I am Roger Harrison and this is why I shoot film
This has been a tough interview to put together. Tough because, as you’ll see below, it’s been an absolute nightmare picking which one of Roger Harrison’s beautiful Fuji Velvia 50 photographs to feature as the cover for this article. I hope I did him proud.
Regular readers should remember Roger from his wonderful article discussing methods for effectively shooting Fuji Velvia 50 and other slide films. If you haven’t caught it yet, please do. The link will open in a new tab. Once you’re back here, scroll down and see what roger has to say for himself.
Over to you, Roger!
Hi Roger, what’s this picture, then?
RH: This is (was) my greyhound, Tim. He was a big part of my life for over ten years and we went through a lot together. He was largely responsible for getting me back into photography after a hiatus. I’d take a camera with me on our walks and he seemed to get himself into most of the photos I took.
He was an incredibly photogenic dog. This is one of my favourite photos of him. I have thousands of him on digital and very few on film. But of my top three favourite shots of him two are on film. This is a shot from the first roll of film that I’d shot in over 10 years and part of the reason I kept on shooting film.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RH: I’m Roger Harrison, 57, from the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales. It’s a beautiful part of the world and has a dramatic coastline. I was born and brought up in the Vale but I’ve lived in other parts of the UK – London, Oxford and, for 16 years, Bath. I moved back to the Vale 15 years ago.
I’ve done a number of different things in my life, Property Management, running a web hosting company, and currently I’m a chauffeur. I’ve driven various different celebrities as a chauffeur, including Enrique Iglesias and Bob Dylan. It’s always tempting to ask if I can photograph them but it would be unprofessional, so I don’t.
I also drive a local County Borough Mayor and I do sometimes double as event photographer. Once I’ve taken a couple of obligatory snaps on digital I usually get one of my film cameras out and start taking ‘real’ photos. One of my favourites is visiting Centenarians. The Mayor visits people on their 100th and 105th birthday and each year after that. We’ve had a couple of 106 year olds in the last few years. This has enabled me to do my Centenarians project. The photograph above of Mrs Edith Williams is a sample from the project.
We also visit people on their 60th and 70th wedding anniversary. I usually take my Rolleicord which was made in the 1950s and is the type of camera that could conceivably have been used to take their wedding photos.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
RH: I dabbled a bit with photography in my teens, but I didn’t get my first SLR – an Olympus OM-1 – until my mid twenties. Back in the mid 1980s film was all there was, of course. I switched to digital early on, some time around 1998. Then around 2012, I started experimenting with film again.
I still had my OM-1 but I wanted to try medium format. I bought a Rolleicord, a roll of B&W film (Ilford HP5+, I think) shot a test roll of the dog and whatever (see above), sent the roll to a lab to be developed and scanned on to CD, and was hooked from the moment I loaded the CD into my computer.
For the next couple of years I dabbled with film while still shooting mostly digital. Then I came across a deal on a Hasselblad 500C/M. I’d never even seen a Hasselblad in the flesh before but it was within my budget and I had to try it to see what people raved about. As soon as I started using the Hasselblad I could see what the fuss was about. I loved it and for a while I didn’t want to use anything else.
Within 6 months I’d given up digital and for the last three years I’ve shot only film, apart from the odd photo now and again that I’m required to take for work.
I have lots of different film cameras now, about six Olympus 35mm cameras, including my original OM1, a Contax G1, Yashica T3, a Brownie, Holga, a 5×4 Crown Graphic, 5×4 Reality So Subtle pinhole, Intrepid 5×4 and various others. The Hasselblads are the ones that get the most use, though I now have a 503CX and 500EL/M.
I’m hopelessly addicted to shooting film. I just love the whole process, acquiring new film cameras (often for free), trying different films, the developing and processing (which I now do myself at home, both colour and black and white), and I love the look that I can get with film.
That’s just scratching the surface – I could write a lengthy article about why I love film. [EMULSIVE: deal!]
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
RH: When I bought my first SLR I bought some books on photography. The one I remember the most, and which I still have and still refer to sometimes, is the ’35mm Handbook’ by Michale Freeman.
Anyone starting out in photography (in whatever medium) could do a lot worse than reading that book cover to cover. And the photos in it aren’t bad either. He’s still teaching photography, although sadly all digital now.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
RH: I only shoot film. In the last year I’ve shot my daughter’s wedding, son’s wedding and a holiday in Portugal – all on film. Didn’t even have a digital camera with me for any of those. Digital holds no interest for me whatsoever.
Christmas 2013 I took lots photos on film and digital. By the end of Boxing Day I had developed and scanned the films and posted the photos on Facebook. Two weeks later I still hadn’t even looked at the digital photos. Decided I may as well delete them without even loading them on to the computer.
I haven’t shot any digital since, apart from the occasional photo I’m required to take for work, and for which I do still keep a digital camera, an Olympus OM-D E-M5 (I have a bit of a thing about Olympus).
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving you technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
RH: Last year I realised a I had a problem with the shots I was taking. Quite often with the Hasselblad (which is by far my main camera) I’d get 12 shots out of 12 spot on for exposure etc. 12 potential keepers. Sounds good right?
