I am Tom Rayfield and this is why I shoot film
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll be familiar with today’s interviewee’s Finding Film series here on EMULSIVE. It’s been great watching Tom’s journey through the year so far and even though we’re already six parts in at the time of writing, there’s still much, much more to come.
I guess you can consider this a bit of a break for Tom and a chance to get to know the man behind all the experimentation.
Over to you, Tom.
Hi Tom, what’s this picture, then?
TR: This is a shot from Sea Palling in Norfolk, a beach I have visited many times in my lifetime, but like many of Norfolk’s beaches, it always seems to draw me back.
This was something I had gone out to shoot for the EMULSIVE #SummerFilmParty, and although it didn’t shortlist or do as well as some of my other images have in the past, I still really like it.
I have a particular love for this shot as it encompasses everything I love most about shooting landscapes. My favourite time to head out with the camera is first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, just before sunset, when there are less people about. I love the peace, quiet and tranquility that can only be had at that time of day.
This particular shot was taken sometime between 6 and 7am. It was a warm, summer morning, and I had the beach to myself; for me, it was heaven.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
TR: By day, I am a secondary school teacher, working with children aged 11-16. I teach Computer Science and Photography, which I realise is a strange mixture. It’s nice to combine the creative with the technical, and there is some crossover with teaching the editing side of photography. Working with children often leads to some very random and somewhat unexpected questions, and even ideas, which question my own practise, which is really refreshing.
Away from the classroom I am a keen photographer, having taken photos from an early age. I really enjoy getting out into the countryside and shooting landscapes, but also love urban and architectural photography. Most of my work is black and white, although I do shoot in colour occasionally.
I develop all of my black and white film myself, using a darkroom I built myself in my garage. I also run my own photography business, shooting weddings, family portraits, and other kinds of events, like Christenings, birthdays etc.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
TR: I have been taking photos since I was 13, so 16 years (on and off) now. My grandfather used to be a professional photographer, specialising in portraiture and working with film with his Hasselblad. He had a darkroom in his garage and showed me how to shoot film, develop it, and make a print using the enlarger. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but enjoyed watching the prints come to life in front of my eyes. The science behind it really had me hooked; it was like watching live magic.
Not being able to afford film myself, I started with digital, buying some pretty crappy cameras, but I didn’t care, it allowed me to get out and shoot. This also helped me learn from my mistakes, as the gear was often very limiting.
Once I got into teaching, I had more disposable income, so about two years ago I decided to return to film…
…it all came about when I discovered a huge amount of slides at my grandfather’s house, and began looking through them.
There was everything from his three week pilgrimage to Yosemite National Park (after all, what photographer wouldn’t want to go there?!), to his portrait work, family shots of me, as well as several hundred of different places in Norfolk. I really enjoyed the colours and tonality of the slides, something that I was unable to reproduce digitally.
This was also at a time where I was finding my digital work was beginning to get stale. I was not enjoying the results of what I was producing, and was getting fed up with hours spent in Lightroom, chasing something that was not quite there with a RAW file. So, looking to recapture my youth, and hoping to get something more authentic, I turned to film, and I haven’t looked back since.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
TR: My grandfather was a massive influence on my photography, and still continues to influence me to this day. Whilst he has long since packed up, the nostalgia of my teenage years helps drive my photography, even on the dark days when I don’t feel very creative or inspired.
As for other photographers, the work of Michael Kenna, Sebastiao Salgado, Gregory Crewdson and Christopher Thomas all influence me. I also spend a lot of my time watching YouTube photographers Ted Forbes (Art of Photography), Matt Day, Ben Horne, and George Muncey (Negative Feedback), as they all bring something different to the community.
As mentioned earlier, one of my other influences comes from the children I teach. The one thing I love about my job is the unexpected. You never know what you are going to be asked, or what is going to be produced in front of you.
