I am Raymond van Mil and this is why I shoot film
To my eye, there’s something special about portrait photographers. At the very least, photographers who take portraits. As readers will know, that particular photographic niche evades me with all its might. So, when I came across today’s interviewee, the opportunity to have a chat was too strong to resist.
Over to you, Raymond!
What’s this picture, then?
RvM: This is both one of my favorite shots and this specific client/party was what convinced me to take analog photography serious for my work.
The artist is Mykki Blanco during 2016’s Milkshake festival in Amsterdam. He takes his performances very serious and totally gives himself during a show. He jumped on and of the stage, kept changing his clothes and at this specific moment took part of the decoration while he kept on rapping.
Of course when you shoot analog you can not burst shoot so you have to wait for that moment which feels like everything aligns, the eyes, the energy, the angle, adjust the shutter speed to the sun (clouds kept on coming and going). A lot of times I’m lucky but with this picture I knew I had it right. I still love the fierceness.
The client wanted the photos in black and white and since I somehow think monochrome digital pictures look fake I decided to shoot it analog. I also soon found out that sending it to a lab would take a week and we needed the photographs the day after, so right from start I developed them myself. I loved it so much I kept going. This is not the first event I did for them, but around half a year later I started.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
RvM: I’m a freelance photographer who shoots mostly nightlife in Amsterdam. So you can find me sometimes doing my work with a beer or whiskey in one hand and my camera in the other. Besides club nights, concerts and festivals I shoot a lot of other daytime events, portraits, press photos and some free work.
I also work as a photo editor for Dutch VICE which brings me in contact with great photographers and curators of photo musea. This helps me tremendously with inspiration and staying in contact with what is happening in the world of art photography.
Been taking photo’s all my life but started around 6 years back to do it more and more and finally two years ago I quit my business as web designer and programmer and have been shooting full time ever since. I love to to go deeply into the technique and explore what the different films can do for me, but I’m also very practical since most pictures are for clients and so I’m also focused on an efficient workflow.
I live with my girlfriend who is also a photographer so it’s pretty much photography day and night. I develop and print all my film in a dark room/lab I’m continuously building in our own house, both color and black & white.
I don’t see myself as an art photographer though, more a craftsman. My father was a fine wood worker, one of my brothers is jewel designer and one repairs wind instruments. We all love to deeply understand the nuts and bolts of something and to work from there.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting?
RvM: As a child of the seventies and my father being an active amateur photographer I think I had my first camera – a Canon something – when I was 14. Digital was not an option back then, so I started from the start.
I remember my father teaching me to print black and white in our attic with this really old enlarger. Although I loved it it wasn’t until I was sick and tired of being a web designer 20 years later that I started to shoot more frequently…but I started with a digital camera then. I became fanatic in shooting film just a few years back after a year shooting kilo’s of Polaroid and Instax photo’s. After I printed my first black and white shots I understood that it’s even more pretty and physical then an instant picture.
There is nothing which satisfies more then a fresh print from a picture I took and I’m satisfied with. The picture is not done until its in my hands. I took some really nice digital photos but somehow I think it’s a pity they are made of square pixels and not organic grain.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
RvM: It might be a cliché, but it was definitely my father’s work and family albums which influenced me the most (that and his collection of National Geographics from the 60’s and 70’s).
We have family in Canada and every year they traveled there and made an album. My father, being much more then just a holiday snap shot photographer, made those books pieces of art. In the beginning he used a Rolleiflex and later a Canon 35mm. He’s now in his 80’s, I have all his negatives at home and sometimes print something and bring it to them when I visit. It’s really beautiful to see I can print a 50 year old negative from before I was born and bring it to life in the darkroom.
Now it’s more difficult to pin point who influences me. I do love the early work form VICE photographers like Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow but also a diverse bunch like Avedon, Andy Warhol and the sublime portraits of Dana Lixenberg.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
RvM: Yes, I shoot both digital and analog. I use one of the last analog camera’s Canon built: the EOS3. With this I can use the same lenses for both my analog and digital work, a hybrid system.
Sometimes I even shoot both on one event. Whatever is needed and I seem the best for the job. Well best in terms of speed, because if an event needs 100+ photo’s and they are not requesting analog or are willing to pay more I’ll probably will shoot digital just the keep the workload bearable.
One advantage of shooting digital is that I shoot “loose”. I take more pictures and use about one in three, with analog I use around 1 in 5. That creates a total different approach and dynamic with both having their advantages. Sometimes not thinking about wasting material is needed, some times more precision and focus is needed. In the end Analog always creates a prettier picture in my experience.
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?
