EMULSIVE | Aug 8, 2018 | 5
EMULSIVE interview #179: I am Daphne Schnitzer and this is why I shoot film
A huge welcome to Daphne Schnitzer, past 5 Frames With contributor here on EMULSIVE and pinhole aficionado. She does also use lensed cameras now and again but if you’re in for the beauty of painterly landscape photography, you’re in for a treat.
Over to you, Daphne!
Hi Daphne, what’s this picture, then?
DS: This is a crop from one of my very first pinhole attempts, shot at Old Yafo with a Pinhole Blender Mini 120 on ILFORD FP4 PLUS, my then to-go film. While this specific tin pinhole camera is impossibly hard to control, each roll would invariably contain one or two timeless gems like this one, which seems to hark back to biblical times.
My current pinhole practice has taken on a rather different form, yet this image marks for me the beginning of a durable fascination with pinhole photography and its possibilities. It’s also why I have kept the camera!
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
DS: I am an ex-academic in the field of modern French literature, a present-day translation editor, a student of Sumi-e painting, and a pinhole photographer. I have a cultural schizophrenia stemming from a childhood torn between Israel and Belgium, Hebrew and French, orthodoxy and atheism, and my adult ventures into writing, ink painting and photography are as many attempts to carve a space of calm and harmony out of chaos and confusion.
I am also the kind of photographer who keeps returning to the same place over and over because there always seems to be more of it to explore – more detail, different light, other angles – with different cameras and different film.
Although I also use manual vintage lens cameras, I find myself more drawn to the silent magic of the pinhole boxes. I am fully aware of the inevitable post-processing that my negatives undergo so they can they turn into scans fit for sharing and printing, but in my practice of photography, I need there to be as little interference as possible between what is out there and the photosensitive paper. Sometimes even the pinhole seems too much!
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
DS: I always had a plastic 35mm Kodak camera in hand as a kid. Later on, it was an Olympus XA. Then a friend introduced me to the wonderful world of manual German Rolleis, and I’ve been collecting and shooting those, and Voigtlander folders as well, ever since.
But pinhole cameras are what got me into film in a much more intensive way, as in constantly exploring and testing new films in multiple cameras. It got to the point where there was more film than food in the fridge! I ended up buying a minibar just for film and it is now loaded at maximum capacity.
Pinhole cameras have also got me back to shooting TLRs and medium format folders, which I had all but stopped using, and also to try Holgas, which are good fun, and Fuji Instax Mini which are like tiny, precious paintings.
What keeps me shooting film is the constant surprises I get from matching vintage glass and pinholes to modern emulsions. It is just like like creating different palettes in painting.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
DS: I cannot recall who or what influenced my early efforts, possibly photography exhibits since I used to haunt the Tel-Aviv museum galleries where my mother worked when I was little. Or it could have been my love for old houses. We moved so much between countries and cities that old houses equalled stability in my eyes and I took endless snapshots of them.
Today my influences are both more diffuse and somewhat easier to track. It is not like I see an image and try to emulate it. But every so often I will leaf through a favorite photography book, or see something online that strikes me as wonderful, and some of that will stay with me and will impact the way in which I position the camera or the choice of subject. Sometimes it will allow me to really see a very familiar scene for the first time, I love it when that happens!
Mostly though, these days I hunt online for images taken with specific pinhole cameras I am interested in, and try see if someone plays with them in some manner I’ve been thinking of. Say, is anyone doing 6×6 overlaps with their 6×12? Why ever not! Oh they’re all into 6×18… right… okay, trying it then!
On my photography bookshelves you will find a wild mix of favorites, Yamamoto Masao, Uemoto Hitoshi, Dalia Amotz, Michel Castermans (I adore his pinhole desert book, Sans objectif précis. Nothing but handheld pinhole shots taken from the back of a moving camel! And they’re beautiful, too. Now that’s ICM!), Bernard Plossu, Pentti Sammallahti, Michael Kenna, Susan Burnstine, Jacques Henri Latirgue… to name just the first that come to mind!
Two other contemporary names that need mentioning are Annick Maroussy, who initiated me to 4×5 pinhole photography on the cliffs of Normandy, and whose beautiful and whimsical in-camera pinhole creations never fail to cause wonder, and Nils Karlson, whose experiments with the boundaries of light, color and shape are a constant source of joyful inspiration. They also feedback on my work, which is great!
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
DS: Sad to say, but I am not a digital photographer. I do own a lovely and fully accessorized Sony RX100II, the last in a longish line of digicams that wasn’t sold, mostly because of its perfect size and shape (it reminds me of a black paint Rollei 35).
I’ve been admiring some great portraits people have taken with it, I’ve shot some okay frames on it even, but I simply do not enjoy fiddling with a tiny LCD screen outdoors – I have more than enough of that at home! Also, the images require endless post-processing, because I always will try to make them look like film images which they are not!
