EMULSIVE interview #189: I am Keith Moss and this is why I shoot film
Today’s interviewee marks the completion of a conversation started in June 2015, back when I started researching people to include in my very first series, which started barely a month later.
He’s someone you’ll probably be aware of, especially if you’re familiar with contemporary street photography; and he’s someone who I’m very happy to have finally been able to feature on these pages.
It’s Keith Moss.
Hi Keith, what’s this picture, then?
KM: This is one of my favourite images. It’s of a market stall holder in the outside part of the world-famous La Boqueria market in Barcelona. I engage with many people in many situations and what I love about this portrait is that I gestured to her “can I take your portrait?” but she quite aggressively refused.
I had just watched her carefully placing her peppers, which I stood in front of, so I decided to prefocus at the same distance where she was stood and then I looked quizzically at her peppers whilst putting my hand to my chin suggesting that there was something wrong with them, I knew that she would immediately put her hands on her hips whilst staring at them thinking “what’s wrong with them?”, so all I had to do was raise my camera and snap this shot while her thoughts were on her peppers.
Ok, so who are you? (The short version, please)
KM: I am the urban portraitist. My love for photography and in particular black and white film is only surpassed by my love and fascination for people who I engage with whilst walking the various streets of cities in Europe. I also teach this skill in many destinations. I am also proud to be an Official ILFORD Artisan Partner.
I love the solitude and the smell of the chemistry whilst working in my darkroom.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
KM: I shot my first roll of film at the age of 13 whilst visiting my parents who had moved to Lagos in Nigeria for 12 months. On a trip to the bush, I was allowed to borrow my father’s much prized Pentax ME Super. I took 3 rolls of transparency film with me as that was all my father shot.
I still remember the excitement of pointing the camera at all the amazing sights that I had never seen before. I could instantly see the finished image, the way the light fell before I had pressed the shutter, it was love at first sight.
I have still got a lot to say! For me, photography is a way of communicating a way of getting my thoughts and feelings out.
I love the whole process of using film. My feelings and thought processes are geared towards film. I first see the image before pressing the shutter and then make a decision on the chemistry and paper I want to use in the darkroom.
Working backwards I think about the chemistry and how I want to process the film to get the right negative for me and then assessing the correct exposure for everything to drop into place. Nowadays all of these thoughts occur in a split second.
They’re surrounded by anticipation and excitement which doesn’t leave me until I have the finished scan/print in my hand. It is a beautiful process, a pure photographic process, I just don’t get the same feelings when I shoot with a digital camera it feels very empty and very soulless but sometimes very necessary in the commercial world.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
KM: To be fair because I am self-taught nobody influenced me right at the start. I was just driven by my emotions and feelings. It wasn’t until a few years in that somebody likened my landscapes to Ansel Adams, I had no idea who that was so I did a bit of research and thought wow that’s a massive compliment.
It was only from the that I started looking at other photographers and this must have been 7 years into my career the first photographer I noticed was John Loupe Seif, I loved his work with people not so much the landscapes but the portraits I loved his work really touched me and inspired me too.
The second person was Robert Doisneau who in his modest, playful, and ironic images of amusing juxtapositions, mingling social classes, and eccentrics in contemporary Parisian streets and cafes. I just love his way of capture
Looking back right to the beginning of my work it’s where I feel most at home and inspired working with people whether that being capturing their personalities on the street or teaching them on one of my workshops that’s what its all about for me, people.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
KM: I am nearly all film nowadays, in fact, the last time I used a digital camera was quite a few months ago, I have never had the same connection with digital as I do with film it’s so much more inclusive, you connect to your subject much more too, film is precious wonderful it becomes your partner, yes it takes you a while to get to know its character and what you can do with it but eventually it is part of you part of your vocabulary.
I’ve also semi-retired from the commercial advertising work to fulfil my passion and work with film all the time and give something of my 30+ years as a pro back by running workshops feeding my passion for film and people.
What’s the next challenge…your next step? How do you see improving your technique, or what aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
KM: Well, I love both street photography and landscape photography and have honed my skills with film for well over 30 years. I have to say that am still as passionate today as I first was, I’m not saying I’m done with it or with learning.
I have recently got into collodion, wet plate photography and just love the unpredictability and beauty of it the process is wonderful too very rewarding.
Over the next 12 months I want to develop this process and teach it I along with my partner in crime Simon Riddell, have already converted a large panel van into a darkroom van, it’s been christened as Dapper Dan the Darkroom Van, it’s fully equipped to do collodion, wet plate photography and film too. We’ve also teamed up with Intrepid Camera Co who have donated 2 of there fantastic 5×4 large format cameras and were waiting to take delivery of their new enlarger too.