Children have a totally different way of thinking from adults, and this leads to questions and work that makes me question what I do, as well as the methods that I use, which I wouldn’t change for the world.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
TR: When shooting film, I mostly stick to medium format for my landscape, urban and architectural work. I recently upgraded my Yashica Mat 124G to a Fuji GW690iii as I wanted to work with larger negatives. I also have a 35mm Contax S2, which is usually my travel camera, as the 690 is a little large for traveling with.
I use digital for my paid work, whether that is a wedding, family shoot, or whatever. I also use it for taking photos of my family. I also take quite a lot of photos on my Google Pixel, as I always have it on me. I really like the results the camera produces.
So yes, I would say I am a mixed medium photographer. I use film exclusively for my landscape/urban/architectural work, where I want to slow things down, consider the composition and take my time to enjoy my surroundings.
I have to rely on digital for the other work, as I need to be able to review my shots on the fly, and unfortunately, I cannot do this with film. I would hate to let down a client for missing a decisive moment at a wedding or an event, or having the film not develop correctly and losing a bunch of shots, all because I wanted to shoot it on film. I work for my customers, not myself, at the end of the day.
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?
TR: Currently I am knee deep in my #FindingFilm series for EMULSIVE, where I am trying every medium format black and white film on the market. At the time of this interview, I am halfway through, and still have a way to go. I am hoping the experience will give me a black and white film stock I can stick to and master over the coming months when I am finished.
I have also just finished my first film project, DISCONNECTED, which came about from the EMULSIVE challenge of shooting outside my comfort zone, where I shot some street photography (never done before), in colour (rarely done). The article can be read here, and the book can be bought here, if you like the work I have produced.
So for me, my main challenge is to now work on projects, rather than going out to capture individual shots. Many of the locations I head to in Norfolk I feel I have shot to death, as often I go to capture one or two shots. To try and turn my work into a series or project would be my next step over the next 12 months, as I really enjoyed making DISCONNECTED.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
TR: This is a bit of a tricky one, as I work on so many different aspects of photography at a time. On the one hand, my digital/paid work is based around portraiture, and has a consistent style to it (mostly colour). Yet on the other hand, I really love working with black and white film for my landscape work. So I would say that I have a set style, it just depends on what I am shooting or why I am shooting.
If I really had to stick to a subject matter, I would say that I am drawn to landscapes most, as heading to a beach or woodland is where I feel most at ease.
Despite this being the case, I just enjoy taking photographs, regardless of the subject, location or style. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as just a landscape photographer or whatever; for me, I never want to lose the enjoyment I have of going out and taking photos.
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?
TR: Having read many of these “Why I Shoot Film” interviews before, I knew this was coming, yet it still such a hard question to answer!
I would have to take my Fuji GW690iii, as it could be used for pretty much any situation. It’s also built like a tank, so I know it would be good whatever the weather. It also runs without batteries, so that is one less thing to worry about! Hopefully it wouldn’t be a big assignment, as the 690 only gives me 8 shots a roll!
As for the film, I would take a roll of Ilford HP5+ and a roll of Kodak Portra 400. Both films are known for being very forgiving when being over/underexposed or pushed/pulled. Also, at ASA 400, it caters for most lighting situations. If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll probably have guessed that I haven’t shot Portra 400. Perhaps this “assignment” will be my first attempt!
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?
TR: For me, it would have to be HP5+ (same reasons as my last answer), in New York City. I was lucky enough to go for 10 days about 3 years ago, and it’s definitely my favourite place in the world. There is so much to see and do there, I never think I would run out of things to shoot. So definitely that (even though it majorly contradicts my love of nature and landscapes).
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
TR: That’s another tough one (even though I knew it was coming)! I would want to shoot some 8×10, large-format, Kodak Ektar 100 (not really a roll, but it comes as a box of 10), in Iceland.
Why? Iceland has been on my bucket list for a very long time, so if I was going to stop shooting film, I would want it to be somewhere special. As for shooting large format, I have never done it, so again, like the location, I would want to go out with a bang.
