EMULSIVE | Sep 26, 2018 | 8
EMULSIVE interview #41: I am Hamish Gill and this is why I shoot film
Today’s interviewee needs no introduction. I’m adamant about this. Over to you, Hamish!
Fine. It seems that whilst today’s guest might not need an introduction, he should still have one – equal opportunities interviews and all that.
So, where to begin? Well, it’s on record that Hamish Gill is a bit of a force of nature when it comes to the film photographic community. Leaving his “real” work aside for a moment, Hamish is best known by us for his website 35mmc, a truly massive source of in-depth reviews, information, competitions and opinions on film cameras from the very accessible, to those for very deep pockets.
I won’t go into more detail here, Hamish does that enough for the best of us. But I will hand things over to him, so that he can tell you a little bit more about what drives his to shoot film.
Over to you, Hamish.
Hi Hamish, what’s this picture, then?
Probably one of my favourite photos of 2015. It was taken with my Leica IIIa and Voigtlander 28mm 3.5 lens whilst on holiday in Cornwall back in the summer. I make myself very busy in day-to-day life, and the only breaks I give myself are a week’s holiday in the summer and a week or so at Christmas – the week in the summer being the most relaxing time of year for me.
This shot was taken on a particularly leisurely walk on the beach one evening and just came out exactly how I wanted it to.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
My name is Hamish Gill, I’m 32, married, have two beautiful little girls. I make a living running a creative agency and work within that agency as a photographer (when I have the time). On top of this I have just set up a commercial film photography company called Shoot Rewind, I am co-director of a shop selling vinyl and turntables online, I have an app in development and a little invention being prototyped. I’m also involved in a political party locally to me, though I tend to keep that to myself for the large part.
Last but definitely not least I run a 35mm compact and rangefinder film camera blog called 35mmc. The blog has actually become a bit of a hobby in itself, certainly more than I expected it to. Through it I’ve found a new love for writing, and my appreciation for cameras and lenses has grown massively.
In short, I like to be doing something pretty much all the time. To the point in fact that the act of actually taking photos has become quite a nice break from everything else I do. Though I suppose it could be argued that even then I’m still doing something…
When did you start shooting film?
I started taking photos when I was 9. My nan (EMULSIVE: That’s Grandmother for those on the West side of the pond), bought me a little point and shoot Nikon RF10 – I loved it and used it quite a bit to capture holidays and outings with the family. Then, at around 13 years old I was told by a photography teacher at my school that I had a good eye for composition. It was a moment that really stuck with me, and was definitely something that spurred me on to take it all more seriously.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
Well, I’d guess it’s all the usual reasons really. I like the way the photos look without me having to spend hours on the computer, I like the fact I can’t look at the back of the camera after I take the photo to see whether or not it’s come out ok. I like the limitations of shooting within 36 frames and I like the wait and the excitement of getting the shots back.
But probably the biggest thing I enjoy about the actual act of shooting film is that I very much like the simplicity of the cameras compared to digital cameras. It is in fact this simplicity of equipment that triggered my starting of 35mmc a few years back when I bought my Yashica T5 (now the Travelling Yashica).
These are pretty much standard reasons though aren’t they? I don’t think there’s any mystery or anything particularly special or unique about any of these justifications, they are just a simple personal preference I share with a large amount of other photographers. Like many people, I just feel at home with film – I’ve shot it for 23 years without ever switching to digital in any exclusive way. Film for me just feels like how photography is supposed to work. I haven’t chosen it over digital, I just didn’t choose digital over it either, at least not in any permanent or meaningful way.
That all said, I feel I should add that I rarely make argument against digital photography. I personally very much enjoy certain elements of digital photography, I think it’s just as valid an approach and have been known to take umbrage with people for disparaging digital in favour of film and visa-versa.
In reality, I think it’s pointless argument, with no real conclusive answers. For me, it’s quite simple. People do crap things with film and crap things with digital. What matters is the end result, if it’s bad it’s bad, and both mediums are more than capable of bad results. Equally, if a photo is good, the medium with which it was taken will likely disappear or at very least become an irrelevance. As such, beyond the happiness of the photographer, I really don’t think the medium matters that much.
In short I suppose the answer to the question of why I shoot film is simply this: Shooting film (especially the 35mm variety) makes me more happy than shooting anything else.
Any favorite subject mater?
It depends when you ask me. There are subjects that I shoot more often than others, but it’s usually more of a proximity thing than anything else I think. For example, I really like taking photos of my family (though this can be a little limited by their patience with me).
I also really enjoy landscape photography. I live near a lot countryside and spend quite a fair bit of time in it recreationally with the family…though I must admit, I’m not that great at it. I’m rarely out at the best times of day with the family – and can’t be bothered with the effort to go out and be a dedicated landscape photographer without them.
