You may recall today’s interviewee from his piece on Kodachrome some time ago. Well, Perry is back and this time it’s to talk about his film photography story.
Over to you, Perry!
Hi Perry, what’s this picture, then?
PJR: My wife is a painter and these three paintings ended up in our bedroom for reasons unknown while we were in the process of moving a few years ago.
Everything had been taken off the desk because we were selling it. It was late afternoon and I walked into the room and saw the light and color coming off the wall and floor. I just love this image because it has some of my wife’s work in it and is true to my vision and style: looking for great light, texture and color.
I just love this image because it has some of my wife’s work in it and is true to my vision and style: looking for great light, texture, lines and color.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
PJR: Many years ago, I was a professional musician. After several years of struggling to make ends meet, I got a “normal” job in a department store. Several years later, my wife suggested I should look for a hobby and ultimately landed on photography, even though the only cameras I ever owned were a Kodak Instamatic 100 and a Polaroid black and white.
After completing my research, I purchased a Canon A1 in 1983 and started shooting Kodachrome, Ektachrome and Fujichrome mostly. I dabbled with a few other films, but these were the mainstays. Shooting satisfied the creative needs that had gone missing when I quit playing music.
I was pretty obsessed with shooting until the mid 90’s and then put my camera in the closet and only came out for holidays and maybe some vacation trips. In about 2006, I traded my film body for a digital, but never really got a lot of enjoyment out it. I had thought digital had completely taken over and didn’t even realize there was much of a film business anymore. In 2010, I realized, film was still around and started buying film cameras again and have had a freezer full of film ever since.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
PJR: I technically started shooting film at around 11 years old with my Kodak Instamatic 100. I frequently shot Kodachrome and Ektachrome 126 cartridges in my Instamatic.
I still own film and a film camera, because there is still just something so pleasantly tactile and basic about shooting film. I enjoy thinking about a shoot and making my film selection. This is so much more important, because you do not have the flexibility of changing iso settings on a shot by shot basis. Removing the film from the packaging and as we all know, it has that smell. I find it a calming smell, one that triggers my brain to say, I am going to go out and do something creative and get at least one good image.
That was always my target when shooting a roll of film (prior to editing software). Tools like LightRoom and PhotoShop have certainly improved our ability to increase the number of usable images per roll, but I try to keep my brain focused on 1 good image per 36 exposure expectation. In the 80’s and 90’s, I had no editing capacity. I shot mostly chromes, so whatever composition and exposure I got on the slide is what is in my slide box.
I do think digital cameras and development software have dramatically affected most photographers’ ability to think, plan, have a vision and see the right moment when all parts of the composition and light come together for the correct shutter release. There are an enormous number of advantages and great things digital has brought to photography, but I firmly believe it has been counterproductive for a lot of people’s creativity and ability to recognize that moment in time in front of you.
Using film, you don’t know what you have shot in the moment, so I am slower and more thoughtful. There is also something different about the way a film image looks. I’m not going to put myself up to a blind test, nor do I think one can always tell the difference, but I look at a lot of images on an assortment of websites. Very frequently, my eyes are drawn to images that end up being shot on film.
I started off using a digital camera and just like a film photographer, I’d be very conservative on the number of images I took. Slowly the digital convenience took over and I would return home with more images than I had time to review, discard and edit. Recognizing the right place for me, is somewhere between the two techniques, I am trying very hard to integrate my analog, film shooting brain more into my digital photography workflow.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
PJR: Like most of my age group, Ansel Adams first. So, I would get up before dawn and go out into the woods by myself to a few of my favorite places and spend hours shooting. Then Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Jay Maisel, Ernst Haas, Annie Lebovitz, Helmut Newton, Elliot Erwitt and Arnold Newman.
The world is overflowing with images everywhere. I do look at images constantly on the internet and an assortment of photo magazines, but mentally, For the last 6 to 12 months, I have been trying very hard to be uninfluenced by anyone else’s work. Easier said than done. I am attempting to stay true to my vision and interests; light, texture, lines and color or shades.
