Updated: Oct 7, 2017
With film photography, there is a degree of unpredictability.
Hi, Henri! Tell us who you are and how you got yourself shooting with film.
Henri: My name is Henri Toivonen and I live in northern Sweden, in a town called Luleå. I started shooting film in 2004, feels like a long long time ago. Basically, at that point, proper digital cameras were really expensive, so that was more or less the only choice for a SLR. I had access to a darkroom in high school and a friend worked at a photo lab. Eventually I also started working at the lab, and could process my C41 stuff at work and B&W in the darkroom. Around 2011 I eventually got me a DSLR and had high hopes, but noticed that slowly but surely I lost interest in photography all together. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, why it felt so boring, but came to the conclusion that the magic was gone. I just started hoarding pictures on my computer, that I didn't do anything with. So after a short hiatus, I then returned to film photography, which is what I do today for everything except when I do strictly commercial stuff like product shoots or such.
These days I develop all my film at home, even C41, and scan them.
What type of film do you use and what camera do you use it with? Why do you prefer these?
Henri: I use so many different film stocks it's not even funny. My freezer and fridge is packed with stuff from all over the world. I find it motivating to try different things, and not really know exactly what the result will be. But ILFORD HP5 is my main film when the shots matter and I want consistent results. I have two Pentax MXs that I use for 35mm, I have found that I am really quick with them, and they are reliable. For medium format I have a Hasselblad 500c/m, and then a big bunch of toy cameras that I also love to use. The Hasselblad is quirky in how it works, but a fantastic piece of equipment. The toy cameras take away everything tech related and you're just left with composition, light and the moment in time.
I also shoot different kinds of expired film, and experiment with cross processing and other ways of altering the image quality.
What do you think film has that digital doesn't have?
Henri: Its unpredictability and slowness. I can't really be critical of my own work until a couple of weeks have passed from the moment. I get too 'colored' from the situation and experience. And since there is a degree of unpredictability it's exciting to develop and see what the outcome was. Mistakes can become your greatest pictures, while the fear of mistakes will keep you on your toes. But in the end, the comparison is moot, it is like telling a painter how he shouldn't use oil-based paints but instead use acrylic, because they are better. Everybody should decide for themselves what kind of technique they want to use to get the results that they are striving to achieve.
Do you print your own photographs or are you comfortable having them printed in a lab?
Henri: I used to do a lot of darkroom work, but I don't have the space currently to set up my own, and I don't know anyone that has one that I could borrow either. I have a hybrid process for prints, where I scan the negs and try to simulate a darkroom workflow in Photoshop, and then get them printed in a lab on high quality paper. It is faster, but has a little bit less charm.
What motivates you to continue making photographs with film?
Henri: It works for me, I get the look I want and the results I want. It's a hobby, and hobbies should take time. I like to develop film, mixing chemicals, organising the negatives, all that kind of stuff that might not be fun at all for other people.
Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?
Henri: My absolutely number one influence is a guy who does a lot of album covers for metal bands, called Travis Smith. He has a fantastic way of telling a story with his pictures, they make you stop and take a really good look at what is going on in the picture.
Martin Parr is another favourite. It feels like he has a street photography attitude where he's just quick to capture a moment, or a detail, and you can't help but smile at the absurdity of it.
In my early days, Ansel Adams influenced me in his general thinking. There is currently a wave of newbies thinking that unedited is the way to go, no post-processing, because that's how "it was done before". And then their pictures have no blacks, no whites, no contrast, no color correction, and a big speck of dust in the middle of the face of somebody. And I feel like a grumpy old man wanting to tell them that they have no clue.
Do you see any value or merits shooting with film?
Henri: I have been planning to get into large-format soon, to slow myself down even more. Film is slow, and expensive, and that is not always a bad thing. It makes you treasure each frame, each roll of film. You reduce waste as much as you can, which leads to a higher "hit-rate" of keepers. Also, it is an artistic expression, you can make pictures that are uniquely film.
What do you think your future is like with film photography?
Henri: The future is bright, people have started to be more interested in film photography in the past few years. People find it interesting that there are people shooting film at all, and want to maybe try it themselves. Also there is a renewed interest in bringing new film to the market, new cameras, etc.
What’s your dream photography project?
Henri: If I would come up with a dream project I would start working on it. I have a couple of different projects currently that are in progress, that I am excited about.
Would you like to offer some good words to those who want to try film photography for the first time? What must they learn before venturing into this format?
Henri: If you want to shoot black and white you gotta learn how to develop the film yourself. It is a variable in the outcome that you need to have control over. It's not difficult, the chemicals are not super toxic, it is not expensive - in fact you will save loads of money in the end.
Don't overthink the gear, any SLR and 50mm lens is good enough. Get decent film, Tri-X or Hp5, and just shoot. Try to shoot a couple of rolls a week at least, it's the only way to learn.
Good news from Henri! If you happen to be in the town of Luleå during the month of April 2018, he will be having an exhibition in the city library. Don't miss it!
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Well now, if you are a passionate film photographer and would like to be interviewed? I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject, "Interview me", and share your story, thoughts, and work related to film photography. I’ll get back to you as soon as I receive your request for an interview.
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