Another type of photography I get to partake in when I’m with the family is shooting inside museums, galleries, libraries and the like. I’m not sure why, but I do find this particularly enjoyable – perhaps it is the quietness of those sorts of places that makes the act of photography within them just seem relaxing…?
I also enjoy what I think of as urban photography. I differentiate this from street photography where the subject is the person, as I much prefer the subject to be the surroundings with any people just being compositional elements rather than necessarily being part of any forced narrative.
On the subject of narrative in photos, I actually find the idea of it an overrated subject within photography. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve heard or read “a photo needs to tell a story”. For me, photography is not just about the story; the story is a part of some photography but by no means all. A great landscape image that relies just on aesthetic need not be any less relevant than a good street image with a strong narrative. We spend so much time being bombarded with “the story” by the media, by social media, and by the people we meet day-to-day that we’ve come to look for, expect, or even want to find a story in everything we see. It sometimes feels like this idea of telling a story has permeated photography to such a great extent that there is almost no escaping its apparent importance.
For me I find it just as important to remember that sometimes there just isn’t a story, or at least there doesn’t need to be one. In my world photography can give quite a welcome break from “the story”. It can remind me that there is significance in what just “is”. Composition and form that naturally occur within both the things we as humans create and the nature that surrounds them can often combine with the light that falls on them to create something of significant aesthetic beauty. Where there might not be a story, there might instead be a quiet, contemplative aesthetic. The trick is just being there to witness these moments at the right time – and of course, if you’re a photographer, maybe capture them too.
Finding that time, happening upon it, and capturing it in whatever fleeting moment it is presented is what photography is about I think. A certain famous photographer coined a term for it, but I’m sure I don’t need to repeat it here. Unfortunately these “moments” don’t happen that frequently in my world – perhaps I’m not looking hard enough, or perhaps I’m not in the right places at the right times. But I know them when I see them, and I know it in myself when I capture them.
I mention all this as I think it helps answer the question a bit better. Whilst there are things I take photos of more regularly, specific subject matter isn’t really of importance to me. I just take photos. A lot. Wherever I go. Just in the hope of finding those little moments of the serendipitous coming together of things. Regardless of subject matter, it’s the finding of those moments where the satisfaction of photography lies for me.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
I’d be reasonably happy to have Kodak Portra 400 as a last roll, mainly because it’s so profoundly easy to work with and get results I like. It’s also the film I most like to take photos of my kids with, which would definitely be the last subject matter I’d shoot with film.
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?
A Leica M7 or M-A depending on my mood on, the Zeiss 50mm Sonnar, Ilford HP5 Plus and Kodak Portra 400. The M7 is the most easy to use rangefinder I have. It’s built in auto-exposure meter is useful way beyond its function as an automatic camera (read my M7 review to understand what I mean there). The Leica M-A (review here) just feels like a point and shoot camera to me now. As for the lens, I’ve only recently bought Sonnar, but I really can’t imagine being more happy with a lens – I’m completely hooked on it (big review here if you are interested).
HP5 Plus because it’s a cracking film that can be shot at pretty much anywhere between EI100 and EI3200. I know Kodak Tri-X is supposed to be as versatile, but HP5 Plus is what I know. This shot was taken at at 1/60th, f5.6. I had the film pushed 3 stops and this was the outcome… Couldn’t ask for more really!
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Iceland – I don’t think I’d get bored very quickly there. I’ve never been, but it looks like a microcosm of almost anything I could ever want to take photos of.
I also like a lot of music that comes from Iceland and if after a day of taking photos I could relax in a bar with my little family listening to the likes of Múm, I think I would be a very happy man!
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
Well, there’s a question… where do I even start? Not always, but it sometimes feels like everything everyone says about film photography is based on a misconception. There’s what I often think of as a thick blanket of bullshit that lays over the top of film photography at the moment.
I think my misconception if I could isolate it to one word would be “cool”. Film has somehow become cool and it makes me die a bit inside feeling like I’m a part of that “cool”. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that this “cool” based resurgence of film has happened, its popularity now gives me some confidence that the collective desire to shoot it will keep it around for years to come. And I certainly can’t argue with that if it means I get to keep taking photos in the way that makes me happy.
What bothers me is all the noise that comes along with it. All the anti-digital noise. All the film related clichés. All the hashtag based slogans. It’s just tiresome. Most of it is admittedly harmless, and some of it has no doubt spread the word of film photography in a positive way, but so much of it has propagated the idea of film being “cool”, and to that, I roll my eyes more than frequently.
I don’t suppose this would bother me if it wasn’t for the fact that when something becomes cool it gains interest from cool people. Cool people (often with beards these days) seem to like to take ownership of things and then to some degree like to protect it from what they deem as not cool. What this creates is elitism, and with elitism comes factions and exclusion – and that bothers me!
