. It’s seeing a story that makes an image exciting. That’s what inspires me to take pictures.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting today?
RH: I was using DSLRs to shoot video before I had any interest in photography. About six years ago I got interested in using old manual lenses when shooting video (Takumar primes were my secret weapon), and this lead to the man who would later become my father-in-law giving me his old Zenit Moskva 80 with it’s Helios 44-2 lens.
I put a roll of ILFORD XP2 Super 400 through it and loved the results. I’d had an Olympus Trip 35 as a kid, and had even done some darkroom work. All those memories came flooding back.
There are lots of reasons why I continue to shoot film. Part of it is that it means spending less time sitting at my computer in order to get the look I want. Another reason for me is the equipment. All I need to take photos is control of focus, shutter speed and aperture. With digital cameras you seem to either get simplicity plus lack of control, or control plus distracting complexity.
I prefer using a camera and lens that are high quality whilst also being really straightforward and simple. Something like an Olympus OM1 with a 50mm lens, which is a joy to use. I don’t find its simplicity at all limiting.
That’s not to say I don’t love some of the more unusual film cameras though. There’s also loads of scope for modifying or even building your own gear, which can be fun.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
RH: Well, my favourite photographers are quite mixed – Peter Lindbergh, Vivian Maier, Richard Avedon, Nelli Palomäki to name a few. I also like pre-Raphaelite paintings like those of John William Waterhouse and John Everett Millais, and photographers who have a similar dreamlike quality to their work like Rimantas Dichavičius and Ata Kando. I suppose you could call those influences.
I take just as much inspiration from music and film. Often I’m simply inspired by a location.
The great thing about doing a portrait or fashion shoot is it’s a collaboration between you and your model, and often a stylist or HMUA as well. I find working with other people really rewarding and inspiring.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
RH: I almost never shoot digital photos. I do certainly mix my mediums within the film world. I love both colour and black and white film. You couldn’t make me choose between them, and I do consider them different mediums and different disciplines.
I also love to shoot packfilm and colour infrared film. Both of those take some time to learn, and using them can be pretty frustrating when things don’t go to plan. Very rewarding when things do work out though.
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?
RH: This past 12 months I have been working on a long-term portrait project. My shoots are usually standalone things. This is the first time I’ve done anything on a bigger scale, and the plan eventually is to get it out into the world in a non-digital form. I don’t know yet whether this will be prints or a zine, or maybe even a small book. I do need to finish the project first, and there might be another 6 or 12 months in it, so for now I’m concentrating on the work.
I showed some of that work at a Photo Scratch event in London in November. Exhibiting was a great experience, particularly getting to chat to people and get their feedback. It’s definitely something I’d like to do more of.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
I like to shoot portraits in natural surroundings and in natural light. You’ll see a lot of leafy green trees, flowers and hazy summer meadows in my work, particularly when I shoot women. When I shoot men I’m more drawn to harsher, urban landscapes.
The setting often plays as much of a role in my shoots as the model. Sometimes I’m looking for a location to suit a model, but often I’m looking for the right model for a location that has inspired me.
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?
RH: Probably my Fuji GS645, a roll of Fujifilm Pro 400H and a roll of ILFORD FP4 PLUS. The GS645 is a great medium format camera with a killer lens, and yet is easier to carry than most 35mm cameras. Its 75mm lens is “normal” on 6×4.5, and you can do anything with that.
I suspect a lot of people associate Pro 400H solely with a certain style of wedding photography, but it’s actually a very versatile film that can handle pretty much anything.
FP4 is my favourite black and white film. I’m not that guy who knows all about developing black and white, like how to get a nice look out of HP5 PLUS at any speed. But FP4 has never disappointed me.
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?
RH: London – though I don’t know if it’s pushing it to consider London as one location. I love it here. I can always find somewhere, someone or something new and interesting to shoot.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
RH: I’d shoot a portrait session on a pack of Fuji FP-100C on a bright but overcast day, probably in one of my favourite parks in South London. I’d use my Polaroid Land 180 camera. That’s a pretty magical combination.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
RH: Probably that the film photography market begins and ends with the people we see and interact with on social media.
Outside of the echo chamber there are plenty of photographers creating great work who just happen to be using film, and are blissfully ignorant of or just less fussed about the latest film community hashtags, debate about new products or whatever. The people that don’t define themselves as film photographers, but just as photographers.
How would I set this straight? I’d suppose I’d suggest that anyone thinking of coming out with a new film photography product, or indeed any of the current players in the market, not to rely too solely on marketing by social media or other various channels that are geared towards the film photography fanatics, rather than the casual users. Instead, maybe build bridges with photography schools, art schools, galleries, community darkrooms and film photography retailers in order to reach and better understand the others.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RH: I think there will always be some people who want to shoot film, so even if the market shrinks, it will survive in one form or another. Passion will keep it alive.
Obviously I hope the market will continue to grow as it appears to have done this past year. I’m referring to the market for film photography rather than, say, interest in film photography. I feel like pointing this out because there’s often a lot of goodwill from film photographers towards new products, but suppliers won’t be kept afloat by goodwill alone.
We’re at such an interesting time now what with things like open source design, 3D printing, easier access to outsourced manufacturing and crowd funding.
New cameras and new films are what get people excited. But what I think we really need and what I hope to see is new mini labs and better home scanners. The technology we are using now is way out of date.
~ Rob Hawthorn
A massive thanks to Rob for stepping up and taking part in the interview. It’s very much appreciated and not exactly what I expected! It’s great to see so much of his portraiture work in one place, especially as portraiture is one aspect of photography that eludes me.
His words and pictures above are inspiration enough to get me moving and I hope you feel the same way.
Thanks again to Rob and thanks to you all for reading.
As ever, keep shooting, folks!
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