Updated: Oct 7, 2017
Things that will thrill and tickle your heart with a feeling partly sensuous and partly spiritual — "The smell of a fresh roll of film, the beautiful engineering of old film cameras, the sound of shutter curtains..." That's film photography.
Hey, Sasha! Before we start, can you tell us something about yourself and your photography?
Sasha: My name’s Sasha and I’m a 45-year-old photographer from Adelaide, South Australia. A friend of mine gave me a Canon FTb QL about 25 years ago as I'd expressed an interest in photography. I shot for about a year before I realised the lens was stuffed (it was stuck wide open at f/1.8). I considered buying a new SLR but spent my money on guitars and amps instead and joined a band with dreams of becoming a rock star. We had some moderate local success but we called it a day in 2003 when I moved to Melbourne after my partner got an agent there (she’s an actor, now a teacher). The rest of the band also ended up moving to other states and overseas but we still try and arrange a Christmas gig every year in Adelaide if we’re all in town. It’s happened once but needs to happen more often.
Six months after moving, my partner and I found ourselves back in Adelaide expecting our first child. Whilst in Melbourne I noodled around with a crappy Sony digital point & shoot camera we had and rediscovered my love of photography. It neatly filled the creative void I had when I stopped playing music. The eventual birth of our son prompted me to buy my first DSLR, especially after getting inspired by photographers on Flickr.
I still had my old Canon FTb, though, and liked the look of film prints more than what I was getting with my digital kit. No matter what I did in Photoshop, I couldn't accurately replicate the 'feel' of a photo shot on film. Further Flickr exploration of film photographers inspired me to shoot more film. And now, 10 years after buying my first DSLR, I pretty much only shoot with film (except for weddings and music festivals). Even everyday family stuff is shot purely on film.
Everything about it is so much more fulfilling than shooting digital: the smell of a fresh roll of film just popped out of its cannister, the beautiful engineering of old film cameras, the sound of shutter curtains, the feel of winding on to the next shot, the excitement of seeing your negatives a day or two after you've shot and realising you've nailed (or totally screwed up) the exposures without reviewing every shot on a small screen on the back of your camera, the abundance of once pro-level cameras at prices cheaper than a mediocre digital p&s, and, most importantly, it's forced me to become a better photographer by slowing me down and making me think about what I'm shooting.
What type of film do you use and what camera do you use it with? Why do you prefer these?
Sasha: I use a wide variety of films, most of it expired stuff I scrounge from eBay, camera markets, or camera stores, and have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time on a few occasions to buy out discontinued film stock from department stores and supermarkets. I’m still pretty happy with the 15-odd 3 packs of Kodak Gold 400 I bought for $2.71 each. Yes, $2.71 for a pack of three! When funds permit, I try to stock up on Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400. They’re easily my two favourite film stocks. Whilst I love shooting medium and large format, I stick to 35mm these days mainly due to owning a Pakon scanner. It’s made the process of digitising my negatives so easy. It’s just a shame it only does 35mm film.
As far as cameras, it depends. I’m a massive hoarder and have boxes and cupboards full of old cameras picked up in thrift shops, eBay, or gifted to me from friends or work colleagues, and half of which I’ve yet to use. Currently I have two go-to cameras that I just love using: a Nikon F5 and a Nikon F4s, and I shoot with them about 95% of the time. They’re reliable, look gorgeous, built like bricks, and aren’t too dissimilar from a modern digital SLR as far as functions are concerned. I’ve also got a Nikon FM2 which is gorgeous and I’d use it more but for the fact that I use my left eye to look through the viewfinder. The FM2’s winder sticks out behind the camera and tends to poke me in the right eye if I’m not paying enough attention. Other than them, in no particular order, I also shoot with a Yashica-Mat TLR, a Graflex Graphic View large format camera, and an awesome little Canon A-1.
What do you think film has that digital doesn't have?
