I am Stephen Cosh and this is why I shoot film
This week we’re welcoming Stephen Cosh to the EMULSIVE interview collective! He’s a Scottish hybrid shooter with what can only be described as an unwavering passion for Glasgow. Scroll down and you’ll see why.
Over to you, Stephen!
Hi Stephen, what’s this picture, then?
SC: This picture is called “Sketchy” and it’s one of my favourite pictures because it was taken on my little Leica M3 with a late 1950’s Leica Elmar f/2.8 collapsible lens. The glow around the girl is all natural and is feature of that particular lens.
Shortly after making the shot I went on to sell the camera and the lens, with of which I have never stopped regretting. Every time I see the shot I get an almost tangible pang of grief. Life is full of mistakes, you learn from them… I’ll never sell another Leica film body or lens.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
SC: I’m a 47 year old designer from Scotland. I have a beautiful, understanding wife who allows me to invest (waste) far too much time and money in photography and two great kids who are both into making images as well. I run my own branding agency and photography is a big part of it.
I shoot mostly digital for my commercial shoots, just because it’s quicker and more commercially viable, but now and again I do use film for client work. However, for my own street work, landscapes and portraits I use film almost all the time unless it’s night work. I’m obsessed with the digital process. Shoot film, develop film, scan negs, work negs up digitally. It’s the best of both worlds. You get that beautiful “real” grain and the power of digital processing.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
SC: I started with film when I was 14 in 1984 on an old Olympus SLR but I gave up photography shortly afterwards and didn’t start again until my 30’s. When I did start again it was landscapes that got me going and soon afterwards, street photography and street portraiture. I’m a creative guy and I suppose that drives me to get out and shoot. It’s an instant creative hit.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
SC: My favourite photographer of all time is Oscar Marzrolli, who was an Italian who lived most of his life in Glasgow. He was a photojournalist professionally, but spent years documenting the streets and people fo Glasgow. He is probably the most important street photographer that Scotland has ever had and yet he is still relatively unknown outside of Scotland. I find his images a lot more honest and immediate than the likes of Cartier-Bresson and Winogrand, it’s fast, gritty yet considered work that has framed the post-war Glasgow in a timeless fashion. He is first class and I recommend EMULSIVE’s readers Google him and check his work out.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
SC: Yes and no. As I said above, I shoot digital at work and film (mostly) in my own time. Film is my first choice but sometimes, especially at night, it’s not feasible. I really don’t like pushing film, if anything I prefer pulling, but I’ve always found box speed is best, so at night I shoot digital. I choose film at all other times for three reasons…grain, depth and darkroom time.
Grain: I love film grain. You can’t touch it with digital and while it doesn’t always look great on screen, when printed, grain is beautiful. In fact, when you compare a digital print to a film print, I think film always wins.
Depth: I also think there is more depth to film shots. I can’t put my finger on why, but there seems more dimension, especially in medium Format.
Darkroom Time: The darkroom process is so involved and you have to be so focussed, that your mind goes blank on everything else. You zone in on the task at hand and for that hour or so your mind relaxes, you forget all the other crap in your life and just concentrate on developing.
I’ve alway said that digital is “taking” photos and film is “making” photos. Film completes the photographic circle, you shoot, develop, process and publish. It’s a bigger picture.
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?
SC: Every time I go out it’s another challenge. I always want to do better than I did last time.When I’m shooting street I’m always looking for the killer moment, trying to get closer without being seen or altering the moment.
Trying to compose better and trying to be braver. When I’m shooting landscape I’m always trying to plan ahead better, visualise the shot I want before I set up the camera and press the trigger.I don’t think I’ve mastered any of the genres I shoot yet and so for the next 12 years (forget months), I’ll keep working harder to get better at street and landscapes.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
SC: Dark, gritty noir’s. That’s my thing in both street and landscapes. Maybe it’s because I’m a miserable git, I dunno, but dark and mysterious images is what I tend to create naturally. I don’t really go out looking for that shot or try to create that style, it just happens.
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?
SC: That’s an impossible question to answer and just thinking about it is stressing me out!I suppose it would have to be my Leica M7 and my 50mm Summilux, just because it’s the most versatile. Film. Well no stress there: Kodak Tri-X 400 because the grain is awesome and it’s got bucket loads of latitude.
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?
SC: Film: Adox CMS 20 in 120 format. Why? Because when you master CMS no other film in the world will touch it’s resolution, fine grain or contrast. The stuff is amazing…but it will take you the rest of your life to master it!
Location: Glasgow. Why? I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else for the rest of my life!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
SC: What a question! My last roll of film would be a 120 roll of Tri-X 400, I’d shoot it on my Hasselblad 500CM and I’d use all 12 shots on my immediate family. If it’s the last time you’ll use something that dear to you, you’d need to make sure you used it on something that dear to you right?
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
SC: I think currently, people think film is just a retro craze and it so isn’t. Yes there are people shooting film for the same reason there are people listening to vinyl these days, but there’s more to film than a fashion fad. Using film seriously is a considered choice, not something you do because it’s cool.
It’s something you choose to do because you see more in it than the alternative. Its more involved, it’s slower, it struggles with low-light and it’s very time consuming. But if we had the technology 15 years ago that we do now to scan and digitally manipulate our film negatives, we might not have been so quick to jump to digital. So I would set it straight by simply issuing a global ban on all digital cameras!
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
SC: I think the future is very bright. There has been a massive return to film that has had a huge impact on supply and demand. Kodak are re-issuing old film stocks, Leica and Polaroid are back with instant cameras and film, Ilford has become the backbone of the analogue photography industry and are very responsible in keeping it alive.
But the really encouraging thing is seeing kids getting into it. I see teenagers and early twenties kids all over the place now with old film Nikons and Canons. I sometimes stop them and ask “film?” and they go on and tell me that they are doing their own developing. It’s great to see and hear this.
Digital is king and probably always will be now for commercial reasons, but there will always be a place for film… Its not going anywhere!
~ Stephen Cosh
Thanks to Stephen for taking part and if you have a moment, please take the time to check out his website, Flickr, Twitter, or Google+. Another photographer will be here next Wednesday so until then, hold tight, or check out some of the other articles published this week.
Keep shooting, folks!
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