EMULSIVE | Sep 26, 2018 | 8
EMULSIVE interview #117: I am Alex Luyckx and this is why I shoot film
Alex Luyckx. For me it’s a name synonymous with an irascible passion for film. I’m very happy to finally be able to feature here on EMULSIVE, so I’ll keep this short: Alex, it’s over to you!
Hi Alex, what’s this picture, then?
At this point you’re probably thinking, “if this this is a photography interview about a photographer, why am I looking at a photo of said photographer dressed as a British soldier from the early 19th century holding a musket?”
Well that’s because this is probably the photo that best shows me, Alex Luyckx.
I have an obsession with history, specifically military history ranging from the French-Indian War to the end of the Cold War, with most of my research and reading being focused on the Anglo-American War of 1812.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
AL: As I mentioned, my name as you’ve probably guessed is Alex Luyckx, and by day I’m an IT Professional at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. I’m engaged to a wonderful woman. And I love photography and history. But you’ve probably already guessed it by the introductory image.
Currently outside of my actual job, I’ve been working on a long project on the Anglo-American War of 1812, which is due out for the Christmas season in 2016. I started the project in 2012 and continued on well past the bi-cenntinial of the war to ensure that the final product would be as complete as I could get it within the narrative that I decided on.
I shoot both film and digital cameras because in this day in age, it makes sense to include some digital in your work flow.
I also host several film photographer specific photowalks in Toronto as part of the Toronto Film Shooters Group. I also work with the Film Photography Project and am a founding co-host of the Classic Camera Revival Podcast.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting today?
It all started in high school, both the history and the photography.
My last year of school in a media English class had a photography element to it and I took the medium immediately. My teacher, Steve Keane, showed us the magic that is black & white photography and how to develop and print in a traditional manner. I was lucky that digital photography was still in its infancy when I was in high school, so we were still using film and that my school had a darkroom.
I was hooked!
I went out and picked up a camera at a garage sale, a Minolta Hi-Matic 7s. It was also during that time that I met another early inspiration – Rob Ellis – at a Presbyterian Youth event. He would go around taking photos of the events, a task I would pick up after he left.
These events would be where I learned photography, and began to cut my teeth in the art. But it would also be where I began to lean more towards digital.
It wouldn’t be until 2009 when I started to lean back towards film mostly thanks to two people, Michael Raso and the Film Photography Project, and a good friend, Julie Douglas. I had for several years stuck to colour film and lab development, it was Julie who took me under her wing and taught me the magic of home development, and the FPP would show me that there was a larger world out there not just 35mm.
I soon found myself neck deep in cameras ranging from 35mm SLRs of all types, medium format, and even 4×5. A trip to Montreal would take my photography to a new level, you could almost say it clicked.
I really started to dive into home developing after meeting Bill Schwab and the rest of the people at Photostock in 2012 and got back into exploring beyond the world of D-76. This would all come together on a rainy day in Arras, France.
I took the photo above at an intersection then in February I gave a darkroom print to Heather, and we started talking on a regular basis, she became a huge inspiration to keep on shooting, and now we’re going to be married next year!
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
AL: After Steve Keane showed me this wonderful art form, you could say he was the first person to influence me. It was because of him that I went out and picked up a camera at a garage sale, a Minolta Hi-Matic 7s. It was also during that time that I met another early inspiration, Rob Ellis at a Presbyterian Youth event. He would go around taking photos of the events a task I would pick up after he left.
These events would be where I learned photography, and began to cut my teeth in the art. But it would also be where I began to lean more towards digital. It wouldn’t be until 2009 when I started to lean back towards film mostly thanks to two people, Michael Raso and the Film Photography Project and a good friend, Julie Douglas. I had for several years stuck to colour film and lab development, it was Julie who took me under her wing and taught me the magic of home development, and the FPP would show me that there was a larger world out there not just 35mm.
I soon found myself neck-deep in cameras ranging from 35mm SLRs of all types, medium format, and even 4×5. A trip to Montreal would take my photography to a new level, you could almost say it clicked. I really started to dive into home developing after meeting Bill Schwab and the rest of the people at Photostock in 2012 and got back into exploring beyond the world of D-76.
This would all come together on a rainy day in Arras, France. I took the photo above at an intersection then in February I gave a darkroom print to Heather, and we started talking on a regular basis, she became a huge inspiration to keep on shooting, and now we’re going to be married next year!
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
AL: I am very much a mixed medium photographer. If I’m travelling on an extended trip or even a day trip I tended to pack both a film camera and a digital camera. Both have their place in the world.
Digital is flexible for both colour and black & white. I shoot a Sony a6000, which gives me flexibility to use my great film lenses for both video and still images. I tend to make my pick based on how I feel, where I’m going and who I’m going with. If I’m shooting a professional assignment I’ll bring along digital and film, mostly because clients want a quick turnaround on their images.
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?
AL: The next year is going to be pretty busy for me. I’ve been working on a book on the Anglo-American War of 1812, so I plan on having that finished before Christmas 2016 , and I am still working through a 52 Rolls project that will also result in a book…but that’s looking more into next year for completion.
Most of the early part of 2017 will be taken up with getting married but I hope to start to explore some alternative printing processes – I’m leaning towards Salt Prints.
I also want to try and get back into colour more and shoot enough to purchase the developing chemicals to do it myself. I’m slowly building up a number of E-6 films that I’ve shot this past summer ,so I should be ordering a kit soon!
