Interview with SHE ESCOBAR, PHILIPPINES
Updated: Nov 2, 2017
I’ve finally found a medium that resonates with me and is in line with the ways I do things when it comes to photography. It truly is a love affair that will last.
Super delighted to have you here, She. Please tell us something about yourself and how you got into film photography?
She: I am a nurse by training and have a license to practice it, but I felt it wasn’t for me, so I moved on to other pursuits. However, I can’t discount all the lessons and experiences from nursing that eventually crossed over to influence my photography. I have been taking pictures since 2006. After a very long hiatus, I decided to come back and bought a camera in 2015. The same year I started my foray into film photography with a Canon AE-1. It was a long, frustrating, but passionate affair that has continued up to this day. This year I was taught how to develop my own black and white film by photographer friends whom I respect and look up to. Film photography for me is intriguing and fulfilling. I find immense joy photographing with film cameras.
What type of film do you use and what camera do you use it with? Why do you prefer these?
She: I shoot both 35mm and medium format film. Black and white is my favourite but I do occasionally shoot in colour. I am always trying to see the tones and shadows of objects more than their colour. I simply love black and white images.
What do you think film has that digital doesn't have?
She: Aesthetics. It is also very deliberate - demanding a deeper and more purposeful effort on the photographer. For me, there is some sort of rumination that goes on when I’m shooting with film. Obviously this can also be done on digital cameras when you set everything on manual, however with film, more often than not, I am compelled to make the decisions even before pressing the shutter. Although you didn’t ask this, I would like to share my opinion about the ongoing and ubiquitous debate about which is better between digital and film. I find it silly and pointless. We all choose the medium for which we express ourselves. Would people ask an artist WHY he is using paint instead of charcoal? Or does the product seem ‘less beautiful’ because it was painted digitally than real water colour or paint? There are advantages and disadvantages of each medium we choose. There is no one-size-fits-all solution or approach to photography. I feel that we are all fortunate that we have all these options available to us.
Do you print your own photographs or are you comfortable having them printed in a lab?
She: I would love to learn how to print my photos in a darkroom. I feel this is the next step for me. There’s no darkroom locally. Yet. At the moment, I have a local lab print some of my photos for me, but I am not entirely pleased with them so I do not do it very often. I am pretty sure that when I learn how to print my own photos in the darkroom, I will be spending much of my time inside one. The possibility of holding a print on your hand makes me rather excited and I can’t wait to be taught how to print in the darkroom.
What motivates you to continue making photographs with film?
She: The most important thing I’ve learned when I started delving into film photography is that I have still so much to learn. I continue making photographs with film because I enjoy the whole process - from shooting to developing my own film. It is much more fulfilling for me. It has also taught me to slow down and be careful before taking photos. A limited number of exposures can change your mindset about what and how to photograph.
Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?
She: I admire many photographers, not only for their skills, but also their connection to their subjects. I am always drawn to people and their stories. My experiences with people and the places I visit are confined in the spaces of my notebooks. Sometimes I share them on Instagram, but not many people read them. Many photographers I admire have incredible photos that show not only their connection with and empathy for their subjects, but also their amazing abilities as photographers. I admire the work of Sebastiao Salgado, Mary Ellen Mark, W. Eugene Smith, Yousuf Karsh, Alfred Eisenstaedt, James Nachtwey, Don McCullin, Diane Arbus, Margaret Bourke-White, just to name a few.
Do you see any value or merit shooting with film?
She: I feel I have learned so much more from shooting film for two years than my entire time with my digital camera. The merits of shooting with film are varied and distinct to each individual. In film photography there are various techniques and creative options up to the time you take the photo to the time when the image is printed. This is what makes film intriguing for me. It truly is a wonderful thing to experience. It sounds cliche but I feel present and more appreciative of the ‘now’ when it comes to shooting with film. I also like the element of surprise involved. Nothing beats seeing what you’ve captured after developing your own film. Being a part of a supportive film community is also beneficial for me. Many of the things I learned have been taught to me by film photographers here and all over the world who generously take their time to encourage and teach me. Most people in the film community are very generous in sharing their knowledge. It is a wonderful way to learn.
What do you think your future is like with film photography?
She: I would like to believe that the future of film photography is promising, at least in my world. It will probably exist for many years to come if the resurgence of film is of any indication. I have faith I will continue to use it for many future projects and that I will continue to learn with it. I hope the future will bring back the old and lost films that so many photographers have used in the past. I would also gladly support new emulsions or chemistry that will be introduced to the film market in whatever way I can. I would love to learn about darkroom printing. I think I’ve finally found a medium that resonates with me and is in line with the ways I do things when it comes to photography. It truly is a love affair that will last.
Do you have any dream film photography project?
She: Inspiration for me comes in many things I witness and experience. However, one that inspires me the most and one that I desire to do is to document the lives of people in mental institution. I am drawn to stories of emotion - stories where the complexities of human emotion are pronounced and where the depths of our humanity are expressed. To give context, I was on duty in a mental institution in Manila during my nursing school days. I was not prepared for what I saw. That time and place is forever etched in my mind. That certain Pavillion I was assigned to house people who have committed crimes and are considered ‘dangerous’. I felt an overwhelming compassion for these people whose living areas are confined to a concrete floor and steel bars with no beds, no chairs, and the basic necessities seemingly absent in their lives. Moreover, most of them have been abandoned by their families. It made me question and reflect on my life a lot. There are really some things in life you can’t forget.
Would you like to offer a few words of wisdom to those who want to try film photography for the first time? What must they learn before venturing into this format?
She: Although I myself am still learning, I would suggest learning and understanding exposure first. Learning the connections between the elements affecting exposure and how manipulating each element can create a totally different image is essential. Knowing the basics can offer other creative options as well. I find it very helpful to list down my settings on a small notebook whenever I can. Once the film is developed, I refer to my notes and often learn a thing or two. I find this ‘reflective’ moment extremely helpful. Another habit of mine is to collate developing times I use and other details pertaining to film developing in another notebook. I’ve always been someone who writes and keeps notes all the time, so it makes sense when all my experiences in film photography are tucked away, written on paper.
Anything else you want to add?
She: I have several projects I am planning, which I know will take years for me to accomplish. I am taking these little steps to make these a reality. Almost all my photos focus on stories from the people I encounter so many of the projects I am planning are about people - about disappearing cultures and practices (and hopefully their preservation), social injustices, environmental issues, people with disabilities, etc. I am drawn to people who have no voice and are seemingly forgotten. I want them to use me as a vehicle for their various messages. I am forever grateful to the people I meet and photograph. I have learned so much about life from them. They make life more fulfilling.
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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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