Lilly Schwartz, a film-shooting street photographer, is off on an adventure of her own to Argentina. Read about her preparations and expectations, and join in the journey here!
My name is Lilly Schwartz and I’m a street and documentary photographer based in Europe. For my work I travel a lot within Europe, but this month things will be a little different: I will finally go to Argentina! It will be a very long journey, the longest I have undertaken yet, and I'm really excited, because I've been dreaming of going to Buenos Aires for 8 years since I started dancing tango. It will be my first transcontinental flight (16 hours in total!), my first time in the southern hemisphere and my first time in Latin America. I'm being serious when I say that I'm essentially European. Although I've travelled a lot within Europe and have lived in several countries, I've never actually left the continent until now!
The reason why I never went to Argentina before was actually my health. 8 years ago I didn’t only start dancing tango, but I also became very ill and since then it's been one thing after another. The first time I was seriously planning to go to Argentina was 5 years ago and I actually wanted to stay for half a year. However, my health was really bad at the time and it was way too risky. Then 2 years ago my husband and I planned another visit, but right at the time when it was supposed to happen I had to have surgery. Again my health made the trip impossible and this time things were so bad that I couldn't even dance tango anymore. Recovery was slow, but luckily I managed to find some solutions and I slowly started to rebuild my health. It's been a long struggle, but things have been much better lately thanks to finding another few pieces of my health puzzle. In fact, my health has improved so much that I could even take out my tango shoes again! And this time it's really happening, I'm finally going to see Buenos Aires!
During the worst times of my illness, right around the failed trip to Argentina 2 years ago, things got so bad that I could hardly walk anymore. I was just in too much pain after the surgery. In that time it was film photography that kept me sane. A street photographer who can’t walk is in a bit of a pickle, so I needed some way to slow down and not obsess over the fact that I couldn’t just go out to take new shots. In the end the darkroom helped me get through this difficult time. A fine art photographer in Berlin taught me how to develop my own film, how to make contact sheets and even how to make prints. I was entertained for weeks playing with just a single roll in the darkroom and later I developed a few more rolls that I had shot earlier that year.
The experience was so empowering that I shot a lot of film since then - more than 200 rolls - and I’ve been shooting film exclusively for half a year now. I can say that Film Photography has taught me a few invaluable lessons: It taught me how to slow down and get out of the rat race. I don’t shoot 300 pictures a day anymore, not even when I’m shooting a special event. I don’t have my camera with me always anymore and it’s ok for me to miss a shot because I ran out of film. Sometimes I don’t even take a camera with me at all if I have a lot of rolls left to develop after a trip or if I feel that I can’t really concentrate on taking pictures. It’s ok to be in the moment sometimes too!
This doesn’t mean that I don’t shoot a lot. Street photography is very random, and the easy shots are usually the boring ones. In street it’s always better to attempt an impossible shot and get lucky than to let it go and be left with nothing. On trips I actually shoot so much that I usually shoot the cheapest film I can find. With the right development methods and a good scanner even the cheapest films can shine.
Also on this trip I will shoot exclusively film. In my hand luggage: my Leica M6 with a Zeiss ZM C-Biogon 35mm f/2.8, my Rolleicord V, my new Fuji instax mini 8 and a Gossen Digisix. Also in my luggage are 20 sheets of instax mini and 50 rolls of colour film: 38 rolls of cheap 35mm Fuji drugstore film, 2 rolls of Kodak Farbwelt 400 for the flight and 10 rolls of Kodak Portra 400 in 120. I will use my Leica mostly for street, my Rollei probably for urban landscapes and I will also play around with my instax to see what I can do with it, since it’s really different from what I normally use.
It is the first time that I am planning to shoot an entire trip only on colour film and at box-speed. I used to shoot 100% black and white until recently, but after seeing the work of Joel Meyerowitz as dye transfer prints in his retrospective in Düsseldorf I seem to be in a bit of a colour frenzy and started developing my C41 film at home. Besides, for some reason Buenos Aires - unlike Paris or Berlin - has always been in colour in my imagination, if that makes any sense. Shooting box-speed has mainly technical reasons, because I’m not sure whether I'll manage to get my film hand-checked with at least 4-6 security checks on the way. I just can't take the risk of pushing the film and then having it ruined by an airport scanner.
26 days, 50 rolls of film, 3 cameras and 2 pairs of tango shoes in a city that I have been dying to see for so many years, just imagine it! The whole trip will be an adventure and I will have to stretch myself a little, learn to embrace colour and maybe use the viewfinder more often than I normally do. It will definitely be a challenge, but one that I am so glad to face!