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
AL: Usually my choice for subject matter in my work is really between buildings (usually something in a state of decay or something grand), historic sites, and people.
People have started to creep more into my photography, especially after having started to run regular film walks in Toronto and flexing my street photography skills after starting to shoot with Japan Camera Hunter Streetpan 400.
Shooting urban decay really does lend itself well to my love of black & white and I’m not just talking abandoned buildings but post-industrial urban areas, too. I’m actually taking a longer route home this October from Washington DC to specifically stop in the mining towns in Coal Country through Pennsylvania. But I’ve also enjoyed shooting in the Cleveland Flats, Gary, and parts of Hamilton Ontario.
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?
AL: Two minutes to pick a camera, lens, and two rolls of film makes it sound like Robert Cappa getting last minute notification to board the landing craft and assault the beaches of Normandy.
Well, unlike Cappa I have a few more cameras to choose from, so I’ll go with my Nikon F5 because that camera can really take anything and keep on going, plus it has one of the best meters out there built in.
The lens would have to be my favourite, the Nikon 105mm f/2D pretty versatile, and the film well that’s a dead easy pick Kodak Tri-X 400, you can pretty much do anything you want with that film, but I’d shoot it at 400 and develop in D-23.
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?
AL: If I had unlimited film to shoot at one location, that would be Ilford FP4+ in 4×5. Load that up with my Crown Graphic and send me to Chernobyl in the Ukraine. I’ll shoot it at 100 and develop in D-23. It will be pure magic.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
AL: If I only had one roll of film left to shoot, it would again be Ilford FP4+ in 35mm, through the Nikon F5 with various lenses as the subject required. Developer would again be D-23.
As for what I would shoot, well that would be photos of my family, Heather, my reenactment friends from the 60th and 49th Regiments, and the places that mean a lot to me: Fort York and Fort Niagara, Vimy Ridge, Ottawa, Ontario, my home church of Knox Milton, and the Waterloo Battlefield.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
AL: The biggest misconception I see in film photography today is that it’s difficult.
People complain that it’s hard to buy film, hard to get it processed, hard to process it. And while film photography will never again be as widespread as it once was.
You can’t just walk into your corner drug store and pick-up a couple rolls of Kodak Verichrome Pan but you can still buy it. Sure, you now need to find specific brick & mortar shops that support the film photography community, but they’re still there. Plus you have the whole of the Internet where there are many online retailers that sell film.
As for processing, there are still labs that do every format and every type, they may not be in your town, but you can still mail it out to them. Plus doing this all yourself isn’t as hard as you think. The best part is that if you are just souping film, you can do that in your kitchen and again the supplies are not that hard to come by.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
AL: I see the future as being pretty bright for film photography. There are many who say the golden age is long gone with the death of Kodachrome and Kodak E-6 films, and sure we will never see Kodak’s Plus-X or Panatomic-X again but it doesn’t mean film is dead.
There are still plenty of choices out there that produce wonderful images, and gear is pretty cheap these days and if you play around enough, the film you can get can give you want you’re really looking for.
~ Alex Luyckx
I hate to bring up what I now call the “digital VS film non-debate” but I will, and promise to keep it short.
Alex is, by his own admission, “neck-deep” in film cameras. He’s also a hybrid film/digital shooter (much like many of you reading this, I suspect). There’s a whole conversation surrounding the reasons why film cameras seem to be hoarded with greater frequency and ferocity than their digital counterparts. Perhaps it’s to do with their nature as objects of both beauty and solid engineering (well, some of them at least!). I like to think it’s partly a case that film cameras more connected to the medium, in that they form half of a symbiotic relationship and are just as responsible for the final exposed negative as the film is. With digital cameras, we’re left dealing with a black box; utterly impenetrable in nature and giving us ITS interpretation of what we saw as a block of ones and zeros.
But…and this is a big but: as Alex rightly says, “Digital is flexible for both colour and black & white. I shoot a Sony a6000, which gives me flexibility to use my great film lenses for both video and still images. I tend to make my pick based on how I feel, where I’m going and who I’m going with.”
Each medium has its time and place. Were I shooting a paid assignment I would absolutely aim to use the medium that best suited the work at hand. Film for architecture, still objects, documentation and digital for sports, wildlife and other events where speed was required and shooting volume not an issue.
Unless you count my camera phone I’m not a “real” hybrid photographer but I understand and value the reasons for being one. I think it’s important that the rest of today’s film photography do too. Seeing comments elsewhere on the internet saying, “f*ck digital” or the like is frustrating and makes me hang my head in shame. Let’s try to get away from that, eh?
Catch up with Alex over on Twitter, via his website, or the excellent Classic Camera podcast. If you’re in Toronto (and why would you not be), see if you can join one of his group outings and when you have a minute, head on over to the FPP. They do great work!
It’s time for me to sign off but before I do, time for a quick plug: please head on over to the new EMULSIVE art and apparel store. You can find a few prints, as well as over 14 t-shirt designs and over 25 variations, all put together by yours truly. I’ll be using money generated from sales to contribute to EMULSIVE’s running costs, as well as help support other activities for the film photography community right here. I don’t only want your money, though; I’m also really interested in your feedback to tell me what does and doesn’t work for you.
Thanks for reading and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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