I am Rory Earnshaw and this is why I shoot film
It’s a little difficult to introduce today’s interviewee without resorting to superlatives. I’ve tried and failed. What I will say is that his images evoke feelings of peace and serenity. There’s wonderful perspective and occasionally dizzying geometry.
With that said, it’s over to Rory.
Hi Rory, what’s this picture, then?
RE: I’m very fond of this photo as it’s the first photo that I took with a Hasselblad that I think works. It’s the side of Mission Dolores’ basilica in San Francisco.
I took it early in the morning and the angle of the sun gave a beautiful grey to the wall. Years later I drove by and was surprised to find that the wall is actually pink, I’d been used to seeing it grey for years.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RE: I am Rory Earnshaw, a commercial photographer who uses every spare moment to work on his personal work. My commercial work keeps me busy shooting advertising, corporate and retail jobs.
Most of my work these days is on location, a lot is outdoors, some in offices and occasionally on loading docks! When I’m not doing jobs I’m out in the field shooting film for my personal work. I try hard to get outdoors with a film camera at least once a week. Sometimes it’s a matter of stopping on the way home from a job and shooting some film. This is one reason why I shoot so much night work, especially in the winter.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
RE: Like so many film addicts I started with a Polaroid when I was a kid in the late seventies in rural Scotland where I lived at the time. Back then I shot mainly 35mm color negative film, which was mailed off for processing.
In September 1979 I saw the Time magazine Ansel Adams feature and that completely blew me away. Looking through the spreads of B&W photos, I’d never seen anything so beautiful. Needless to say I switched to B&W right after that.
I left Scotland in 1988 when I was 23. I’d been drawn to all things American after spending a few years in Ohio when I was 5.
In Scotland I had been assisting wedding photographers, learning how to use medium format. When I arrived in the Bay Area I worked in construction for a year before landing a job with Steve Hathaway. Working in Steve’s commercial studio I got to know the darkroom much better and also got comfortable with large format cameras. After a couple of years there I opened my own studio in San Francisco and have been self employed ever since.
Years of shooting large format for clients enabled me to get very comfortable with view cameras. I found 4″x5” very intimidating the first couple of times that I used it and at this point it really is quite intuitive.
What drives me to keep photographing is that feeling you get when it’s you and your camera taking a moment, freezing it and hopefully creating a beautiful and permanent print of it.
Even if it turns out to be a disappointment just being out there with a camera is enough for me.
Inevitably there are times that I go out and don’t even see something to shoot. That’s a tricky place to be and it’s taken me years to learn not to force it; now I only take the photograph if I’m pretty sure I’ll like the print. This is partly so I’m not too disappointed with my negs, partly because I often shoot 8”x10” and it gets expensive, and partly because when I’m shooting 2 ¼” I try to use the last of my Agfapan carefully.
Sometimes I’ll photograph a spot and revisit it a few times. There’s a few reasons why: constant changes in light, in the seasons and in my mood. I can’t count the number of times I’ve photographed the Golden Gate Bridge and as clichéd as it can be I never get tired of it.
When I’m out shooting personal work it’s got to be film. I love the mechanics of a manual camera, the levers, release buttons and shutter sounds. I like the mystery of not knowing how a night shot may turn out, it’s really rewarding when you do a long night exposure and it prints like a daylight shot (E.g. Flagpoles, Reservoir).
I have tried making personal work with a digital camera and it’s just not for me.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
RE: Obviously Ansel Adams influenced me very much. I’ve never used the Zone System properly and the technical stuff can leave me a bit cold but his images opened my eyes.
Another early favorite was Fay Godwin, whose quiet work move me immensely and still does. Looking at my bookcase I see a lot of Steichen, Penn and historical photography books, I guess I’m drawn to the classics.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
RE: For my personal work I only shoot film. By day I’m a commercial photographer, all of which is digital.
When I first opened my studio I was shooting a lot of retail and that was mainly on 4”x5” chrome with a bit of B&W thrown in for newspaper ads. While clients still value my B&W commercial work, it’s easy for them to convert digital files to monochrome.
The last job I shot on film was 5 years ago, an 8”x10” image of the Bay Bridge for an elevator interior. I managed to talk the client into going with film as it was being printed nine feet tall and would be looked at from fairly close up. For billboards that are viewed from a distance I would probably shoot digital.
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?
RE: I have a couple of future goals.
More gallery representation would be nice. I’m currently represented by the SFMOMA Artist Gallery and ideally in the next few years I’d be showing in more venues.
Teaching seems to be on the horizon. I’d love to pass on some of what I’ve learned over the years to the next generation. As my eldest daughter gets deeper into film I’m having a great time out in the field and in the darkroom with her.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
RE: Lately I’ve been drawn to urban landscapes as I’ve just finished up a series for my book “Contact 49”. I’ve been spending a lot of time making contact prints of photos taken in the 49 square miles that make up San Francisco.
Now that the book is complete I’ll stretch out a bit and take some road trips. I’ve never been to New Mexico or Utah so they are both high on my list.
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?
RE: If I had 2 minutes to pack I’d take a Hasselblad 500C, 150mm lens, some Ilford HP5+ and Provia 400X. The Hassy because it’s reliable, the 150mm because I like it’s perspective, Ilford HP5+ because I know it so well and Provia in case the client wants color.
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?
RE: I’d love to have an unlimited stack of Agfapan 100 in 4×5 format. I’d take it to Central Park, it’s so vast and there’s so much to see there. In the Bay Area we don’t have much in the way of seasons, I think it would be neat to shoot the same trees and structures in the snow, rain and blazing heat. Not to mention the huge potential for portraits…
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
RE: My last roll of film would be shot through Niepce’s window.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
RE: People come up to me all the time and ask “Can you still get film for that thing?” It would be great if film had more visibility out there.
I probably see someone shooting film a few times in a year, but not much more than that.
We do have a lot of great resources for film here in the Bay Area, nice independent stores like Glass Key Photo and Seawood photo, both of who sell film, darkroom supplies and cool old cameras. Over in Marin we have Image Flow, a fabulous center for darkroom rentals, classes and exhibitions. Over in the city Rayko offers similar services.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RE: The future of film will be OK.
While we’ll likely never see it used in the volume we used to there will always be plenty of curious people who like to make photographs with something a bit more mysterious than a digital camera.
~ Rory Earnshaw
I think I might be in love with Rory’s work. There’s a certain place that a formal background and years of hands on experience and mentoring can take you. That’s not to say that mere mortals like myself and many of you reading this can’t get there, the path is just different.
I said up at the top of the page that Rory’s evokes feelings of peace and serenity, and I mean every word. Perhaps this result represents an antithesis to Rory’s day job, perhaps it’s just the nature of this preferred large format, perhaps it’s just me.
Whatever the reason, to me, the work he has shared here today represents strong and welcome relief from the events to the events of 2016, a year that seems to have taken so much and left many of us wondering what else this particular roller coaster has left to offer in its few remaining weeks.
Thank you for sharing, Rory.
Please make sure you visit Rory’s website and while you’re waiting for the next interview next week, please consider joining what’s argueably the best way to end the film photography year: Secret Santa 2016. We’ve got five sponsors, a whole bunch of gifts and a whole lotta love to share.
If you’re feeling inquisitive, there’s also the Billingham Community Interview and don’t forget the Leica Sofort / Fuji Instax Mini Monochrome competition in conjunction with Dan K!
Keep shooting, folks. Peace.
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