Within the film shooting “community” there are factions of those who question the motivations and intentions of those around them in an entirely pointless way. I think this is done in a bid to protect what they think they have inherited. Take for example the Lomo crowd, and those who are so anti-Lomo that they feel a need to disparage it all the time. This came to ahead for me a few months back when I had a conversation with someone who criticised my use of the word “analogue” in a conversation about film photography.
To my mind, analogue is just the opposite to digital, there is no harm in the word, in fact it’s actually a more accurate word for non-digital photography than “film” since non-digital actually expands beyond film as a medium. But, to the person I discussed this with, the word “analogue” can’t be used because Lomo use it, and therefore, I’m told, semiotically it pertains to lomo as a specific sub genre of non-digital-photography.
This sort of thing fries my brain. Of course, this guy is entitled to his opinion, I can even see where he is coming from to a certain extent. To my mind though, it’s just not worth worrying about. What does this deconstruction of a word actually achieve in the grand scheme of things? As far as I can work out it’s just one of these tactics to protect “film photography” by separating it from Lomo and therefore what the Lomo crowd do…? But film photography doesn’t need protecting in this way. It’s as pointless as the argument about digital vs. film. It’s all photography and everyone is entitled to enjoy it in whatever way they so desire. I can’t stand the look of HDR digital photography, but I’d never disparage someone for doing it, or indeed tell them not to do it. If that’s what they like, that’s their bag, and it certainly doesn’t impact on what I do or enjoy as a photographer. All this moaning and criticism just becomes noise to me, pointless noise that gains nothing for anyone.
In fact, ironically, even the noise that I’m creating now bothers me. Why do I need to be a voice of the moderate? Why do I need to get my knickers in a twist and rant at, or at least in the direction of all of this nonsense…? Well, I’m going to excuse myself with the fact that I was asked the question, but would be happier if the above few paragraphs were disregarded in the way I disregard most similar negative drivel…
So what would I do to set this straight. I dunno, maybe I’d come up with a hipster logo and a hashtag! that’s the way we propagate a message these days isn’t it? People could have stickers of the logo so they could stick them on the back of their Mac book air, the underside of their skateboard, or maybe even the back of their camera. Oh, no wait, that’s the opposite of what I’d do!
Cynicism aside, I’d just encourage people to stop worrying about what other people are doing and how they are doing it. I’d suggest that anyone interested in taking photos should take them with whatever and however makes them happy! This photography lark is an art, a creative outlet, something to enjoy on a personal level, and not to use as a soapbox to stand on.
steps down from his soap box
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
It will continue, at least until I die. At which point, it will be irrelevant to me.
~ Hamish Gill
I’m hoping that with enough spreading of Hamish’s gospel, film and digital photographers can learn to live side-by-side, much as we’ve seen Canon and Nikon aficionados do over the years…
In all seriousness though, for me it was this comment that made me think the most – almost a “facepalm-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” moment:
People do crap things with film and crap things with digital. What matters is the end result, if it’s bad it’s bad, and both mediums are more than capable of bad results. Equally, if a photo is good, the medium with which it was taken will likely disappear or at very least become an irrelevance. As such, beyond the happiness of the photographer, I really don’t think the medium matters that much.
Perfection…and in fact, I’d like to extend that quote to include about formats within formats. Just because you shoot on a full-frame digital sensor over an M4/3 camera, it doesn’t alter the quality of your output in as much as shooting 8×10 sheet film over 110 cartridges. We all have good days and bad days, regardless of what we use.
This website/blog/platform is all about film photography but on a personal level, there are many purely-digital photographers whose work I love. In fact, many of you reading this are serious in your use of both digital and analogue formats and understand the benefits of each.
Sure, some of us might believe that film bestows us with powers that make our work somehow “better” but as Hamish very rightly put, “…both mediums are more than capable of bad results“, and I’ve seen as many terrible images emerge from my own film cameras, as I have from my digital ones.
Much like many multi-format debates, film vs digital will no doubt rage on and will also probably never fully be resolved. It’s my belief that the best thing we can do is shoot whichever format, or variation of format we prefer, for whatever situation we find ourselves in and for whatever reason makes us happy.
As long as we, as individuals are happy with the result, that should be enough, right…right?
Needless to say, I know which side(s) of the fence I’m on and now count myself amongst those whose voice won’t be used to fuel any fires.
I’ve linked to Hamish’s 35mmc a few times here but you should really give it a look. You can also find Hamish stoping around on Twitter, or for a closer look at his other projects, check out hamishgill.com.
We’ll be back again soon but in the meantime, scroll up and take a look at those gorgeous images one more time!
Keep shooting, folks.
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