Jens Kotlenga | Aug 7, 2018 | 1
I am Shaun La and this is why I shoot film
It’s time to welcome another interviewee into the fold and I’m please to be able to bring you Shaun La. It’s over to you, Shaun.
Hi Shaun, what’s this picture, then?
I was in Downtown Manhattan, Chinatown to be exact. As I was standing under a structure, I happen to look through this lantern & BAM! Just the energy of New York, City can be ongoing. To see how the vibrant colors & the people walking, it was for me, a way to see someone walking through the Big Apple through a Big Lantern. At least, the viewpoint from the camera has given us this Big on Big kind of persona.
Also, the lady on the right, her limbs, paused in motion, matches the tree limbs, which are paused in nature, the people seated to the left give the metal bars in this photographs, another still-life kind of frozen activity. The gentleman in the lantern just makes light & photography seem interconnected.
OK, so who are you? (The short version, please)
A man, a film photographer who works on small & medium formats. An intellectual who applies words to how I see and feel about this world. It is a world that has found the rotation of photography to be its visual axis.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
In my late teenage years. Around the ages of 17 or 18. I am 39 years old right now. Disposable cameras were my modest introduction to film photography. The cameras were from Kodak or Fuji. Very basic in their construction, box-like built, a view-finder, some with a plastic glass in the view-finder, others without a plastic glass. Going into my 20’s, I picked up my god-mother’s Minolta Hi-Matic. She found that I was so attached to it, she gifted it to me.
From there, realizing the understanding between the speeds of film, through disposable cameras, gave to me, a way to learn about grain, light, & composition. Starting off with disposable 135 film/small-format film cameras kept my humble beginnings very informative. I was eager to comprehend technique, because I did not ever see the camera as a high-tech instrument. Therefore, this Minolta Hi-Matic was not a gadget for me. I still use this exact film camera when I am working with small-format, 135 film. As time evolved, figuring out how to process film, going into medium-format photography, were steps that were ahead of my learning curve.
Film is all that I know, photographically speaking. I think that I have an appreciation or deep love for technique. Photography, when it first found some latent image success in the 19th century, was about technique. I can still feel this primitive tangible outcome in film photography. Even though roll film photography would be around, 128 or 130 years old, the process of dealing with science, processing a tangible material for the sake of the latent image, stands in a bridge-like foundation to the 190, 191 years that the camera has been able to provide a latent image. I clearly understand that we are a high-tech driven society. We are an instant loving society as well.
Personally, I could not care less how or what another photographer uses to take a photograph. If it is good or great, interesting & unique photography, I am a fan of it. But, when it comes to what I want to shoot on, I feel an ongoing loyalty to film, connecting to my sanity. When your mind & heart resides in just knowing one way, you may be singular, but there is a form of loyalty that keeps things simple. Film photography is a physical reality, but it is a life that knows my thinking & I tend to learn in a more profound way, when it is one frame at a time.
Do you have a favourite subject matter or style you always find yourself drawn to? Why?
I do not have a favorite subject matter. If photographing time is a subject, then I guess, philosophically, wanting to photograph the times of every kind of emotion, person, place, thing, reality, abstract or lifetime, then, time would be my favorite subject matter.
Photography is a bit tricky with its visual statement. Today, we can see so many photographs, we can forget that the photograph is a past for any kind of review. I think that we are losing track of time. Not in the sense that it is all on us being an addict to a high-tech society. I think that our losing track of time, has more to do with our human greed, than that of a high-tech device. There are people, cultures, societies, that understand the preciousness in time.
Photography can trick the world into thinking that the Moment, photographically, would be the only way to see into something or the surface of a product. I think that photography is one of the chief ways for seeing; however, it does not need to be the dictator’s way of seeing. I would hope that my photographs end up being a measurement for time. From here, guide the onlooker into reading a book, or listening to a song, maybe watching a motion-picture or to study a painting.
I try not to use any other mediums for inspiration. But, I can see, taste, feel & think that other mediums guide the individual, people & society into a cycle of culturally learning or being entertained. For some reason & perhaps I am biased, I can feel as if Photography can be disappointing to the cultured mind. Mainly, because Photography latches onto being a Pop-Art sponsor. Of course, Photography has the features of being a medium. However, our current society appears to dilute Photography at times.
What is a professional photographer in the 21st century? What would be a great photographer? Do we count financial income or social-media followers? Do you need one in order to get to the other? These are questions that does not sit in us saying that singer is a real Soul singer & that singer is a Pop-Art friendly singer. Music has met the impact of high-technology. Yet, listeners know the difference between a jazz musician & Auto-Tune.
With Photography, we are so unclear about it being a medium, we love to make it trendy. How many Likes did your photograph receive?
Back to my subject matter. I want a major essence in my work to be for the benefit of knowing time. Therefore, photographing the times, would be my favorite subject matter, if we are looking at this question in a way, where the term favorite is a collective, cultural, personal response.
You have two minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
My Minolta AG with its MD 50 MM lens. I am familiar with this camera, & I am one to believe that the familiarity of one’s instrument can guide them into a instinctive creativity that does not cause anxiety to their possibilities or process that it takes to be a photographer.
