Digital just failed to make me happy.
Hi, Marcel! Mind telling us about yourself and your story on how you got into film photography?
Marcel: Imagine a twelve year old quietly watching his father making prints in his darkroom, then imagine same boy browsing the grown-ups‘ stuff, records and photo magazines, in the cupboard at night. I actually do not remember any of that very vividly, but there was an orange safelight, the smell of fixer and there were portfolios of photographers like Mapplethorpe, Saudek and Rössler. I later got and lost a few instant and rangefinder cameras, but really only got into taking photos at around age 20. It was not an option to make it my profession though, so instead I became a regular “IT guy with camera", using film at first, then digital, then back to film around 2005.
What type of film do you use and what camera do you use it with? Why do you prefer these?
Marcel: Black and white negative all the way, for two reasons: it has imprinted on my aesthetic perception at a young age, and then I am just really bad at handling colour. And because I am all grown-up now and like to believe that photographic puberty is over, after trying whatever material was available and affordable, I settled to stick with a few high quality films and get to know them well: Tri-X, HP5, Silvermax. Same goes for the cameras: they have to be reliable and feel right, and that is it. By coincidence they have mostly been Canons. Isn't it brilliant how you can now get high end workhorse gear for a fraction of its retail price in the nineties?
What do you think film has that digital doesn't have?
Marcel: It would be dishonest to deny all the hubris and coolness and elitist exaggeration. Still, it goes deeper than that: film has substance, exists in the tangible world and - simply put - can only be destroyed by flood, fire or rampant mad people with scissors. Even though it is delicate, it feels much more solid to me than bits do, no matter how many backups I have. Most of all, it is able to age, and I can allow it to age, to sit on my shelf, get lost and found and turn up in boxes at flea markets. And in the end, well, digital just failed to make me happy.
Do you print your own photographs or are you comfortable having them printed in a lab?
Marcel: All my development, scanning and darkroom printing is done at home.
What motivates you to continue making photographs with film? Have you learned anything about yourself through film photography?
Marcel: No idea if film is ultimately responsible for that, but it is a relief to let go, to let things happen, observe, work with whatever light is there and stop making plans, because plans I make tend to fail. I used to worry about that, about conflicting traits like ambition, equanimity and sometimes plain ineptitude, but that has mostly passed now. I like to believe it makes me easy to work with. Still I aspire to do things well, and am not happy when things go wrong, it is just that I do not sacrifice everything for it. To make great prints needs a lifetime of experience I am not sure I will ever be able to invest, and developing film is often more tedious than exciting, but then again, most of the things we do are. Yet, the moment you take a fresh print out of the press and you frame or gift it - that just does not ever get old.
Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?
Marcel: Not consciously, sometimes, when looking at Westons or Mapplethorpes, something clicks in the back of my head and I go "oh, so those are supposed to be my influences… how predictable.“ Some people say I have a handwriting, and of course I want to believe them. I see a lot of pictures and a lot of them on a screen, and most of them are awfully boring, but when the tones are right and the picture is intriguing, it can stir me up real good. If you insist on namedropping, some of the artists who can do that for me are Michael Ackerman, Roger Ballen, Flor Garduño, Bettina Rheims, Hermann Försterling... but I do not really know art history. I generally love visual arts and watch unfamous photographers. If someone can make digital black and white look sincere and organic, I often prefer that to bad results on film. Look at the works of Viki Kollerova. Images like that should be made to last, on paper.
Do you see any value or merits shooting with film?
Marcel: It suits my preferences; I would not want to generalise.
What do you think your future is like with film photography?
Marcel: I will be doing it as long as I am able to, sometimes often, sometimes not so. That is not a conviction or statement, more like an observation. Of all the things I have tried and eventually gotten bored with, it is the most persistent. There will always be material to work with, no worries about that.
Do you have any dream film photography project?
Marcel: Not at all.
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?
Marcel: Beforehand? Nothing. Just try and do; do it badly, excellently or coincidentally okay, and find out what balance of craftsmanship and intuition works for you.
Photographers around the world are finding ways to keep themselves busy during this lockdown, and coming up with activities to make self-isolation a bit more interesting. What are your ways to keep busy while you have to stay at home?
Marcel: Making lith prints. Personally, the lockdowns affect me very little, so I can afford to welcome the slowdown.
Anything you want to add? Future exhibits, projects you're currently busy with? Anything...
Marcel: Stay safe, stay sane, and buy more art on paper please :)
Thank you, Marcel, for your inspiring thoughts. We hope to see more works from you after this lockdown is over. Stay safe out there.
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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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