Interview with LINA BESSONOVA, RUSSIA
Film photography is the only thing that gave me tons of struggle and disappointments, and yet I kept doing it.
I'm super thrilled to have you here, Lina. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your photography.
Lina: I am a Russian-born film photographer and printer, living between France and Italy, owning a photo lab in Florence. Analog photography happened by pure accident, when, aged 22, during my Media Communications studies in Switzerland, I was forced into a Photo1 class by my advisor (I resisted!) and... happened to fall in love with film! I had also been resisting taking film seriously for a few years afterwards, focusing on marketing studies. Thankfully, one day I realized I love film more than anything in the world and it's a feeling not to be ignored. I got a Masters degree in photography and opened my lab. I couldn't be happier with my decisions.
What type of film do you use and what camera do you use it with? Why do you prefer these?
Lina: I use very simple cameras, I'm not a geek when it comes to equipment. The lens has to be decent and the machine should be functional. The rest isn't that important. I still use the cameras my mom got me for my first photo class: a 35mm Praktica and 6x6 Yashica-D, and I have zero desire of changing them. My large format cameras aren't super fancy either: a Wista for 8x10 and a Shen Hao for 4x5. Very basic lenses too. I secretly dream of a 4x5 Linhof Technika though!
As for film, I've tried tons of different ones, and my choices are Ilford Delta 100 and Tmax 400. I just love the grain shape of both, it's great quality film, it can take some exposure and processing errors. For color film Portra is my love, and not just for portraits.
What do you think film has that digital doesn't have?
Lina: It has the quantity limits, the time of wait for processing... and the surprise when you open the tank with processed images! Seriously, this extended time of waiting is the best in the world of instant gratification. It's better than meditation.
Do you print your own photographs or are you comfortable having them printed in a lab?
Lina: I would absolutely not ever trust anyone to print my photographs. I strongly believe the print is equally, if not more important than the negative, which is basically just untreated information. What you do with it, how you express this information, which mood you give to it - is all part of a creative artistic process which cannot be performed by someone else. If the image is just informational, then why shoot film, when digital is so much better suited for this job.
What motivates you to continue making photographs with film? Have you learned anything about yourself through film photography?
Lina: Film photography is the only thing that gave me tons of struggle and disappointments, and yet I kept doing it. I learned that love is a powerful feeling, not just between humans! I cannot live without shooting and processing and printing. Most people think it's a joke or exaggeration, but then they see me happily spending 7-12 hours in the darkroom (even on weekends) and are shocked. Lately I'm really trying to have a more balanced life though, but I'm struggling to find motivation NOT to print!
Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?
Lina: Ansel Adams, his works and his books are my hugest influence. As for 35mm work I sometimes lean towards William Klein style, it's very liberating after too much large format.
Do you see any value or merit shooting with film?
Lina: To me it's a whole beautiful world and magical process, but in the end it's a tool of self-expression like any other. I just happened to resonate with this particular one, but what I experience isn't universal. I know people going crazy over medium format digital Leica files, spending hours choosing the right paper and tone for inkjet prints. They have their own value, merits and magic of the process. And some people don't care about image-making at all :) Nothing is special until it's special for you.
What do you think your future is like with film photography?
Lina: I see my future very happy, very dark, with red lights and fixer smell!
Any dream film photography project in mind?
Lina: I want to make a large format 8x10 documentary project, something connected to Russia. I have been exploring some stories this summer, but I don't feel any of them is a truly good one, truly "mine". I keep looking for now. And I want to get a photo PhD too.
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?
Lina: YouTube is a great place for beginners, where you can see, not just read, what you have to be doing. It has answers to most questions. Also, before starting to waste film, a good step would be getting comfortable with manual mode on a digital camera. Then the transition won't be as stressful, and images will be of much better quality.
Got anything else to share with us?
Lina: Next week I am signing papers for my own lab space. We won't be renting anymore, so there is total freedom in making a perfect layout suited for my workflow. I cannot wait to start printing there honestly. My friend and I are working on designing and producing darkroom equipment, and I will be releasing a bunch of darkroom tutorials for beginners soon. The new space will allow hosting workshops too, so I hope to meet my followers and online friends in real life one day!
For some of us, it can be difficult to figure out what we really love. In the end, we won’t really know what we love to do unless we actually dive in it. Until we give it a green light, it’s really just speculation. So, we should take that step, roll up our sleeves, and just do it . We’ll never know until we try.
What you have shared here today are truly remarkable, Lina. They are genuinely inspiring. Thank you so much!
After reading this, go right straight to Lina's Instagram, YouTube page, and website, and don't turn back!
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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 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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