But it wasn’t. I was going for safe shots all the time. I needed to push the envelope more, take risks, experiment and increase my failure rate. Failures are good, you can learn from them. So I started doing more long exposures, especially with Velvia.
Even Fuji say you shouldn’t use Velvia for exposures longer than a few seconds because all kinds of bad things can happen – reciprocity failure, colour shifts and so on.
Well, I started pushing exposures to a couple of minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes, learned how to adjust for reciprocity and found that there don’t really seem to be too many problems with colour shifts. I want to push that further, maybe exposures of several hours.
Also, I’ve dabbled a bit with pinhole – I’d like to do more of that, perhaps combining it with using direct positive paper.
And I’d also like to shoot more with the large format cameras I have, especially the Intrepid 5×4, which I haven’t used as much as I should have, since I bought it last year.
Last year I fulfilled my dream of setting up a darkroom at home and I want to continue to improve my darkroom work.
One of my targets, possibly for this year or maybe next year, is to submit a panel to become an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. And I’d like to do it with slides. Yes, good old fashioned slides. Shots taken on Velvia with my Hasselblad. Apparently no-one has submitted slides for an ARPS panel for a long time. I figure it’s time to put that right.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
RH: Yes, very much so. I’ve always been drawn to the sea.
In my childhood and teens I lived near the sea and as a family we would spend a great deal of time on the beach, or on coastal walks. The Glamorgan coast in South Wales is a magnificent stretch of coastline, with sandy beaches, rocky beaches, pebbly beaches, dramatic cliffs, sand dunes and a whole gamut of other things. Even dinosaur footprints.
I now live less than a mile from the sea, I can look out of my bedroom window over the Bristol Channel. So it is perhaps no surprise that seascapes dominate my photography. And the vast majority of the photos are taken within a 20 mile radius of my home. I can’t really imagine having anywhere better to photograph.
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?
RH: If I could have only one camera it would probably be my Olympus OM-4ti. Although I mostly use a Hasselblad, the OM-4ti is more flexible in situations where you don’t know what you’re going to face, especially for hand-held shots. And the OM-4ti is probably my second most used camera after the Hasselblad.
The lens would probably be the Zuiko 40mm/f2. The 40mm is a perfect mix of wide/standard, it’s reasonably fast at f2 and focuses quite close, not quite macro, but not far off.
Film would be Ilford XP2 Super for black and white and Agfa CT Precisa 100 for colour.
Ilford XP2 Super is my most used black and white film in 35mm. I love the tonality of XP2 and its fine grain. It’s also a very flexible film. It’s supposed to be developed in C41 chemicals but it can also be stand developed in Rodinal 1:100 for 90 minutes or so. I always develop it in Rodinal, unless I happen to be developing another C41 film and then I’ll throw the XP2 in with it.
Precisa is reputed to be re-branded Provia and my go-to colour film for 35mm. On the slowish side at ISO 100 I guess for situations where you don’t know what the lighting is going to be like. But if the light was poor I’d just have to use the XP2 instead.
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: That one’s easy for me. I’d take Velvia 50 in my Hasselblad to a nearby beach, probably near sunset. In fact, give me any exotic location in the world and I’d probably still choose a local beach, because I can’t really think of anywhere better I’d like to be.
Except Iceland maybe….but if it was my last roll of film I’d definitely want to shoot it locally so I can get the best out of it.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
RH: That film photography ‘costs money’.
Digital photographers tend to think that film costs money to buy, compared to digital where you can take thousands of shots on an SD card that can be used over and over again.
But they forget about the cost of buying equipment and having to renew it every few years for newer and ‘better’ models.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RH: Who knows what will happen in the long term? In the short term, though, the future looks bright. More films are becoming available, new cameras like the Intrepid are being made, film photography seems to be becoming more popular, especially with young people with Youtube channels such as Negative Feedback being aimed at a younger audience. So right now things are definitely looking up.
~ Roger Harrison
I was going to pick on Roger’s comment about being hopelessly addicted to film (as is my want), but I felt it better to focus on this excerpt instead:
“I was going for safe shots all the time. I needed to push the envelope more, take risks, experiment and increase my failure rate. Failures are good, you can learn from them. So I started doing more long exposures, especially with Velvia.”
Its ridiculously easy to stick with something you’re good at and not stray from a self-imposed straight and narrow. Sure, the results are satisfying but how long does that feeling last when the challenge is gone? Sometimes small shifts in subject, composition, film or camera can be enough to shake things up. Sometimes a change of scenery will do the trick but (in my very humble opinion), the best way to increase your learning potential is to do something totally different to what you’re used to.*1
Some folks try their hand a development, be it black and white, C-41, E6 or even ECN2, others make wild leaps to large and ultra large format. The most unhinged go for long exposures on slide film and not simply a safe stock like Fuji Acros 100.*2
I’ve tried my hand at it in the past and failed miserably but thanks to this and Roger’s previous article, I’ve been giving it another go. Thanks for the inspiration, Roger.
In the meantime, please take the time to scroll back up and give this interview another read and try if you can not to linger on some of those wonderful slides.
As ever, keep shooting folks!
*1 …learning potential…this is just a nice way of saying “increasing your opportunity to completely balls things up”.
*2 …all due respect, Roger!
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