EMULSIVE | Sep 26, 2018 | 8
EMULSIVE interview #169: I am Darren Kelland and this is why I shoot film
Welcome to this week’s EMULSIVE interview. Today I’m welcoming Darren Kelland into the fold with his signature style of Long exposure black and white photography.
If you’re looking for a splash of colour, don’t fear, I managed to squeeze a rare frame from him which you can see below.
Over to you, Darren!
Hi Darren, What’s this picture, then?
DK: This is ‘the island’. I had been shooting 35mm film for a while and been quite dissatisfied with the results. The aspect ratio was not working for me and I tend not to get close to my subject so I was losing a lot of detail. I had also been trying long exposures (on a Leica M3) and it just wasn’t working. I was ready to go back to digital and decided to give it one last shot, spending a lot of money on a Hasselblad 501CM. There are a number of videos of Michael Kenna on YouTube that I had watched and I was becoming more aware of his work so I thought a Hasselblad might unlock something for me.
When I first looked at the negatives from an evening on the coast I could tell that I was going to love them. There were many things that happened then. I realised that the square ratio was the one for me. I had fallen in love with the medium format look and long exposures started to look how I imagined they should.
I posted this photograph in a few different places online and I had quite an amazing reaction. One girl tagged about a dozen of her friends into one of the posts and they had quite a discussion about the photograph. I asked her what she liked about it and she replied “it is so beautiful I feel like I want to cry”. That one reaction made me realise that I had achieved what I set out when I lifted a film camera for the first time in years – to create beauty.
Like many others, I care little for social media likes but we live in a world where you have to embrace the reach that the internet provides for us. That one comment on this photograph provided a validation that encouraged me to continue exploring the use of film. I am extremely grateful for the gentle act of commenting on a photograph by somebody on the other side of the globe. It has resulted in a love affair with long exposure, black and white, medium format film photography.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
DK: My name is Darren Kelland and I am a husband, father and film photographer who strives for minimalist photography. I live in Jersey in the Channel Islands (just off the French coast) and I have a deep love affair with the sea.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
DK: I messed about with film when I was a teenager as that was the only format available then. My A- Level geography project was on the effects of glaciation during the Ice Age on the landscape of Northern Ireland. That led me to borrow my mum’s camera and to shoot the local landscape. I was more intrigued with the aesthetics of a drumlin (Google it) with the setting sun behind it than I was with the documentary photography that my schoolmates produced.
At the same time, I had seen some darkroom printing at my local Boy Scout group and also been taken by a family friend to her photography club meeting. I was a reasonably inquisitive teenage boy and was curious as to why some of the people at that meeting were so passionate about a medium that I had never considered to be art. Photography was really only something that I considered to be a matter of recording or documenting news.
A number of things came together at the same time and began to realise the possibilities. Fast-forward a few years and my work took me from Ireland to Jersey and I picked up a digital point and shoot. Jersey is small (approx. 45 sq. miles) and you therefore cannot escape the sea. It also has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world and so I began to take photographs of the landscape that was constantly being revealed and hidden by the sea.
By 2010 I had moved onto a DSLR and was starting to experiment with long exposures. I had received a little local recognition for some of my photographs but I felt unsatisfied with the photographs I was producing. In 2013 I heard that a professional photographer from Scotland was visiting Jersey to run a workshop and so I decided to go along. That photographer was Colin Homes and he had a combination of digital and film cameras with him for the workshop. I had never really known about medium format film photography until that time and was intrigued by Colin’s work.
At the end of the workshop I had resolved to buy a film camera. My uncle passed me his Pentax K1000 and I had a huge amount of fun using that and some expired colour negative film. I was hooked.
I keep shooting because I love the craft of film photography. In many ways I see a digital photograph as being broadly complete when you see the image appear on the electronic screen on the back of your camera. A film photograph only begins when the shutter is pressed and the journey to the final image often takes a lot longer. I know there are many amazing digital artists who can manipulate a RAW file into an amazing final image but they never have to get their hands wet or get to smell that wonderful aroma of fixer in the darkroom. It is the creative possibilities of film that keeps the love affair going.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
DK: I have many influences. I love the work of Michael Kenna, Michael Levin, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Nadav Kander, Yamamoto Masao, Josef Hoflehner, Vivian Maier and Jane Bown. I listen to Ludovico Einaudi, Olafur Arnalds, Radiohead or Pink Floyd when I am photographing and printing. I am most influenced by wife who gives me the freedom to spend 2 hours on a freezing beach at the weekend photographing the sea.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
DK: I do use both. Sometimes digital helps scratch an itch for something immediate to work on but almost always I say that I wish I had taken the photograph on film. I use digital less and less as it doesn’t produce the aesthetic that I want. I don’t really buy into the film v digital argument. They are different tools and I don’t believe that one is better than the other. I have an affinity with film that creates a deep sense of contentment when I see a photograph that works. If film was no more I would feel robbed, but I would still photograph.
I also use different formats of film cameras. My most recent addition is the Mamiya 7 and I am quite enjoying the 6×7 aspect ratio. I have a lovely little Olympus OM4Ti that is great fun to use and produces wonderful photographs. My Rolleicord is a joy to use and a real conversation starter. I occasionally shoot colour film that I then desaturate to black and white.
I don’t believe there are any rules in art. Sometimes this can result in very abstract pieces of art that I fail to understand but with my own work I like to push at the boundaries a little to see what can be achieved. Sometimes using a scanned negative with software can result in amazing images but this is not something that occupies a lot of my time.
Whatever floats your boat is fine with me. I don’t like the really nasty opinions that you sometimes see on social media. If you don’t like it, walk on by.