The objective is to work with ls to work with large format cameras both with landscapes mainly in the Isle of Skye and on the streets using film and wet plate collodion; and develop it there on site. This is essential with wet plate collodion.
If you want to see the development of this next 12 months you can follow the process and take a look at our workshops at keithmossphotography.co.uk.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
KM: I have always been passionate about street photography and in particular, people. We are all different I know, but fundamentally if you strip us all back we are all the same; we all have the same thoughts, processes, needs.
I love connecting on a one-to-one basis with somebody, even if just for 30 seconds, where you are totally at ease with them and giving each other your total faith and trust and being open.
That connection is a wonderful thing, I guess it’s almost like a drug and once you have experienced it it is something you want to repeat. I am fascinated by the mechanics of each and every one of us.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
KM: My camera of choice would be the Fuji GS645S. It has a fixed 60mm wide lens. The camera is small and compact but has the quality of medium format. The 60mm wide lens is equivalent to a 35mm lens on 35mm film, which is wide enough to get a good array of subject matter in but not too wide to distort proportions.
You can also get away with it as a portrait lens as many of my street portraits are shot on this format. For me, this is the most flexible camera and lens combination. My film of choice would be ILFORD HP5 PLUS due to its tonality and the ability to push and pull.
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?
KM: Without a doubt, it would be Istanbul. It’s a place you have to experience to understand. Around every corner there is an incredible image waiting to happen, the people are wonderful, open and inviting.
The streets stimulate your imagination and your veins are full of adrenaline, I can shoot there from dawn until dusk and beyond and never get bored!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where will you expose it and why?
KM: I am a true black and white photographer so if I am shooting medium format it would be ILFORD HP5 PLUS I love the whole tonality and structure of the emulsion, which when processed in the right way for me, is one of the most flexible films for pushing too.
For 35mm it really is a toss-up between two…the T-Grain structure and sharpness of ILFORD Delta 400 Professional and dare I say, Kodak T-MAX 400.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
KM: Too difficult to use and the cost.
In fact, it’s no more difficult to use than a digital camera, as the basics of photography are the same whether using a film camera or digital, in fact the latitude in most films far outweighs the latitude in most digital sensors.
Getting it right every shot every time is a much more immersive and rewarding experience, so I guess it’s down to what each person wants from photography.
From a cost point of view, you can spend £20 on a Pentax Spotmatic and £80 on a Pentax Takumar F/1.4 50mm lens giving a total spend of £100 for an incredible quality combination, which in the right hands can produce stunning images.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
KM: There has been a steady growth in film photography over the last 3 to 4 years. I believe this is because students and younger photographers, in particular, see it as an alternative and more creative way to express themselves. It’s a more involved process.
From an older generation’s point of view, again it’s a nostalgic way of reconnecting with the roots and offers greater rewards than simply using and shooting a digital camera.
From a semi-professional and professional point of view more and more are turning towards introducing film to differentiate themselves…offering something different to their customers.
I believe film has a future as more of an artisan medium but will never ever get near to or overtake digital photography.
“There has been a steady growth in film photography over the last 3 to 4 years”…
Keith wrote this back at the beginning of 2016 and here, nearly three years later at the end of 2018, it still holds true. During the intervening time, we’ve seen a dozen attempts at bringing film cameras back to market via crowdfunding and over double that number of new films come the market, from Bergger Pancro 400 and JCH Streetpan to Dubble, Yodica and EKTACHROME to name a few.
Add to that, efforts from ars-imago and Cinestill, New 55, MiNT, Hamm Camera, Intrepid and Famous Format and it’s plain to see that there’s a demand out there that’s being met – just. We’re still screaming, new cameras and products that help smooth hybrid workflows. Film as a medium is booming but we’re largely left shooting 35mm and medium format hardware that rolled off production lines at least a decade and a half ago.
It’s all moving in the right direction sure, and I find it hard to imagine that someone in a position to get things done at Canon, Nikon, Fuji or another company that built its name on film photography isn’t listening. Maybe it’ll take another few years for our hopes to be realised but putting on my financial hat for a moment, the analogue resurgence represents an opportunity that should not be ignored.
In the meantime, for those of us without multi-national photographic businesses under our control, let’s get out there, shoot film and keep on shouting. If they don’t come, I’ve no doubt we’ll build it.
I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with Simon Riddell but in the meantime, have a browse and as ever, keep shooting, folks.
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