Everything is driven by light in photography. I know this is a bit of a cliché, but many people I interact with just don’t see it or get it. Color, angle, brightness all create different nuances and feelings. For me, the primary driver of my visual creativity starts with some type of interesting light. Flat, soft lighting certainly has it’s time and place, but give me some light drama and I am getting pretty pumped.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
PJR: Yes, I am a mixed medium photographer. My decision is relatively straightforward. Film is more of a special event for me. When I decide to go with film, it is very basic; one body and one lens. I also have to believe the light conditions will be acceptable for film at ISO 100, 200 or maybe 400. You don’t have the ability to change on the fly, so I have to be comfortable that the conditions won’t make it a wasted 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?
PJR: My biggest challenge right now is to focus my work down to the vision, subject matter and styling that I enjoy the most. I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while and it’s time for me to further refine and advance my personal style.
For several years, I’ve been all over the board with subject matter, style etc. The reason and explanation has been pretty simple, I shoot whatever the day, trip or event gives me. This has afforded me a lot of opportunity and exposures to experiment, but it’s time for me to start narrowing my path. To excel at being at sports, portrait, documentary, landscape and abstract photography would be pretty difficult.
I believe you have to stay true to your own vision to improve at a faster rate. This doesn’t mean shooting the same thing or creating the same look all the time, it is in a broader context and should not be a creative limiter. Refining my vision and photographic signature is what I am working on and the nice thing about this challenge is, it’s all about me and my brain. No technical challenges, photographic software hurdles to overcome. Just that thing in your head that either gets in your way or produces a vision with a story.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
PJR: I really enjoying photographing very common, normal things that many people would overlook and consider not image worthy. I’m looking for that wonderful light, texture, color or shadows to create a story and drama to present a unique image or view of things most people walked by or didn’t see.
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?
PJR: Canon EOS-1V, 35mm f/1.4 L, Kodak EKTACHROME 200 and Portra 400. My choice of the EOS-1V is because of autofocus. It may not be needed, but manual focusing could present a problem. I think a 35mm lens is probably the most versatile, if carrying one lens. If you get too far above or below 35mm, I believe your flexibility would be compromised.
I’d also want the ISO 400 film for some speed in case there are problems with light and the slower chrome for my second option based on subject matter and light.
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?
PJR: Kodachrome and I am going to shoot roaming around the desert area between Sedona, AZ and Flagstaff, AZ. I love the light in the desert and the mountains and rock in the Sedona area are just spectacular. Then there’s my second answer, which is to take Portra 400 to Key West, FL. Two very different places, but I love them both. You only asked for one location and film, but I wanted to offer up a bonus!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
PJR: I’m going to shoot a roll of Kodak Portra 400 through a Leica M6 TTL in Key West, FL. I’m going to complete a study of Key West in 36 or 37 exposures; people, culture, color, character, spirit and fun.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
PJR: I talk to a lot of people who don’t realize you can still purchase and process film. It’s not as plentiful as it once was, but the recent resurgence is helping and it isn’t that difficult to find gear and labs to do the work. Publications like EMULSIVE and the interest from younger generations is helping.
Kodak Alaris’ recent announcement to begin producing EKTACHROME again gets good press and I think if the momentum continues through the media it will set it straight.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
PJR: Looks pretty strong right now, after appearing to be almost gone. Let’s face it, digital is not going away and it has so many positives, but ultimately, I believe there will always be a percentage of people who are attracted to the analog world.
~ Perry J Resnick
I’d written a little something in reaction to Perry’s comment about digital photography “not going away” but felt it best to leave my thoughts on this for a future article. Instead, I decided to focus on something Perry mentioned a little earlier in the interview, “I really enjoying photographing very common, normal things that many people would overlook and consider not image worthy.”
This sentiment resonates with me deeply and takes up probably 90% of what I shoot. Don’t get me wrong, I love sweeping landscapes and I’m working on portraiture (promise), but it’s the small things; those signs of lives lived that my attention almost 100% of the time. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.
As ever, keep shooting, folks!
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