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?
DS: My next step is to begin developing my own 4×5 film sheets. For now, I am stuck with tray developing of DPP (Direct Positive Paper) and Washi W sheets. It’s the tricky Patterson tank lid that’s holding off my valiant efforts, I have endless trouble closing it hermetically shut!
I also need to begin shooting zone plate much more seriously. I find zone plate images incredibly beautiful, and so far I’ve had a bit of success mostly with my f/115 zone plate, but the shorter focals needs mastering. Maybe the ND filters will help. I did use a ten stop ND filter in my 6×6 pinhole camera once during a rapidly changing sunset, and got the camera drenched in the process too – the results were kinda neat, but that’s not something I would repeat anytime soon!
I also want to learn alternative processes. Cyanotype seems like the easiest. Then maybe Lith… gum print… or Charcoal.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
DS: The sea. Or rather the horizon line merging sky and sea, usually shot in a consecutive series of four 6×6 squares. I am constantly drawn to it, because of its endless variety, the otherworldly eeriness, the softness of the waves in long exposures and the mental peace their contemplation brings. I also love the sea breeze!
I have shot pinhole seascapes so far on Normandy cliffs and at the shores of Tel Aviv-Yafo. While the cliffs were mesmerizing, the return to the warm and saturated Mediterranean light has stimulated an explosion of color pinhole sessions. My longest almost continuous pinhole session lasted the entire summer of 2017. It is encapsulated in a self-published book titled Vues sur mer.
I still typically shoot series of 6×6 seascapes in different cameras, both pinhole and lens, now and again. But I have recently begun shooting at the riverbank, which is really not that far from the harbor, and that’s becoming a new subject matter involving old trees, magic paths and of course, the river and its cranes and ducks.
I keep meaning to begin with the river which is closer to where I live and end my pinhole session right after sunset at the harbor, but somehow I seem to always run out of film at the riverbank…
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?
DS: Oh god, that’s my familiar nightmare. If I don’t decide the day before what cameras to load, I’m sure to lose an hour trying to make up my mind between them on the next day.
Given the two minutes ultimatum and the lack of a definite subject, I guess I’ll be grabbing either my trusty Rollei 35S or its pinhole equivalent, a 6×6 pinhole camera (that’s a toss between the top favorites, Reality So Subtle 6×6, Zero Image 2000 and 3D printed Flyer 6×6). For film I will take a roll of Cinestill 50D and Rollei Ortho 25. That’s if we’re talking midday. Afternoons would have me pack Kodak Portra 160 and Portra 400. LATE afternoon means Portra 400 and my latest black and white film find, Bergger Panchro 400!
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?
DS: Unlimited supply of any film? No worries then, I’d take the lot, Cinestill 50, Portra 160 and 400, Rollei Ortho 25, ILFORD Pan F PLUS, ILFORD FP4 PLUS, Fuji ACROS 100, ILFORD Delta 100 Professional, Bergger Pancro 400… oh and Kodak EASTMAN Double-X 5222 of course too.
One location is tough, though. Do I choose one I’ve been to and would like to revisit, knowing the light conditions, or a dream location I have no idea which film would work in best? In the first case, I’d revisit Normandy in springtime because I loved it so much. In the second, well, I’ve always wanted to visit Japan… Unsure if I would really want to spend the rest of my life in either, though!
Ilford pan 50, Reality so subtle 6×6, Etretat
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
DS: Right now that’d be Cinestill 50D. I would use it to shoot the trees at the Riverbank, exposed at box speed. The result would be indistinguishable from an oil painting, almost.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
DS: That it’s a niche product for zany vintage camera lovers! I keep getting that. Dads actually bring their kids up to my spot to have me show them what a 120 film roll looks like, like its nostalgia! I set them straight on a daily basis, explaining to them that it can still be found at photo stores, at a cost…
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
DS: I am not terribly worried about it because every time I learn that my current favorite film brand is being discontinued, I have an “oh no, what do I do now?” moment, then I find a new exciting film to order and I fall in love with.
Frankly the only brand that had got me concerned was Harman’s Direct Positive Paper, which looked like it was discontinued right after I got all the 4×5 gear to use with it, but then thankfully resurfaced and I stocked up – although, it’s not a proper film is it? It’s photographic paper.
Still, looking at the sheer number of film photographers who upload their images daily on the web, and at the galleries promoting silver-based prints, it seems that film photography is here to last for a good while, at the very least!
A massive thanks to Daphne for taking part and please do check out Daphne’s author page here on EMULSIVE. You can expect a bit more in the near future in the form of a feature of her Vues sur mer project!
All that remains is for me to thank you for reading and ask you to keep an eye out for the next interview coming in a couple of weeks!
Keep shooting, folks!
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