Interview with KIYOSHI OSAWA, MEXICO
Updated: Oct 7, 2017
I believe that thinking a lot about your photography is important. Trust yourself and your gear and go for it.
Hi, Kiyoshi! Tell us a brief story about yourself and how you got into film photography?
Kiyoshi: My name is Kiyoshi Osawa and I was born in Mexico City. I am a musician, sound designer and an academic. I teach sound in the communications department at the universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, where I am a tenured professor. I’m currently pursuing a PhD in Psychoanalysis.
I started seriously taking film photos only last year, when I started this job. There is a full developing and printing lab here. Free chemicals, dark room, cameras, lights, etc. I asked a colleague/friend who teaches photography to show me the ropes and I started shooting and developing my own photos that way. Slowly learning by trial and error and finding tutorials online.
I was born in 1977. During most of my childhood and early adult life, “film photography” was just photography. I didn’t pay much attention to it as a personal form of expression until very recently. Like many in my generation, I have old photo albums, slides and super8 films from back in the day. They were the only way to capture memories and special moments.
My father emigrated to Mexico from Japan in the late 50’s. He lost all contact with his family until the mid eighties, when he called them up by surprise and explained he had settled down and had a family here. which included Me! My grandparents hopped on the next flight to Mexico and brought with them just one thing to give my father. A brand spanking new Nikon FM and a set of primes (more on those later).
This way, maybe they would have some record of their new family members in this far away, exotic country. Something he could send back home to show what life was like in Mexico. Of course my dad shot a couple of rolls and stashed the Nikon in a closet for me to find years later.
What type of film do you use and what camera do you use it with? Why do you prefer these?
Kiyoshi: A few months ago, walking around the historic center of Mexico City, I happened around a used camera shop that had a mint Nikon EM with a 50mm 1.8 E series on it. A small, lightweight setup that just totally caught my eye. I bought it and brought it home to see how it fit into my inherited collection of film gear I hadn’t used in ages.
I decided that, rather than “test” the camera, I would limit myself to the simplest setup in order to teach myself all the steps in the process. I chose to start with the NikonEM, the E-series 50mm, and Kodak TriX400. I develop with HC110, using the massive dev chart.
The Nikon EM is an Aperture Priority only camera, so I had to just trust the camera meter and focus on subject matter. The “normal” field of view of the 50mm forced me to really think of how to frame and compose. TRI- X is a contrasty black and white film, forcing me to find shapes, lines and spaces rather than colorful imagery. This way, rather than “learning” the camera, I’m learning to take photographs. Learning to capture moments and to let moments reveal themselves to me as I point my lens at them. During this process, I discovered that I wanted to shoot mainly in aperture priority, but have the flexibility to shoot in manual mode. So I acquired a Nikon FE which is my main camera now.
My current collection: Nikon FM, Nikon EM, Nikon FE. and the following Nikkor AiS lenses: 20mm 3.5 f, 28mm 3.5, 35mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4, 50mm e-series 1.8, and 135mm 2.8.
What do you think film has that digital doesn't have?
Kiyoshi: I don’t think film intrinsically has something that digital does not. I also own a mirrorless digital, which allows me to use all my old Nikkor glass as well as other vintage lenses I have been collecting. I have nothing against using whatever technology (old or new) leads to meaningful images. Although I thoroughly enjoy the processes and visual textures afforded by film photography, sometimes digital tech is the only way to get the right image.
I think subject matter, framing, composition. These are more important than the medium which captures the images. Although I must confess that shooting and developing my own film pics has made me pay more attention to these factors than I ever have before. It also connects me with the strong and meaningful legacy of film photographers.
Do you print your own photographs or are you comfortable having them printed in a lab?
Kiyoshi: Right now I just scan my negatives and tweak them a bit before posting them.
What motivates you to continue making photographs with film?
Kiyoshi: I want to explore all the possibilities that photography enables: document reality, make intimate portraits, find forms and shapes in landscapes and architecture, capture a dying and decaying world, all of it. I want to learn it all. I want to learn to represent and mediate my reality and through that process, interpret and re-interpret myself and my reality. That’s where I want to go with my photography.
Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?
Kiyoshi: There is a long and rich history that permeates the practice of photography. Through my film photography, I can enter into a dialogue and confrontation with this rich history. I can find myself through the work of people I admire, like Leibovitz, Maplethorpe, LaChappelle, Koudelka, Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, Nan Golding, Avedon, etc...
Other photographers that come to mind off hand are (obviously) Cartier Bresson, who spent some time early in his career here in Mexico, and his images from this time are incredible. Photojournalists like Natchwey, Robert Capa. Street “flaneurs” like Atget, Weegee, Tichy, and Mexico’s own amazing Enrique Metinides. Also, Mark Powell A contemporary street photographer, originally from Detroit, who lives and works here in Mexico whom I greatly admire (he’s also a personal friend).
Seeing their images and seeing mine makes me want to take pictures. Makes me want to find those “moments” and let those “moments” find me.
Do you see any value or merit shooting with film?
Kiyoshi: I’m glad film is “coming back”. I suppose it’s a measure of how the medium of photography is finally maturing enough to accept its past with all its limitations. This boads well for its future: computational photography, VR, 360, and smartphones are changing the way we imagine, use, and consume photography. I’m excited to see where the next few years go in this medium.
What do you think your future is like with film photography?
Kiyoshi: Eventually I want to explore other technical and thematic parameters in photography. But for now, I’m not far enough along to recognize where I’m going, what I want to do with photography. For now, I’ll stick to shooting and developing until I can see patterns, trends, themes and/or narratives in my work. Then I can start to think about specific projects, about “doing something” with my photography. I can see many areas in which need to improve. For example, I know I need to work on my social skills: getting better at making strangers trust me and open up in front of the camera.
I’m not trying to “become” a photographer. I think we are all already photographers. I am trying to learn to use photography as a form of expression and a tool to understand my reality.
Do you have any dream film photography project?
Kiyoshi: For now, I am happy shooting, learning, and sharing my process on Instagram. I suppose this will evolve in it's own time into something else.
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?
Kiyoshi: I hardly think I am qualified to make recommendations to people starting out, but i would say it’s useful to find a good mentor. Local photography shops, Facebook groups and so on, are full of enthusiastic film buffs. But also look at the history of the medium and find inspiration and guidance in the work of the greats. Read about photography. If that’s not your cup of tea, just find cool photographers on Instagram, Flickr, etc and follow them. Study their pics and find out what you like about them. That should tell you a lot about what you are looking for in photography. Also Ansel Adam’s 3 books on technique are invaluable and timeless resources.
Find the best gear you can afford (and no more) that makes you feel comfortable hitting the shutter button. Find a short or medium term goal or project and stick to it. Don’t spend 4 years “testing” vintage cameras until you find the perfect setup. There is no perfect setup.
I decided to learn by sticking to one camera, one Lens and one film stock. I also decided to document my process chronologically on instagram and share it with whomever cares to follow me. Within those limitations, I am free to do whatever I want! I have learned a great deal in 6 months. If you scroll through my feed you can see exactly how much (or little) I have learned, since I have been posting everything in order as I have shot and developed.
I believe that thinking a lot about your photography is important. Do research and practice and learn and watch tutorials and so on. But there’s a time for thinking and a time for acting. When you are out shooting, forget all of that and have fun. Trust yourself and your gear and go for it.
Thank you for creating this space for people to share their experiences using film. One of the most remarkable things about the current resurgence of film photography is the great community that has sprung up around it. This site is a part of that. Thanks again!
Be considerate. All photographs shown on this page are the sole property of Kiyoshi Osawa. He devoted his time, and painstakingly worked on these photographs. You know very well its stupid to copy, download, reproduce, reprint, modify, distribute, publicly display, license, transfer or sell content retrieved from this page in any way, for any public or commercial use or to any commercial source, including other websites, without prior written permission of Kiyoshi Osawa. Do good. You don’t want to go to jail, do you?
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 email@example.com 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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