Colton Allen is the Film Shooters Collective featured artist for the month of November, 2015. He was chosen for his dedication to the craft of photography, his wealth of knowledge, and his commitment to the collective. Read about Colton and his photography below.
Tell us about your background in photography
I've always had an interest in photography, even as a kid, but growing up where and how I did, photography was very much out of reach for me. I've always been fascinated by how a photograph can bring out emotions and show the world in ways that you might never see even if you were there.
When I was about 17, my Dad bought a Minolta AF SLR and he'd let me use it whenever we went on trips. I loved using it and taking photos with it. A few years later, I bought my first camera, a Minolta HTsi and two cheap kit zooms which I paid something like $400 for in 2000. After that I became more focused on my construction business and didn't really do any photography for years. In 2007 I took a trip with my wife to Japan, and brought along a Panasonic FZ30 that belonged to my company.
My friend who lives in Japan had the same camera, and he showed me lots about the camera and got me really excited about photography. Around the same time, I started undergoing testing for health issues that would eventually be diagnosed as ALS in June of 2008. In February of that year I first realized that I likely had ALS, and decided that if I was ever going to take photography seriously, it was now or never so I went out and bought a brand new Pentax K10D. I spent the next few years learning photography and mainly doing digital stuff. I never really went away from film though, and kept shooting the odd roll. My Pentax K10D lead me to the endless world of old manual focus lenses, and to the Pentax Forums which ha small but thriving film group. Over the years since, I have slowly gone from shooting mostly digital, to almost exclusively film.
I'm curious what brought you back around to shooting primarily film? You mentioned feeling like the time was now or never if you were going to take photography seriously and you found yourself back at film.
I think originally it was the cameras. There something so satisfying about using old manual focus cameras. There's a tactile feel about old manual focus, manual wind cameras that is lost in the new electronic, do everything, plastic covered cameras. After awhile I started realizing that digital photography was basically programming me to always see what was wrong with an image. I was obsessed with technical details like getting perfect focus, ad was constantly disappointed in my photos and my gear. I was always convincing myself that I needed this body or that lens and that would solve my problems. None of that is especially confined to digital photography, bu as I started shooting film more and more, I learned to see the good in photographs. You only have 10, 12, 24, 36 frames, and you're spending good money for each frame, and so you learn to make them count and also you learn that a good photo can be imperfect. Over time I fell in love with the look of film. The colors of Ektar or Velvia, the grittiness of 35mm, the smoothness of medium format, the character of each emulsion and different format. When I was younger and healthy, I was in love with traditional Japanese carpentry, and through that I came to love Japanese woodblock prints. I find that a print from film reminds me of a wood block print.
You've mentioned an appreciation for carpentry and wood blocks as well as the photographic print. Do you feel like your photography is more an art form or the pursuit of a craft?
Photography for me probably started out more as a pursuit of craft and has become more of an art form. At least I like to think of myself as an artist. I used to feel presumptuous calling myself an artist, or referring to my work as art. To me, being an artist isn't a title that I journeyed towards and then attained, but more of a state of mind during that journey. I see myself as an artist because it is my purpose to create art. Time only knows if I'll succeed.
The "Now or Never" feeling has never gone away, and that is what drives me to get out every day. My body is failing and things that I can do today, I may not be able to do tomorrow. Every time I go out may be different. If it wasn't for the Now or Never feeling, I may have given up in frustration years ago.
You mention that the things you may be able to do today you may not be able to do tomorrow. ALS definitely doesn't define you as a photographer but I'm curious how it affects or influences your work?
Not long after being diagnosed I decided that I wouldn't let ALS define the rest of my life, ad I've tried to keep the same outlook with photography. I've never wanted my photography to be about ALS, but at the same time ALS has drastically affected my photography. Over the past 7 years I have constantly been forced to adapt to my changing physical abilities. When I started with photography, I could walk around and easily operate any camera.
Nowadays it is a project just to make one photograph. I need someone else to assist me with nearly every step of the process, from loading and unloading film, to winding and focusing my camera. I am also very limited in where I can take photos from. Being confined to a wheelchair, I've learned to see and compose from a very different perspective. Most of my photos are taken from my lap while in my chair, and many are composed blind because I can't lift the camera to my eye. I've learned to compose photos with my eye, long before the camera is involved.
Switching gears slightly, whose work are you inspired by and how do you for your admiration of their work into your own work?
One of the things I notice most often in your photos is the perspective. When I see your photos I'm often reminded of Eggleston’s Tricycle. I'm curious if that's something you'd have gravitated towards naturally or if you feel you were forced to adapt as a matter of circumstance?
I first heard about Eggleston in 2011 and was very inspired by his work. I think the thing that inspired me most and affected my work the most was that for Eggleston, a photo could be found anywhere and from anything. I wasn't necessarily what you took a photo of, but how you took it and how you showed the world from your own perspective. Eggeston's use of color is also a big inspiration for me. As for the Tricycle and low perspective, I never was inspired by that photo to go out and shoot from down low, I came to that from necessity, and without choice. More lately I've been inspired by the work Stephen Shore. I find Eggleston to be somewhat chaotic, whereas I find Stephen Shore's more structured and peaceful. I was just recently introduced to the work of Joel Sternfeld, and I really like his photos. Over the years I've drawn a lot of inspiration from various photographers on Flickr. There are some very good photographers posting work on Flickr. It's a tricky thing being inspired by a photographer and not emulating their style. I know I have taken photos and actively thought of a certain photographer while taking that photo. I have found that a photographer might inspire me to look at things a certain way, and then I try to look at the same things in my own way.
Where can people find you online and or how can folks connect?
I guess my shameless plug would be, if you like my photographs, please consider purchasing an original, signed print.
Here's some links