I am Sheena She and this is why I shoot film
Hey everyone and welcome to the latest EMULSIVE interview. Today, I’m happy to bring you the words and pictures of Sheena She.
It’s over to you, Sheena!
Hi Sheena what is this picture, then?
SS: I had the opportunity to photograph the 2016 New York Fashion Week for Tumblr. This job meant a lot to me and it was a humbling experience. I enjoy challenges and this really was one for this newbie to fashion week. It true what they say, it really is chaotic and it gets your cardio in for the day! Super fast paced than what I’m used to especially someone documenting it all on film. Digital cameras surrounded me, clicking away faster than I went through a roll. I always have to remind myself that I’m not them and they are not me. I do this differently so focus, Sheena!
This was backstage at the Anna Sui show. I have a background in makeup so behind the scenes is what I am used to. It’s what I love the most. It’s much more exciting backstage in my opinion. I enjoy the process that leads up to the finished product, the outcome. I don’t really get caught up in the hype but this photo was posted on Anna Sui’s Instagram. It made me feel awesome, after all, I am human.
Ok, so who are you?
SS: I used to say, “I am a photographer” without hesitation. Honestly saying that made me feel funny. Not because I don’t think I deserve or worked hard for that “title” but I always thought of myself something more than that. First and foremost, I am not knocking anyone. 2016/2017 is the year of EXTRA and over saturation. I get it, it’s like that all years blah, blah, blah. Everyone is something and everyone needs to post about it. “To each their own” is how I’ll end this sentence.
On that note, hey, I am Sheena She, I’m an observer and I’m just silly, awkward me. I create photos on 35mm film. I would like my work to speak for itself. I have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and make a mean grilled cheese sandwich. I enjoy the simple things in life, my moon sign is Scorpio, and I suffer from mild anxiety and seasonal depression because I live in New Jersey where the winters lag.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
SS: I’ve been shooting film since I was 5 or 6 using my parents’ Vivitar 110 camera. I actually have a photo with the camera next to me while someone took a family portrait. When I was a teenager, a disposable camera was with me always. Just taking photos of the classmates as much as I could.
Recently my brother came up to New Jersey from Texas and gave me 3 ziploc bags of all the photos I took from middle school to high school. Insane, but what great memories.
I retired from makeup to focus more on photography. I wanted to create more on my own time and own vision. I also wanted to do more different makeup looks rather than the norm- same glam face. Let me turn you into a werewolf or let me use this latex to create a wound. Haha! Makeup connected me to amazing souls. Super thankful for that. I chose photography because it was something I never grew out of. I keep shooting because when I get inspired by a visual or have an idea, I can make it happen. Always learning and always seeing things differently. There was a period of a time where I stopped shooting people to go back to street photography.
It’s ok to step back and even set down the camera to grow. It really keeps me connected to my creative side and love for film. Something I don’t want to ever lose as I age. That’s the drive.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
SS: The photographers that I’ve met while working in makeup were influential. I worked with Nakeya Brown and is always so inspiring. When I worked with her the second or third time, she brought out this beautiful Bronica medium format camera. Swooned over it! Til this day, I am saving up for a medium format camera, haha. I also want to add Ellen Rogers to the mix because I love love love her darkroom work and just how gorgeous and haunting everything from the model to the props just come together. In my opinion, it’s more than the film, the camera, the eye – it really is the whole package.
Other than that, the environment mixed with my thoughts keeping me up at night keep me inspired. I just try to keep things different. I’m not trying to be original as almost all ideas have been duplicated but I want my interpretation to be unique, honest, and genuine.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
SS: All my work is shot on film. I don’t own a digital camera and noticed I’ll shoot with a film camera rather than rely on my phone to capture certain things. It just looks better on film anyway, in my opinion.
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?
SS: I really want to start developing and scanning. I inherited darkroom supplies and I know it’s silly to say – “I don’t have room for it” but I also don’t have the scanner for the negatives. I’d like to continue evolving my style and finesse on long and multiple exposures. Night photography is one of my favorites but I don’t get to shoot at night as often as I would like so let’s add that to the list as well. Recently, I was asked to do a project with complete creative direction so this should be interesting. That’s what I’m working on now.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
SS: I like to experiment and not afraid of blur, grain, or imperfections. Working in makeup exposed me to colors, dressing up, while being surrounded by other creative minds. I’d say the majority of my subject matter is portraiture/ editorial without it being editorial? The subjects are friends, family, sometimes strangers, and things that catch my eye. I like to capture candid moments, their essence, and odd details. I also like to catch light, especially shadows, in between the light and dark.
I started off just taking random photos of my commute. Street photography. I walk everywhere so that helps. You see things you may have missed if you were driving. Constantly taking photos, teaching myself framing, lighting, and the “rules” it eventually all falls into place. You start to see differently and develop your own style. Carry that camera, shoot as often, experiment, and have fun along the way.
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?
SS: What an anxiety spike! Luckily for me, I will always bring my trust Pentax P3 with 50mm f/1.7 lens. I have a small camera collection but the P3 is my go to. Fully manual and such a great companion.
As far as films – it would be Kodak Porta 400 (as you can see I shoot mostly in color) and Fujifilm NEOPAN Acros 100. They have never failed me and the outcome is always beautiful. Especially NEOPAN. I’ve only shot with it a few times but each time the end results is always so gorgeous!
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?
SS: I dubbed myself the film bruja because I always tried out different rolls of film, tampering with it, so to pick one stock is super boring! But to answer this question, I would have to say Kodak Portra 160. I just love the colors and I love shooting when the sun is setting! For location, wow, that’s really difficult to answer but I would say the Philippines with the indigenous people. I have always wanted to document indigenous tribes within the motherland.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
SS: Insert super sad face. NEVER USE FILM AGAIN?! How heartbreaking! I would love to get away from the city, travel to a national park (Arches National Park, Utah looks amazing!) and do some long exposure at night. I’d love to get the night sky while camping!
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
SS: I’m sure this has already been said but film is not dead. Redundant, I’m sure. When you go on Instagram and search film photography hashtags, that shows you how film is alive and ever so thriving!
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
SS: I think film photography will continue to grow and continue to be a cult favorite. I also think (or like to think) that more of the discontinued film will resurface as we are seeing with Kodak stocks. In a perfect world, maybe have 1 hour photo labs back? Or is that wishful thinking?
Also, I’d like to add that film expenses can add up especially if you send it out to a lab. Yes, there are ways to keep it cheap like going on eBay, developing your own, or having a scanner but we are not in everyone’s shoes to see what he or she can afford. So maybe, even more affordable prices on processing?
~ Sheena She
Thanks so much to Sheena for stepping up and if you’re not doing so already, please do give her a follow on Instagram at: @thefilmbruja and @chainsawsjelly. You should also check out Sheena’s website.
I’m going to ask Sheena to forgive me for swapping my usual post-interview babble with a plug for EMULSIVE Santa 17. At the time of writing there are a little under five days before registration closes (Sunday November 19th). We’re currently sitting at 599 players in about 45 countries and I’d really like to make a big push to get us as close as possible to the 700 player mark – just imagine how amazing that would be!
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