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?
DK: Although living on an island suits my work well given that I love the sea, it can be quite restrictive. I travel on business regularly and take my film cameras with me. I rarely have enough time to get out and photograph what I want though. The most obvious thing that I believe would help would be to spend some time in a new location, wandering through the landscape looking for inspiration. I don’t strive to improve my technique, as I don’t feel compelled to change what I do.
There is one thing that I never have enough of and that is time. It sounds clichéd but I do not photograph for others (although a little validation can be satisfying). Photography is an urge. It is something that I have to do and if I don’t get into the landscape on a regular basis I start to wither.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
DK: The sea, always the sea. I find time by the sea to be immensely therapeutic. There are parts of the coast that are difficult to get to. At times the sea can be violent. For these reasons it is possible to spend time alone at the coast. I enjoy my own company. I love the sound of the tide ebbing and flowing. At times you can immensely small standing before the ocean under a darkening sky. This is humbling and cleansing. I would happily photograph nothing but the sea for the rest of my days.
Occasionally, I will tear myself away from the sea to photograph trees and clouds. It is great if I can get all three into one photograph but the sea is where my heart lies.
I love a little fog and a little snow but you can never really plan for those eventualities.
I love minimalism so all of those elements help with the pursuit of a minimalist photograph.
When I think about what I am drawn to and how I feel when I photograph I cannot help draw the conclusion that my photography is a reflection of my state of being. Why did I select ‘The island’ as my photograph to accompany this interview? Does it say something about my personality? Does it reflect the fact that I like to be cut off from the rest of the world when I photograph? Why did I take that photograph in the first place? There was clearly something that spoke to me at that location.
I cannot help but conclude that at least for me, when you look at my photographs you are looking straight into my psyche. That can be slightly troubling but it is also incredibly honest.
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?
DK: My go to camera is the Hasselblad. Fully mechanical cameras are so reliable and the Zeiss lenses are amazing. The lens would be the Zeiss Planar 80mm that is always attached to my camera. I would only take one film with me and it would be ILFORD HP5 PLUS. If I had to take a colour film with me it would be Fuji Pro 400H. I know HP5 PLUS very well and I use it 95% of the time. It prints very well in the darkroom and I like the reciprocity characteristics of it as I can lengthen exposure times by interesting degrees.
Last night for example I was taking a photograph of some trees by the coast and my exposure time was 1 hour 5 minutes. That is time when I can switch off and remove myself from the world while the camera is working its magic. I don’t need to think about what I am doing when I use the combination of Hasselblad, Zeiss and ILFORD. That allows me to concentrate on taking the photograph. I know what results I am going to get and I know I can manipulate the print in the darkroom in a way that suits me.
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?
DK: No surprises that I would take HP5 PLUS. I would love to explore the Japanese coast and all the little islands that make up the country. The interaction between the sea and the landscape fascinates me and it is wonderful to think that through the passage of time, the sea eventually wins the battle as it erodes the rocks that make up the landscape. I often wonder how the Earth will look in thousands of years as the seas and the oceans take back what is theirs bit by bit.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
DK: I will go to La Rocque Pier in Jersey and shoot 12 frames on HP5 PLUS with my Hasselblad. I would walk away knowing that shooting anything else would not give me the same amount of satisfaction.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
DK: The biggest misconception about film photography is that it is difficult. When I am shooting a long exposure landscape of film I have a very simple workflow. Measure exposure, compensate for reciprocity, compose, focus and take the shot. With digital it is much more complicated: ensure that the mirror is locked up, shut down image stabilization, switch on noise reduction, set the timer, worry about the batteries lasting, decide upon ISO, compose, realise the batteries in my remote control are exhausted, check the light again (as it has become much darker now), worry whether I switched on noise reduction, press the shutter…
It’s probably just me but I stress about all of the menu settings on my digital camera when I am shooting long exposures. I never have that stress with my film cameras. A friend looked at my Hasselblad when I was on my way out for an evening on the beach and commented that it looked complicated. I explained that when I pressed the shutter button the aperture allowed a certain amount of light through the shutter and onto the film, which recorded the image. When I asked her to explain how her digital camera worked she smiled at me in the knowledge that her camera was much more complicated than mine.
I’m not sure that I could ever put that misconception right. We live in an age where people crave immediacy and you get that with your smartphone or digital camera. That is one of the attractions of film photography for me. The distance in time from the shutter closing to the print drying in the darkroom allows you to be much more objective about the photograph.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
DK: I think film photography will continue to be a niche art. It has become more popular in the last few years and while we are seeing more film manufacturers come up with new or revived emulsions we are also seeing the price of quality secondhand cameras rise significantly. I believe that film photography will continue and that there will always be those who prefer the aesthetic of film over digital.
I would love to see quality medium format cameras being created and sold from new. I am not sure the market is strong enough for this and suspect this will only happen through crowdfunding platforms.
As long as I can get my hands on a roll of HP5 PLUS I will be happy with the future of film photography.
~ Darren Kelland
A massive thanks to Darren for stepping up and giving us a glimpse into his work and motivations. Long exposure photography is a long-term commitment (pardon the pun), which requires patience, a creative mind and an iterative process. It’s not something that works immediately, and nailed down techniques can change just as fast as the weather, especially when you’re photographing in a location such as Jersey, as Darren does. Bravo.
I’ll be back next week with another interview but in the meantime, please check out this week’s 5 Frames With, and Adrian Vila’s recent review of the camera that changed his life, the Bronica SQ-Ai.
Thanks for reading and keep shooting, folks.
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