Photographers come from all backgrounds and walks of life.
Contrary to (some people’s) popular belief, not every young photographer jumps straight out of a related education program and straight into shooting for the NG. Some of us come from completely disassociated disciplines and have photography thrust on us by an unseen hand.
Brittany Markert is firmly one of the latter, having started her formative years as a mathematician, no less! Well travelled, with a dense character to her written style and a surreal slant to her photography, we recently sat down with Brittany to explore her drives, motivations and work.
For the young (of heart, or body), we’re going to have to mark this interview as not safe for work.
Let’s see what Brittany has to say for herself.
Hi Brittany, what’s this picture, then?
I created this image, Behind Closed Doors, in New York in 2014. While exploring this beautiful old building in Queens, I discovered two closed doors – two paths to the unknown – and simultaneously wanted to discover the mystery behind both of them.
My desire to stay curious is insatiable.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m a mathematician that broke away from an entry level finance job and fled to New York to follow the passion bubbling deep in my gut. I moved to New York January 23, 2012 and on January 24, 2012 I travelled to International Center of Photography and enrolled in a printing workshop.
…I have been self taught ever since, seeking out kindred spirits and mentors that I can learn from through observation and brain picking.
In daily life I am a curious and timid creature that exists between the tension of opposites.
When did you start shooting film?
December of 2010.
While living in China in the fall of 2010 I reached an ultimate low; nothing I was doing made any sense anymore. I was there on a modeling contract and one day I told my agents I was through. The opportunity to travel wasn’t worth the negative aspects of the industry anymore.
After days of deep reflection and aimlessly walking around, I woke one morning and made a note in my diary that I needed to start taking pictures.
A month later I received my first film camera, a Canon AE1. A year later I took my first self portrait with intention and a month following the creation of that image, I moved to New York.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shootng?
There is a romance to shooting film; the entire process of planning, shooting and printing in the darkroom fulfils me.
You simply can’t rely on seeing the final product; the process demands you to feel, to have intention and patience.
I like to take my undeveloped film, put it in a drawer and develop it once I’ve grown detached and have a new sets of eyes.
At this point, as gushy as it sounds, I feel like every moment of my life keeps me shooting. I created this world “In Rooms” and I’m determined to build on it until my blood turns cold.
Any favorite subject mater?
I photograph people, predominantly myself (due to convenience) …but people are not my favorite subject matter. There are moments when you come in contact with a person, a place or a location and the universe sings.
I want to caption the energy, questions, and emotions that come forth from these vibrant connections – if I was back in Math class studying Venn Diagrams, we would be referring to the area of intersection.
People are the vessel to express these thoughts, emotions, and questions.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
What morbid thoughts I’m having! And that’s exactly where I would go with it…my work is an adaptation of life…an abstract diary of sorts.
I would stage a suicide or murderous scene with all my cameras and negatives in the frame, some narrative exploring a tragic end to a love affair you weren’t ready to part ways with.
…or maybe I would hang onto that roll of Kodak TMAX 400 120 film until I was on my death bed and then stage a photo of my final breath.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two flms and no idea of the subject mater. What do you take with you and why?
Hasselblad 500C, 80mm lens, Kodak TMAX 400 and my tripod. That’s all I need.
You have an unlimited supply of flm to shoot in one locaton. Where do you go?
I would return back to California or Louisiana and continue my stories where they left off.
I enjoy shooting in the same hotels over and over again but in different rooms
What do you think is people’s greatest misconcepton about film photography and how would you set it straight?
Some people pigeon-hole film photographers as these elitist artists that live in the past; artists that are in denial of digital photography’s convenience to express the same ideas as analog photography.
I’m thinking specifically of questions or thoughts such as:
“Why do you still print in the darkroom?”
“Why not print digitally to save time?”
“Can you tell the difference between a silver gelatin and archival pigment print behind glass?”
“Why don’t you try a digital camera, it would be easier?”
The way I understand these tensions boils down to thinking about the process over the product. It’s the journey, not the destination – a thought I’ve overheard and read so many times, speaks to this.
Choosing black and white analog photography and printing in the darkrooom is a process – it’s physical, it’s laborious, it’s romantic and it’s time consuming.
It’s not about the time it takes, the convenience nor the costs; I want to use my hands and I want to think about mathematics under a light bulb while contemplating contrast and the black and white spectrum. I want my fingertips to get wet and feel the paper come to life.
This experience and its physical and organic aspect is not a choice when it comes to “digtal versus film” nor even “color film vs black and white film”. Black and white analog photography is the only option to experience what I’m talking about.
Sure digital sounds easier and less physically demanding but the comparison doesn’t make sense to me, it’s like telling an oil painter to start drawing with charcoal.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
Hopefully long! I’m staying optimistic and believe analog photography will remain a specialty art form. Printing and darkroom space is a rarity, even in New York. I see it getting harder to come by and more expensive but still appreciated and sought after by both admirers and collectors.
That said, I’m speaking about black and white film specifically. The love and intricate efforts put into each silver gelatin print by hand will live longer than I and hopefully speak for the future of this art form.
~ Brittany Markert
Beautiful work and words presented by another passionate flag-bearer for the end-to-end analogue process. As Brittany said, printing and darkroom space is becoming a rarity. As a diminishing resource, it’s forced many photographers out of shared or rented space into darkrooms of their own construction, whether they be customs built, or just temporary conversions of basement/bathroom space.
We know of two people who have rollers set up in their homes to “black out” any space they desire. A little extreme but if you’re invested in the process, there are no barriers, simply challenges.
How many of you have darkrooms set-up for developing and printing your own work (day-tanks not included!)
You can see much more of Brittany’s work at her website, http://in-rooms.com.
We’ll be back again soon with another interviewee and another set of images and perspectives.
In the meantime, keep shooting folks.
The community needs you. If you’d like to take part in this series of film photographer interviews, please drop us a line or get in touch in the comments. We’re featuring to photographers young and old; famous and obscure, so get in touch and let’s talk.
Share your knowledge, story or project
The transfer of knowledge across the film photography community is the heart of EMULSIVE. You can add your support by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.
If you like what you're reading you can also help this passion project by heading over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and contributing as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.