EMULSIVE | Sep 26, 2018 | 8
EMULSIVE interview #167: I am Mike Janik and this is why I shoot film
Today’s interviewee should need no introduction but he gets one anyway. He’s the fourth or fifth Torontonian to be featured on these pages and the second to be named Mike – a sorely oversubscribed demographic.
Regardless of geography, I’m proud to be able to bring you all the work and words of Mr Mike Janik!
Over to you, Mike.
Hi Mike, what is this picture, then?
MJ: This is a shot of Toronto’s financial district from the CN Tower’s lookout – if I could show everything I hold dear in a single photo, it’d be this one.
I visited the Tower once as a kid over a decade ago but all I could remember was the dizzying elevator ride that sends your stomach bouncing against your ribs. I revisited it a couple summers ago and it was a life-changing experience; I had grown so attuned to only having a street-level perspective to the way I experience the city and, until I saw it from above, I could never truly appreciate its scope.
At that height, you struggle to make out any details on the roads below, and you see the city as being stripped of all physical life and reduced to plots of architectural massing. I completely zoned out amongst all the tourists clamouring around me and it was just me and the empty city gleaming in summer’s midday sun in that moment. I looked at this place I’ve grown to love and understood I have a role to play here, just as everyone else does. And from there I looked down on myself walking up Bay St. full of eagerness and wonder.
From that elevation, I saw myself flowing and making my own path, finding peace with myself and the city around me.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version please)
I’m Mike. I run a magazine called The Toronto Times. I’m a photographer, director, and aspiring urban planner.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
MJ: I’m going on four years of strictly shooting film. As melodramatic and eye-roll-inducing as it might sound, I think I take photos to find a connection to something.
I’ve been uncertain about everything I’ve done for as long as I can remember, and when nothing really seems to sit well with you for that long, you try to grab onto one thing as tightly as you can for some semblance of structure.
Photography just so happened to be that.
It’s comforting to know that regardless of what changes in my life for better or for worse, I can always come back to photography to represent what I’m feeling and find closure and understanding. Above all else, photography has taught me a new appreciation for witnessing the world as it happens around me.
Case in point: the photo below.
I have absolutely no recollection taking this photo. I remember pulling the roll out of my developing tank all ho-hum, and as soon as I ran it through the scanner, I saw this massive streak of white in the background. I figured something went wrong with the scan, so I tried again. Same result. I looked at the negative and the streak is there; I figured it must have been a developing error or light leak or something but upon closer inspection, the light falls behind the subject in the frame.
To this day, I still can’t believe this is real. I can’t believe that I not only saw this perfect shard of light on Union Station and had this man stop to check his bags right in front of it, but that I was able to capture it like this. This photograph speaks to me on a level I can’t even begin to express. I’m so thankful that this photo can replace my lapsed memory and I can continue to admire this moment for years to come.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
MJ: Daido Moriyama. I think he’s the greatest photographer to ever do it. He was able to flip the whole art form on its head, and in purposefully breaking every facet of what constituted a good photograph, he took an otherwise rigid representation and made it completely abstract. It was a total shift of power. Composition was happenstance, exposure was shoddy, and focus was completely absent, and because of this, the image was expressive in a completely new way. For me, it spoke to anonymity and uncertainty, and these evocations hit really close to home. Mr. Moriyama, what a god damn genius.
Unfortunately, a lot of people attribute these emotional responses to Daido’s technique, and it sucks that some of the most expressive photography is once again reduced to a methodology, but the most significant influence been this mantra to make images that are bigger than photography itself.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
MJ: Digital photography serves one purpose in my life and that is to facilitate gratuitous selfies..see question two 😉 ).
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?
MJ: That’s exactly what I’m wondering myself! Every time I find a new style to explore, I get super focused on it for a handful of months and then before I can really, really 100% get it down, I’m already looking for the next thing to do. I get bored and burnt out if I commit to a style of photography for too long. Granted, nothing comes close to seeing those first few shots after you have one of the fabled ‘aha!’ moments, but I’m always searching for that level of pride in my work. I need more moments where I freak out about the photos I make, and that’s what keeps me driven.
Here’s a secret about me that absolutely no one knows about: I keep a little piece of paper in my wallet, and if I ever find myself struggling to take photos, I pull it out and read its message.
It says “Destroy Photography”, and I think that’s what I’ll continue to try to do. My work needs to be bigger than just a really good photo. It needs to be more than storytelling. I need to make photos that resonate, that make people go “whoa, I’m looking at this photo and I have no idea why, but I feel all my emotions stirring at once and I’ve never felt so connected to an image before.”
I think my current trajectory is to make more focused bodies of work and let the projects ostensibly guide and develop new styles. I’m hinging on new subject matter catalyzing fresh perspectives, and I’ll let the ball roll from there.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
MJ: I always come back to architectural photography. I think there’s incredible power in built form; it shapes space and defines place, and in merging physical design with identity, you create connections to the environment and pride in belonging. Also, it’s just really pretty to look at and I’ve always wanted to be an architect.
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?
MJ: Nikon F2 with the unmetered viewfinder, 45mm f/2.8 GN Auto lens, and Kodak T-MAX 100.
I don’t think a more trustworthy camera exists. My Nikon F2 always clacks away without protest and I love knowing that the final image is completely the product of my abilities; no light meter to rely on declutters the viewfinder and helps me focus more on composition. I’m unsure if the camera inherently offers something that other cameras don’t, but it just feels right to shoot with the F2.
The fact that I also look three times cooler with it slung across my chest is a nice bonus perk. I love it so much I bought a second one. T-MAX leaves me breathless every time because I’m a sucker for fine-grained films and it offers a very consistent look that I can easily manipulate in the darkroom and in post-production.
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?
MJ: I’m headed to the Mediterranean coastline and I’m taking every last roll of Kodak Portra 160 with me. I know I’m cheating a little bit with the geographical scope, but that coast offers incredible light, history, architecture both new and old, and endless places to get lost in. I’ve never visited, but it’s been on my bucket list for ages.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
MJ: It’s a single sheet of 4×5 Kodak Portra 160, and it’s a self-portrait in the middle of Bay and Wellington. I want to capture myself in the moment my life changes forever in my favourite spot in the city.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
MJ: That it’s elite or special to shoot film. It might be heresy, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently standout about shooting film. I shoot film because it’s the most fun I can have, but it’s ultimately just a means to an end for me. Imagine me saying this in a very stereotypically wheezy old man voice, but I think a lot of the younger shooters think using film gives them some sort of clout. It really doesn’t. If you rely on declaring your use of film as a way to draw allure to your work, you should be focusing on just taking better photos.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
MJ: It’s most certainly on the up and up. It’s brought me endless joy and I’m still ride or die for it. As long as I can afford it, I’ll be shooting it. With that being said, hey Kodak, want to bless your boy with a little care package?
~ Mike Janik
If you’re reading this at any point before Christmas Day 2017, I’d like to announce that I’m pushing back all sensible articles and interviews until the new year to make way for a super-happy-fun week of list articles – or listicles, if you will.
They might seem lazy – I thought so – but in reality, they’ve involved much more work to put together than I could have possibly imagined. I’ll likely not be doing them again.
So, tune in next week, not for a fresh EMULSIVE interview, but for a whole week of tooting my own horn, as I count down the most popular articles, interviews and photographs on EMULSIVE in 2017.
You may commence cheering now.
Thanks for reading and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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