We’re back for another look into the mind of a film photographer. For today’s piece, we’re rather pleased to have been able to grab some time with Ray Rapkerg, a London based photographer with a love for large format, the sensitive, mysterious, dreamy, moody and gothy (his words, not mine!)
Let’s see what Ray has to say.
Hi Ray, what’s this picture, then?
RR: This is an Impossible 8×10” instant print. I took it using an old Wisner large format camera. The technology of these large instant prints is intriguing. You put a sheet of film into a film holder and take the shot. Then you lay the film on a separate sheet of photo paper which has a pod of developer/fixer. You squash these two layers together by running them through rollers like your grandma’s clothes mangle!
It was fun to make this shot. When I turned up for the photo shoot carrying a wooden camera and a bunch of flowers, I could see people thinking “Is this guy for real?” They are supportive, but they are also wondering if I might be a total nut case! Actually I quite like that dynamic! It’s really fun to shoot completely differently from the usual digital methods. I’ve got nothing against digital, it’s so convenient. But film is more fun and less bland.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RR: I’m just the fool who presses the shutter, and who has been doing that for a long time.
When did you start shooting film and what about now, what drives you to keep shooting?
RR: I shot my first roll of film in the late 1960s, believe it or not. When I was six my father gave me an old Box Brownie camera to take on a school trip. It was pretty unusual for a small kid to have a camera in those days. The other kids were amazed to see it. As I photographed them I remember thinking “this is pretty cool”. I was hooked!
Partly it’s still about that six year old’s simple sense of excitement. Plus I like the physicality of film. I guess atoms feel more real to me than electrons!
I put a sheet of film in the camera, I take the shot, I put the film in my Jobo daylight processor. If it’s summer I sit in a deckchair in my garden processing film, it’s very pleasant! Then I pull out a finished 8×10” negative, and wow! – a huge negative is an amazing thing.
Actually, another important reason I shoot film is that it produces better skin tones. I’ve been carefully comparing my film and digital fashion shots, and film is definitely better. No ugly burnt out highlights. No exaggeration of skin blemishes. These days everyone is so used to having to retouch digital fashion shots, they don’t even realise retouching was seldom necessary in the days of film.
Maybe you could defend digital by saying digital is harshly accurate and film is flatteringly inaccurate, but I don’t care: film produces the best result, and that’s what counts for me.
In terms of what drives me, I’d say shooting film just happens, you know? It’s like breathing.
Any favourite subject matter?
RR: People. Portraits, fashion, art nudes, all sorts really. I have contacts in the fashion industry and sometimes I turn up at an upmarket fashion magazine shoot and take some film shots. The models get quite excited about it, it’s so novel to them.
Maybe when I get really old I will get into landscapes. My friends laugh and say I have the big old wooden camera so now I just need to grow the bushy beard and my transformation into Ansel Adams will be complete!
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
RR: I’ll just stick with my usual Kodak Tri-X. That is the film used by so many of the great twentieth-century photographers I admire so much.
I develop my films in Rodinal, the world’s oldest commercially available developer, invented in the 1880s. Tri-X is very forgiving, and Rodinal is very forgiving, so even if I mess up, it still works.
I’m not a total Tri-X fanatic, I do play the field occasionally! Sometimes I shoot Rollei Superpan 200, which is great, lovely tonality – although perhaps less “classic” looking than Tri-X. Sometimes I shoot Fomapan 200, because often Tri-X is not available in 8×10” sheet film. Fomapan is pretty good, plus it’s cheap, but it scratches easily – actually I suspect it collects some scrapes even before it leaves the factory.
I also shoot peel-apart Polaroids. I enjoy “rescuing” the trash – the negative which is meant to be peeled off and thrown away. It has a unique look due to the strange goop marks on it.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
RR: No way would I attempt large format in unknown situations! I also like shooting medium format 120 roll film – I have about a dozen 120 cameras. I would take one of those.
If I was really uncertain about the situation, I would keep it super simple and take my latest camera, a Fujifilm GA645Zi. That is an unusual medium format camera that looks like a cheap compact camera. But it has a super-sharp zoom lens and perfect auto-exposure and perfect auto-focus. If you need guaranteed results fast, that is the camera. It doesn’t look cool though!
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
RR: I live in London which is a good place to shoot. I might go to Amsterdam or Copenhagen to shoot – I have Dutch and Danish relatives. But if I had to choose one place, I think it would have to be New York. I went through a phase of wandering the streets of London with a twin-lens reflex camera, inspired by Vivian Maier.
I keep meaning to go to New York to do the same thing. During the day I could be Vivian Maier, and at night I could roam the mean streets with a Speed Graphic being Weegee – that would be fun!
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
RR: People think film photography is expensive. When I was a kid a roll of film was a significant cost, but now it is comparatively cheap. Also, film cameras can be found so cheaply. Sure, a retro classic such as a Hasselblad is going to cost, but there are great value cameras out there.
In my attic I have my 1990s Nikon 35mm film autofocus SLR – it was expensive when new and takes great shots, but I saw on eBay it sells for about $20! That is a total bargain! It’s cheap just because it looks too much like a modern plasticky DSLR. It lacks 1960s chrome trendiness, but it works great.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RR: Film sales will continue to grow. But I don’t think we’ll ever see Kim Kardashian posting selfies taken with a film camera! Film will never be that mainstream. But I do think film will continue to gain ground with a significant minority of interested people.
~ Ray Rapkerg
If you weren’t already familiar with Ray’s work before today, I’d strongly suggest checking out his website at: www.rapkerg.com. Please note that some of Ray’s work might be considered not safe for work, so use your phone, or ask your parents permission before clicking through and seeing more of his great work.
You can also follow Ray on Twitter, Pinterest or Flickr:
Finally, if you have the time, you can also find Ray’s most recent publications on Amazon.
That’s all from us this time. We’ll be back in a few days with another interview!
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.
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