Interview with ROXANA STEFAN, ROMANIA
Updated: Oct 7, 2017
Film is timeless, unique, it's classic and ultimately, it's a state of mind.
Roxana, mind telling us about yourself and your story on how you got into film photography?
Roxana: I think I identify first as a psychologist and then, in my spare time, a photographer (although I enjoy more doing photography). Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated with my grandpa's Zenit SLR. It was a very simple 35mm film camera, my grandpa had an exposure chart (the Sunny 16 rule) which he always kept in the camera's leather case, so in high-school I decided to buy my very first film and start shooting. That was about 17 years ago, when one could find film and labs everywhere, but not so much information on photography, such as books explaining technical aspects. The internet wasn't a thing yet, so all the learning was based on trial and error. My first roll was completely blank and the next couple of rolls were barely usable. Afterwards, I got better at seeing the light, where it came from, how it bounced and how to estimate the correct exposure on my own, without using a lightmeter (I had no idea what that was anyway). After high-school, my priority was studying and preparing for a career as a psychologist, so photography became an on and off thing. About a year ago, I came across my old, trusty Zenit (currently not functioning), which caught the eye of my husband. He encouraged me to start shooting again, so I bought a Nikon FE, which is my "go-to" camera at the moment.
What type of film do you use and what camera do you use it with? Why do you prefer these?
Roxana: I mostly shoot black and white 35mm film, that's my comfort zone. I find that black and white film is more forgiving and, overall, the images are more striking. I'm not against colour, I like it very much, it's just that for me, it's a distraction from the message that a photograph sends. As to film brands, the most common films that are available here are Fomapan and Ilford. The local lab I go to sells mostly Foma, so that's what I use. At the moment, the Zenit - my first love - is broken, after 34 years of flawless functioning, so I shoot with a Nikon FE. I've had several digital Nikon cameras, with that being the reason behind my choice of film camera. Recently, I bought a Zorki-4 which I absolutely love. It's completely manual, no electronics and no batteries whatsoever, which makes it more reliable in the long run (for me, at least). I'm currently transitioning to Zorki. It gets a bit of getting used to, I never owned a rangefinder before.
What do you think film has that digital doesn't have?
Roxana: Briefly, for me the answer to this question is: life! I love the feeling it gives, the overall aspect of film, I feel it's more personal and the images are more lively. Film photos are easily recognisable because of that. I like the fact that I can't immediately see what I shoot, that I don't always know what I'm going to get and, overall, that it's way easier to shoot than digital. For me, all those settings on a digital SLR make the process of shooting less enjoyable and it distracts my attention from what I'm supposed to photograph. Besides, shooting film prevents one from being "trigger-happy". It slows you down and makes you think twice before pressing the shutter button: is this image really worth a shot? Does it say something? Is it composed well enough? As to equipment, SLRs and rangefinders are smaller than a modern-day DSLR, more discreet of a presence for street photography, they're easier to transport and, most of all, you get a full-frame camera for way less money than a modern, full-frame DSLR. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. There is no right or wrong, it's what works for each photographer.
Do you print your own photographs or are you comfortable having them printed in a lab?
Roxana: For now, I haven't started to develop and print my photos at home, although it's in my plans for the future. I have my films processed and printed at a trustworthy local lab, near my workplace. The guy who is in charge really knows what he's doing, so I never worry that he'll make mistakes.
What motivates you to continue making photographs with film?
Roxana: For me, it's a way of relieving the stress of living in a big city and the pressures at my workplace. It's relaxing, I try to improve as a photographer with each shot and make each one of them count. It's also important to have someone who believes in you and what you do. For me, that someone is my husband. Without his support, I probably would have given up entirely on photography.
Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?
Roxana: At the moment, I try to define my own style as a photographer and not emulate other photographers' work. I don't know if that's good or bad, it's just my way of doing things, even if it might be the longer way. If I were to choose off the top of my head, I’d say that I'm a great admirer of Robert Doisneau and I also like very much Jeanloup Sieff.
Do you see any value shooting with film?
Roxana: Film is timeless, unique, it's classic and ultimately, it's a state of mind.
What do you think is the future of film photography?
Roxana: Lately I noticed that film is making a comeback and is getting popular among young photographers, which is a good thing. I don't think film is going to die, it has a certain appeal and mystery to it. Even if the internet is full of tutorials on how to make digital photos look like film, it’s still a very powerful means of creating visual art.
What’s your dream photography project?
Roxana: My dream photography project is expressing through photography people's most intimate feelings, their dreams, their aspirations, their fears. People are fascinating and discovering their inner universe is truly beautiful.
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?
Roxana: Looking back at how I started out, I think that more than just information (from books, internet and so on), it would be useful to have someone to briefly explain a few basic notions such as ISO, exposure and aperture. After that, just grab the camera and start shooting. There is no better way to learn than going out there and practicing. If you follow a few steps, the results are guaranteed. Besides, I think that shooting film turns anyone into a better photographer and helps you better understand the basic notions of photography.
Certainly, it's an experience which can only enrich a photographer and it's worth trying it out, even if it's only for a while.
Essential skills in film photography are expected to emerge naturally, they’re rarely taught nowadays. Roxana, the encouragement and sound insights you have provided will help us gain a better understanding of how film photography works.
Cheers and excellent set of photographs! We can't wait to see more of your work.
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