RvM: For the immediate future, I’m going to work with the 122 meter roll of Kodak Vision 3 500T the UPS guy delivered yesterday, I’m planning of using that roll for some moody night work. As for the next 12 months, I’m going to work more and more with my middle format camera, a use Mamiya Universal.
I used it for the Mario shoot below for a print publication and was blown away with the sharpness and quality coming out of that 50 year old machine. Until then I was mainly using the Mamiya for instant photo’s, but 120 film is the future! At least my future. It’s just a totally different way of working and it isn’t practical for events so it asks for different planning. Would love to work on some ideas and making some really big prints. I also have some rolls of 120 Ektachrome waiting in the fridge.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
RvM: I like live situation which will never happen again. That’s why I love night life and a documentary style in general. To grab that one unique moment where everything comes together. I do appreciate it in others but for some reason I’m not myself drawn to shooting news and suffering. I like to show the side of life where people are celebrating their existence.
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 to you take with you and why?
RvM: I’d bring my Canon EOS 3 (a camera that has never failed me), and my all round 24-70mm lens. I’d also bring along it’s digital nephew, the Canon 6D. That camera is an extension of my hand, so I would not have to think about anything but the task at hand.
90% of what I shoot is Kodak film, I absolutely love all their professional stocks. My most used film is Ektar 100 but it being only an ISO 100 film, it’s not open for surprises. I just started to shoot Kodak Vision 3 motion picture film which I absolutely love and it has the most versatile ISO. With 250 you can push and pull it to almost everything you need. So a roll of that (maybe I’m lucky in this fantasy scenario and I can get away with a 122 meter roll) and a roll of Ektar.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, were do you go and why?
RvM: New York, I love cities and New York is the best of them. I don’t see myself as a street photographer but when I’m there I can’t help myself but shoot a lot. I’d bring Kodak Ektar. Last year they ran out and I brought Fuji pro which is fine, but nothing is as bright and clear as Ektar.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
RvM: If we can wait till the end of the year I’d like one roll of the new batch of Kodak Ektachrome. I have some in my fridge but for the end of the world I want a fresh one. 120 film so it’s a bit bigger and I can look at it also with my bare eyes.
I just love slide film, the saturation, they way the shadows are a bit darker and the image gets more pronounced. It’s just so endlessly sad we do not have a way to print them anymore, Cibachrome is gone and needs to be brought back! I’d swing it to the back of my Mamiya Universal and develop it myself.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
RvM: A lot of people shoot analog now and get shitty scans with digital noise reduction which gets mistaken for grain. This hurts to see so much, the healing brush was not invented for no reason, never ever use noise reduction filters or sharpening, grain needs to be left alone.
Also, those negative scans lack contrast and have random color hue shifts. Lucky enough I have never seen this on EMULSIVE but in the world of analog fashion, or the 2017 equivalent of glamour photography this happens a lot. They look at the terrible JPG compression of noise reduction with sharpening on it and they think they are looking at analog grain.
Learn how to scan in a raw way and fix color issues and contrast in Photoshop and remove dust with the healing brush. Also at least once in your life time bring some of your film to a lab and let them print it so you know how it would look. If you work with only half of the analog process, this way you have a notion of what you’re working with. For me it changed everything when I started to print…even the way I color grade my digital pictures.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
RvM: The future is bright. I wish the big companies understood that they have to wait a bit and not give up so soon. Polaroid made a big mistake dismantling all but one of their factories. Fuji made and unforgivable mistake canning FP-100c.
We will never totally give up on wanting to see grain in a chemical print or even on screen.
It has been stable for a few years now and its slowly growing, which is beautiful. I love the energy Lomography puts into inventing new stuff. Kodak has always been my favorite and they do not seem to be giving up any time soon. I feel confident we will get a few new beautiful emulsions over the next few years and film will stay alive for as long as there are humans on this planet.
We do need some new budget DIY yourself solutions for the darkroom. People need to print more, I can imagine no bigger joy in a photographers liae then to see a fresh photo in your hands.
…and we need new cameras sooner or later.
~ Raymond van Mil
Print, print, print…I’m all for Raymond’s message here. If you’re like me and have yet to step into the darkroom, the next best thing is to have someone, anyone print for you. My main C-41 lab do a wonderful job with both digital and analogue colour printing and I avail myself of the opportunity to get a stack of fresh photos whenever I can.
The feeling of holding your work in your hand (self-printed or not), can be a powerful one. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve gotten my scans, flipped through them with nothing but disappointment, only to receive my prints and find that half of the images I had mentally discarded actually worked better in the hand.
I guess what I’m trying to say in a roundabout way is, print, print, print your work. You have no idea what gems might be waiting for you on those matte finish / white border leaves!
We’ll be back next week with more fresh blood for you to sink your teeth into but in the meantime (and as ever), keep shooting, folks.
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