Sasha: Extra costs. :P
But seriously, everything about film is so much more fulfilling than shooting digital: the smell of a fresh roll of film just popped out of its cannister, the beautiful engineering of old film cameras, the sound of shutter curtains, the feel of winding on to the next shot, the excitement of seeing your negatives a day or two after you've shot and realising you've nailed (or totally screwed up) the exposures without reviewing every shot on a small screen on the back of your camera, the abundance of once pro-level cameras at prices cheaper than a mediocre digital point & shoot, and, most importantly, it's forced me to become a better photographer by slowing me down and making me think about what I'm shooting. Because it can cost me anything up to $5 every time I click that shutter.
Do you print your own photographs or are you comfortable having them printed in a lab?
Sasha: Decent printers can cost well over $1000, and if I had that money to spend on photographic equipment, I’d probably put it towards another camera or lens instead. Besides which, it’s rare that I actually want prints unless I’m wanting to update the look book I take to meetings with potential wedding clients. When I do want prints, though, I’m fine with getting them printed in a lab. There’s one here in Adelaide I’ve been going to for a number of years and I’m really happy with them (Black & White Photographics in Stepney).
What motivates you to continue making photographs with film?
Sasha: For all the reasons listed above. Plus it makes me think about what I’m doing. It slows me down. It forces me to take framing into consideration because it’s much harder to crop a scanned 35mm negative and remain with a large enough file size to print than it is to crop an image taken with a 36 megapixel digital camera. Most of all, it forces me to let go of my insecurities and place complete trust in the process and all I’ve learned about light. You can’t look at the back of a film camera after a shot and see if you got what you were after. I still take a lot of crappy shots, but when you get your negatives back from the lab and you see how many shots you nailed, it’s actually far more rewarding than any hero shot when I shoot digital.
Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?
Sasha: Yes and no. There’s a number of photographers whose work is stunningly inspiring; people such as Jan Scholz, Hannes Caspar, Sandy Phimester, and Ryan Muirhead, for example (all of whom you should look up and follow on Instagram), and I definitely tried to emulate them to some extent when I started shooting models. But the more I shot, the more I began waiting for a moment to happen and trusting my own vision rather than forcing something that’s not there.
Do you see any value shooting with film?
Sasha: Definitely the slowing down part. It’s remarkable how the more you think about what you’re doing the fewer crappy shots you get.
What do you think is the future of film photography?
Sasha: It's always disheartening when you see the big two film companies discontinue film stocks - especially ones I love - so the pessimist in me sees an eventual end to film photography in its current state. The film production business definitely isn't as viable as it was before the advent of digital cameras, and in this age of profit before people, I honestly can't see film ever reclaiming its glory days. Having said that, I definitely see a future full of niche markets catering to those of us still yearning to keep film alive (small back yard operators such as the Wright brothers with Cinestill, and the guys behind New55, for example), and every now and then you get some amazing news such as Kodak bringing back Ektachrome. There also seems to be an increasing number of us photographers opting for film over digital. Which gives me a glimmer of hope.
What’s your dream photography project?
Sasha: What I’d give to have complete All Areas Access to a band I love on an international tour. So if you’re reading this, Radiohead, Pixies, Midnight Oil, PJ Harvey, Broken Social Scene, Sigur Ros, or the Flaming Lips, hook me up!
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?
Sasha: Presumably those who’ll be reading this have an interest in photography and will have already shot with a digital camera. If you’ve never used film before, go out and buy yourself a cheap, working SLR with a 50mm lens. You can easily find an old Minolta or Pentax or Zenit or numerous other brands for under $100 on eBay. Then go and buy a fresh roll of film. Download a light meter app for your smart phone. Spend 5 minutes on YouTube watching a basic tutorial on how to use an SLR camera. Go out and shoot that roll. Get it developed and scanned (or printed). I guarantee you’ll look at that first roll of film with delight.
It's so nice of you to drop by here and share valuable insights, Sasha.
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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 everyone 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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