Interview with NAOMI DAVISON, UNITED KINGDOM
Film photography is more fulfilling and is a chance to disconnect and escape from the stress of modern life.
I'm overjoyed to have you here, Naomi. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your journey into film photography.
Naomi: My name is Naomi Davison; I’m 22 and currently live in Brighton, a small city on the South coast of England. I study journalism but photography has always been something that captivates me.
Photography was often around me growing up, my Granddad in particular was an avid photographer and both my parents have always had cameras. I had a cheap film camera when I was very young and later saved for a compact digital, but I didn’t think much about the photos I took, it was just something that was fun. When I first got an iPhone I would take photos all the time: street scenes, the sea, the sky, interesting buildings and the people around me. The fact that it was always in my pocket made it so easy to capture images whenever I wanted. However the quality was of course never great and I found the lack of manual control limiting. I would struggle to capture shots exactly how I envisaged them and I found that incredibly frustrating.
About 3 years ago I came across a cheap but hefty old Pentax SLR in a camera shop (I don’t recall the model.) It produced fantastic shots but wasn’t very portable so I began buying disposable film cameras. Disposables are great and very convenient; I love how simple they make it to achieve decent film shots. After a while though I found them to be somewhat limiting and unpredictable. So I began obsessively researching 35mm SLRs and got myself a Canon AE-1 Programme. This camera opened so many new doors; with it I was able to experiment with manual settings, different lenses, different ISOs etc. From then on film photography transpired into something more serious than just an occasional hobby for me.
What type of film do you use and what camera do you use it with? Why do you prefer these?
Naomi: I’m not hugely fussy with films, I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t matter too much what film or camera you use it’s more about the shot itself and the eye of the photographer. That said, my film of choice is probably the Lomography 400, it always produces such intense colours and being a 400 ISO is incredibly versatile.
In terms of camera I experiment a lot with different models but I always go back to my Canon AE-1 Programme. I would recommend it to anyone, professional or total beginner; it’s simple and cheap but produces consistently amazing shots.
I also have a Minolta Hi-Matic AF-2 which is an 80s 35mm point and shoot. I bought it initially for holidays and festivals but it produces some really high quality shots so I use it a lot. It’s small, durable and has a flash so perfect when you’re out and about or for night-time.
My most recent purchase and current favourite is a Yashica Electro 35 CC. I think it’s slowly converting me to rangefinders over SLRs. It’s so portable and has a fantastic 35mm f1.8 lens, great for low light.
What do you think film has that digital doesn't have?
Naomi: Visually film has such a depth to it, which I don’t think digital will ever be able to recreate. It’s like the vinyl vs. cd/mp3 argument I guess. The depth and texture of analogue formats will never be mimicked by digital. I love the fact that film isn’t always flawless too, the little specs of dust or light bleeds all add something.
In professional digital photography I feel there’s this expectation of perfection, the need to spend hours tweaking every photo; whereas with film you construct the shot and choose the settings but once you get it developed that’s the finished product. I love that expectation and uncertainty, the thrill of looking through a freshly developed film.
In short with film I think you have to depend a lot more on your eye, you can’t afford to waste the shot, as it’s literally money, so it forces you to put a lot more thought into it. You don’t necessarily need a huge amount of technical knowledge but you do need to be more aware of what the camera does than perhaps with a digital. Anyone can take a decent iPhone picture but a decent film shot requires a lot more thought and patience.
Do you print your own photographs or are you comfortable having them printed in a lab?
Naomi: I’ve actually never developed my own, I don’t currently have the means to do so unfortunately, but it is something I want to get into. I’m a student at the moment and they are slowly building a dark room at my uni, so I will be in there as soon as it opens!
What motivates you to continue making photographs with film?
Naomi: Often I will take photos of fairly mundane scenes, buildings, streets or objects that you would otherwise overlook. New places inspire me too, whenever I go on holiday my favourite times are those spent exploring. My photography is all about documentary; I love to think of a photo as capturing a fleeting moment.
I really enjoy seeing other people’s work too whether it’s on Instagram, at an exhibition or something a friend has taken. I think it is important to look at the work of other photographers, or if possible to collaborate. It’s inspiring to see what other people take pictures of or how they create their shots.
I love experimenting with different cameras too. When I was back at my parent’s recently we found an old Rolleicord 120mm medium format (a cheaper Rolleiflex) that belonged to my Great Uncle. It was made in the 30s but is built like a tank! It is so different to a 35mm camera, but I love that it is, it forces you to change how you would normal approach a composition.
Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?
Naomi: I did a photography module at uni and through it I was introduced to Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus, they were both pioneers in a way. I love how Goldin portrayed the people around her and the dark, undercurrents of New York sub culture.
My dad recently introduced me to the street photography of Vivian Maier and Henri Cartier Bresson. They both captured life in a brilliant natural way. As do Alec Soth and Martin Parr.
What all these photographers have in common is their ability to portray an essence of someone’s personality or capture the atmosphere of a place. I think this is what makes a truly great photographer.
Do you see any value or merit shooting with film?
Naomi: As I said in question 3, I think it will always be around as it offers something that digital will never match. It’s interesting actually that a lot of younger people are suddenly getting into film photography at a time where everyone has phones with cameras. I think that alone says something very important. We may feed into a culture of instant gratification and perfectionism but more and more people are searching for something less instantaneous. Film is more fulfilling and is a chance to disconnect and escape from the stress of modern life.
What do you think your future is like with film photography?
Naomi: Hard to say, I do it solely for enjoyment at the moment and I would never want to loose that sense of thrill. Though I would like to collaborate with some more people and maybe work on some bigger projects or commissions. It would be lovely to see my photos printed or in an exhibition.
Any dream film photography project in mind?
Naomi: I think I’d just love to travel a lot more and take endless rolls of film. There’s a lot of places that I’m drawn to photographically - Japanese cities, India, desolate parts of America, Mexico.
I also want to start doing more street photography; a picture can portray so much. I really admire photographers like Vivian Mayer that truly capture a sense of someone’s personality in a photo.
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?
Naomi: I would say get yourself a 35mm point and shoot to begin with, as you don’t have to worry about aperture, shutter speed or focus etc., so you can just concentrate on composition. Also just always have a camera with you, even if it’s just a disposable - you never know when you might be inspired.
Once you fell comfortable with that, then I would highly recommend learning the basics of metering, you can truly experiment with manual settings, they open a lot of doors. But ultimately at first be prepared to be disappointed, shots will not always turn out how you expect them to, it’s all trial and error.
Most of us can’t resist some of modern life's fringe benefits—mobile phones, emails, social media. Keeping up with these can be extremely exhausting. And, that's where film photography comes in. Naomi offers this real-life exercise and stress-reliever that can pull us back and re-connect with ourselves and enhance our creativity.
Naomi constantly hunt for photographers, so if you live in in the UK, particularly in Brighton or London please get in touch with her. She also co-run a magazine called King Mob. They release a physical issue every 3 months and feature all sorts of creatives. If you happen to have an interesting photo series to showcase, send them your work here, email@example.com.
You can also catch Naomi and her work on Instagram.
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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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