Film Photographer Interview | Michael Behlen
At the beginning of this year I started to think about our annual book project. The one we completed last year was an experience that brought together some of my favorite film photographers and culminated in a printed book that exceeded my expectations by a long shot. Working with a talented crew was a big part of the payoff, but holding that book, with everyone's work was really magic.
In thinking about the project this year I knew I wanted to create an extension of last year's project. There were a lot of hurdles with the initial project and I felt like it deserved a second volume to really establish the work we had put forth the prior year. During the planning I started to really take notice of the work some of our instant photographers were producing and it struck a chord. I consider myself the straightest of photographers, but something about the character of instant photography really had me hooked.
Fast forward and we're currently underway with two books including one dedicated to instant photography. And not one, but two instant cameras have found their way into my home as well. In all of the research I had done in preparation for the books I started to look at a lot more instant photography. One of our members in particular drew my interest because he is in the midst of an undertaking that I have a great amount of respect for: a new magazine.
Cameron: Tell me first how long have you been involved with photography?
Michael: Wow, seven years. I started doing wedding stuff, and portrait stuff; hated it. Ya know, I work a 9-5 like most people so you don't want to deal with people on the weekend.
Cameron: What's your 9-5 if you don't mind me asking?
Michael: I work at a bank actually.
Cameron: So, describe your photography briefly.
Michael: I would say it's just a documentation of my life really. I don't have any projects or themes. I just kinda go with it. I don't have something awesomely philosophical I could tell you.
Cameron: So do you think it operates as kind of a journal?
Michael: Yeah, yeah, definitely; absolutely. Really I'm just drawn to nature ya know. I do a lot of waterscapes and then portraits of people too. I see alot of bands as well and it's just a way to document my days.
Cameron: Why instant film?
Michael: It's just fun. It's just fun! I don't really get the same enjoyment with digital, or really with film. That instant gratification is just like a drug for me. It can never eject fast enough.
Cameron: What's your earliest memory of instant photography?
Michael: Christmas. When I was 8 or 9. SO every year we'd try to fit like 15 people into the frame and they just turned out terrible.
One of the first things I noticed on Michael's site is this awesome boxed set. It's pretty impressive. Take a look.
Cameron: Do you feel like that childhood experience kind of prepared you for using instant or being drawn to instant photography?
Michael: Ya know, I was always groomed for business. Being an artist was kind of discouraged. But in a weird sense having the photographs now, and looking back on them, because I have a little one now. It's a lot more historical for my family. You forget what people look like, and you know that's the reason I take photographs.
Cameron: So, you mentioned you have a child now, and kids now don't know anything about photography. You say photography and they start asking for your iPhone. And so when your child sees an instant photo is there a reaction to that?
Michael: You know, he's always taking pictures of me, and he has his own little Jake the Pirate camera, and I'll let him run around and take weird pictures and waste a thing of film so he feels involved. It's an expensive toy. And he seems to enjoy it; he just wants to run around and be like Dad and if that's the case that's cool too.
Cameron: What's been your biggest success so far as a photographer?
Michael: Just my personal work. I recently sold out of my book that I made last year. I made 50 of them, signed them, and sent them off. I was surprised, I didn't think I'd sell any of them. That was my first adventure into anything physical.
Cameron: I think the consumption of photography abroad is so much different than it is in America. I feel confident that people everywhere but in America still buy tangible items. They buy photography. Now in America we think we should be able to get it on the Internet, and it should be free.
Michael: If an EMP goes off I'm probably the only one with photos left.
Cameron: So you're prepping is what you're telling me?
Michael: (Laughs) I wouldn't go that far.
Cameron: What do you think your future holds with regards to your photography?
Michael: I just don't think it's going to go anywhere. I think that's kind of reassuring In a way. Because you know I'm working at the bank and I know I'm not gonna pay my bills doing film stuff. So do I really want to be stressed out or anxious about where this is going? For me it kind of devolved in that way where I really like it if people want to see my work they want to buy it even that would be really awesome. But I'm not gonna stop doing if you stop looking.
Cameron: Was there a time where you made a transition from wanting to do photography full-time to being okay with it like it is?
MIchael: There was a period of grieving between going from one to the other. For two years I actually took a break. I didn't feel like shooting people I didn't want to drive two hours. What happened: my buddy Arthur Bueno who lives in New York, he's a good friend of mine, he basically said why don't you get out and do a project. Stop taking singular photos and maybe it will change how you feel about it maybe and maybe you will get back into it. And that's really what my first book was. My first project that ever put together. So I think I was really my rebirthing if you will.
Cameron: Is there a film you wish you had tried but haven't?
Michael: You know I've only shot probably 10 rolls of 35mm in my life. Crazy because I have probably spent thousand dollars on instant film. You know I tried Portra and I loved it but it's really about that instant gratification I guess.
Cameron: What do you think photography will be like in 20 years?
Michael: I don't think it's going to exist the way we know it. It's kind of like the Unabomber manifesto you know? It's going so fast were not even going recognize it.
Cameron: What do you think about the future of film?
Michael: You know I think we will have a resurgence but I think it'll be short-lived. I don't think that's where the money is. And I think corporations answer to stockholders and I don't think they want to say how they want to make film because people love it.
Cameron: You know, the good news is you're honest about that.
Cameron: Advice for aspiring photographers?
Michael: Yeah, you know I started out doing video and I would just tell people: composition. Learn the basics and then break the rules that's the only two things. And screw with everyone else says.
Cameron: Alright so what's missing from your camera bag?
Michael: I don't know like $20,000 (Laughs)
Cameron: Tell me about Pryme Magazine.
Michael: We were just drinking beer in the backyard and someone said "how come there's not a magazine for that?" We were drunk you know, so were screaming out "let's do it, let's do it!" Then one of my buddies that started doing wedding photography years ago was like "no, seriously, let's do it." It wasn't anything where I was like we made a business plan and started planning out A,B,C. We saw an interview with the guy behind Tesla and he said if somebody gives you an opportunity than just do it and figure it out later so we just started contacting people.
Cameron: So you're going to be doing print copies?
Michael: Yeah we're going to be doing them through MagCloud which is where I did my first book through. They'll be available through some local shops and online.
Cameron: How can people get involved with Pryme Magazine?
Michael: Just email me. Just say "hey, Michael, I want to help." I'll let you do anything you want to do. I just love it, I just love it so much I don't really want to be my thing.
Cameron: Do you feel there's a difference between people working in instant and other photographers?
Michael: Yeah, yeah, I would've never taken the pictures I've taken with another camera. I think Polaroiders, if that's even a word, are more gung ho. You know I have my $30 thrift store camera and you have your $6000 camera and it's hard to tell if you're a professional or just a hobbyist with a lot of money. With instant you know it's a crapshoot no matter what. So you might as well enjoy it.