One roll of Fujicolor Pro, 400 speed & one roll of Kodak T-Max, 100 speed. (Small-format, 135 film.) I think that Fuji’s muted colors can be spectacular, when you are unaware of what your subject matter will be. Kodak’s color film are always vibrant & excellent. With this kind of color from Kodak, you can see a commercial, glossy spectrum of colors through figuring out an idea. I would not want this kind of easiness. When I work with Kodak, I pretty much know what or whom I am going to photograph. Perhaps, a portrait, a head-shot, an editorial piece, one of my studio lighting kits placed on objects or items for a still-life frame or a sunny day out on the streets. However, Fuji keeps me on my balance, when it comes to not knowing. I would take Fujicolor Pro, 400 speed into an assignment where I had no idea of what the subject matter would consist of.
Now, Kodak’s T-Max, 100 speed would be my second roll for this assignment. There is a very warm visual pace to Kodak’s T-Max B&W film. The photographic science with Kodak has always been progressive, but in a step by step kind of way. What I always enjoyed about B&W film, would be how every manufacturer had their own B&W puzzle for the photographer to put the brand’s piece together. I am not the kind of photographer who has a favorite brand of film. So, this question is a mental boxing match for me. However, these are the two punches that I would go with, Fujicolor Pro 400 speed & Kodak’s T-Max, B&W, both on 135. Also, the history of competitiveness between Kodak & Fuji has a poetic symphony to it as well. I would let them duel it out.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
The Vatican. I am not a Roman Catholic. However, I think that there is something photographically intriguing about a city which positions itself on a religious landmark of not just a physical location, but a spiritual & religious consistency that has so many centuries around its global existence.
I would not want to photograph the Vatican to promote Catholicism, nor would I want to discourage someone from seeing the religious pride of Catholicism. My aim would be for my Eye to see how so many people, past & presently put cultures, & their lives into a faith. I would enjoy photographing faith on film.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
ILFORD Delta Professional 100 would be my last roll. The voice of B&W film has always had a marriage with photography, ever since the 19th century. I would want a roll of small-format, 135 film, 36 frames. I would divide what I photograph into 8 frames for 8 topics. Maybe, I would do one frame a month for 36 months. It would depend on my mindset.
If I was in a rush, I would let it go, hitting the shutter button with a passionate momentum. If I wanted to treat my last roll of film with some let the wine age kind of mentality, one frame a month for 36 months would be a careful pleasure for my own insights. I do not know what or whom I would photograph, but I have an awareness that Moments can happen. I just need to be properly prepared.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set them straight?
It will make you a better photographer. I think that your own passion for this medium, would make you a better photographer with any kind of camera. Passion congratulates confidence. Once you have a confidence with working with a camera, you can be a photographic self-esteem. Also, the technical jargon can reject those who want to venture into film photography. I work on film only. However, I know some fellow film photographers who are so strict to the technical side, they intimidate the potential, new film photographer. Now, I understand these hardcore, veteran film photographers.
But, they need to relax. I am more hardcore about the history of photography than that of the technical side. I believe that the history of photography is often ignored. We need this history, because, it will guide the provenance values of photographic works that has been done in the 19th century, as well as the 20th century. The photographic works in this 21st century need the encouragements from a culturally, financially, academically foundation, in order for this medium to tell the uniqueness of what the photographer can do with their camera & their Eye.
I am a student of the technical, with film photography & film science. However, social-media has made the outcry or war-cry of some veteran film photographers to overdose on coming down on fellow film photographers, young or old.
I would set it straight by saying that Man Ray did photography his way & Ansel Adams or Edward Weston did it their way. What makes film photography, innocently creative, would be that you can be technical or you can be about technique, or you can be educated about both elements & experiment.
We have to have film tolerance. Every film photographer does not want to abide by the Zone System or the Decisive Split-Second. We have to appreciate this kind of premeditated choice not to go with the standard & weigh all of our photographic works on film as a vision for the individual, not the large social-media followings telling us who to follow on Instagram or the mainstream publications telling us what is commercially beautiful or successfully great.
In your opinion what is the future of film photography?
We will see more retrospectives on past film photographers from the 20th century. The speed of instant gratification has made this medium overlook the past photographers who built mountains in this mediums—mountains, we should look up to, in order to build our own. The 20th century is a diamond mine of great film photographers from every level, commercial to non-commercial.
I think that film manufacturers will dwindle down into smaller companies, offering popular film speeds. The good outcome of this, would be that pushing or pulling film can guide the film photographer into learning more & more about film speeds, even if they have not had the benefit of working on specific film speeds, when they were on the market. This would help the film photographer be fully involved in knowing how to work with certain films.
Film cameras will still be manufactured; however, it will be about well-made cameras, very basic. The camera industry has realized that the digital gadgets in digital cameras is a selling point for their high-tech lovers. Film cameras cannot compete, nor should they try to compete against such a fashion. The craftsmanship in a Deardorff large-format camera could be found in the details of a medium-format or small-format camera. The standard won’t be about formats, but just the film camera, overall.
I do not put too much into the influx of photographers coming into film photography, just as I do not subscribe to film being dead or alive. With social-media, the voices are loud if you have a following. Therefore, any famous photographer who want to put film into their hash-tag or post can do so. I find this to be a popularity contest kind of reaction. Film photography will always have its population, as the future grows, we will see more people coming into film photography with an interest to stay in it & not try to commercialize it, to be different or make the word film a trending topic.
Right now, photography can be accepted as a Pop-Art or a medium that does not want the intelligent, serious artist or form of expression. However, the future of film photography will become serious, because the process is a contemplative way of seeing.
~ Shaun La
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