I would probably go for some shots of Iceland at sunset, as some of the work I have seen others produce there, at that time of day, is breathtaking.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
TR: Certainly from my own experiences, a lot of the misconception is “oh, it’s a film camera, can you still get film?”. I think part of the issue surrounding film today, is a lack of public knowledge. Sure, companies like Ilford, Kodak, Fuji etc could all begin advertising, but this comes at two major drawbacks; cost and cameras.
If companies started to advertise that film was still alive and well, it would cost them money, and lots of it. This would no doubt push up the price of film to cover said cost. Film is already expensive as it is (well it can be if you buy certain types), and this may put some members of the existing community off. Secondly, with the exception of companies like Intrepid, and Lomography, there aren’t many companies that still make film cameras. Without a “major” company like a Canon or a Nikon, who are household names, releasing a new film camera, the film companies are advertising a niche product.
So in reality, we are in a standoff, where “major” companies won’t invest in film cameras, as they see it as a niche market. Fuji keeps killing off different film stocks, claiming that not enough is being sold. The film companies that are sticking around, aren’t advertising to the general public, as they have a duty to keep their current customers happy, who wouldn’t want inflated prices. [NOTE: I’d love to be wrong on this, and am purely speculating, but this is how it appears from the outside of the industry]
One of my favourite things about shooting film (other than the community), is the fact that it leaves some mystery in life. As part of my Finding Film series, half of the enjoyment (for me at least) has come from the discovery of new film stocks, or using community resources to get the best out of the film stocks I have already used.
I like that film is not mainstream, and is seen as niche, as it keeps the community strong, passionate, and friendly. There are many photography communities and forums online, where in-fighting, negativity, brand wars (Canon vs Nikon), jealousy and pessimism spoil the fun that should be had taking photographs.
I am quite happy to have a conversation with a stranger who asks about my film camera, and let them know about the joys of shooting film. Maybe it will inspire that individual to go and dig out that old Olympus Trip sitting in the back of a cupboard, or look it up online. Maybe it will inspire the younger generation in my classes at school to get involved with film more.
So in short, I wouldn’t fix the misconception of film still being available. I wouldn’t do a thing about it. We have a strong, close, and friendly community, who come together and share their experiences. The community is built around positivity, rather than negativity, which is a rarity in modern society.
We should hold on to it, and cherish it. We should support local film labs, the companies that supply and sell the film, and keep it going for the people who really, genuinely care about film, not the people who want to shoot film because it is the latest fad or trend.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
TR: I think film photography will be around for a while yet. As I mentioned previously, we have a strong community, and film still offers a stable alternative to digital photography.
For example, Fuji Instax cameras and film dominated Amazon’s top 10 camera products sold last Christmas, outselling many digital cameras and other products – I even have a student in one of my photography classes who uses Instax!
Film stocks continue to sell well, with certain film stocks almost impossible to get hold of. Film Ferrania came back, and smashed it with P30 film. There have been countless other new films released in 2017, and EKTACHROME is on its way.
If things continue as well as the first half of 2017 (and I am hoping that they will), the future is bright.
Let’s enjoy it whilst it’s here.
~ Tom Rayfield
It’s always great hearing photographers talk about mixed their approach to mixed medium photography in a measured and thought out manner…but that’s not what I’m talking about on this little soap box.
Once again, and it doesn’t happen often, Tom has left me with nothing to say. I love his Finding Film series. I love the motivation behind, his commitment and his determination to see it finished. Yes, even when I start throwing weird and wonderful film names like Rollei ATO, ATP and ADOX CHS at him, he takes it all in his stride.
If you’re not already connected to Tom on Twitter, please jump over and give him a follow. I’d also recommend you visit his website for some more examples of his personal and professional work. If you’re not totally spent, you can also find Tom on Facebook and Instagram.
With that, it’s time for me to let you know that there will be another photographer here next week and please, keep shooting, folks!
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