Tell us how your journey with photography began
The best answer to this question would probably be "my father". And, if I follow that story it would simply lead to "my father's father and his". Over the past couple years I've had the good fortune to scan and post-process a huge number of slides and a few negatives all taken by these three men. Boxes upon boxes of Kodachrome shot by my grandfather and some Ektachrome shot by my dad, their respective favorites. But my journey began on the Washington state beaches where we'd go nearly every summer and where my father had gone and his, for many years before I was anything resembling an idea. This was shot by my dad not quite 10 years before I was born at Shi Shi beach.
I always remember my dad with his Nikkormat, though I usually wasn't allowed to mess around with it, until eventually I was. I remember a trip up Lake Chelan by boat when I was around 11 and by this time he'd let me start using the Nikon occasionally, even unsupervised. He always told me to keep the lenscap on when I wasn't using it and to keep it in my pocket when I was. I didn't listen that time, a common theme, and I remember framing up a shot from the aft of the boat, watching the lake valley turn, big rows of pine and fur coming down to meet the crystal lake and intersecting with our trail of foam and wake behind the boat and .... PLOP! Into Lake Chelan went the lenscap, gone in an terrible instant into the foam and out of site. I don't know if I even took the picture because I was mortified, staring for several minutes at the spot in the lake where it had gone in and imagining whether I could dive that deep. I went back through the cabins to my dad at the front of the little ship, got a talking to and he grudgingly handed me his spare lenscap to put on. Back I went to try my masterpiece again and this time I left the lenscap on while I was looking at the scene. I steadied the camera on the rail at the aft again and went to remove the lenscap and ... PLOP. In went the spare. I don't really remember what happened after that except that it was unpleasant.
I remember that I had to stick to the camera he'd given me a year or two before that for quite a while following that incident on Chelan. I don't even remember what kind of camera it was or what type film, though I'm fairly certain it was not 35mm, probably a cheap 110 film camera. I have some prints from a few Cub Scout hikes and the like, all badly faded and poorly framed, but awesome all the same. I have one here of my old middle-school friend, Robert, that I came across in one of the scanning projects recently. Photography prodigy I was not.
Could you talk about how your passion has grown and what led you to where you are today with photography?
I've always leaned toward a sort of economy of effort, maybe not a path of least resistance but certainly trying to do more with less. Digital photography was supposed to do that, and it does to an extent but there are trade-offs that many have spoken about before: digital storage, upgrades, batteries, computing power, long-term digital storage and format choices, on and on. Film photography seems more complicated but I'd argue that from start to finish it's simpler in most every way, and that is in many ways what led me back to it. That and of course the easy look of it, which I'd been trying to accomplish, mostly unbeknownst to me, for many years.
That Nikkormat camera I mentioned, my father gave it to me as a graduation present from high school, along with several pieces of fantastic Nikkor glass - his whole kit and caboodle. I was beside myself at the time, but being a college student I shot very little after receiving it. I went into a conservatory theater arts program at Cornish College in Seattle and essentially all of my creative juices were sucked into that work for four years and well beyond, consuming every waking moment; we were eating, breathing and sleeping Theater. I really have no memory of ever using that camera during those years, though just a few months ago I came across some old B&W negatives that had been tucked away, forgotten in a scrapbook of old mementos. I scanned these and was blown away; they were very good, and I say that objectively because I truly don't remember taking any of them whatsoever and certainly hadn't seen them before. It was interesting to see a similar aesthetic in my shots back then, more than a decade before I truly dove into photography years later.
Sometime in 1999, two years after I'd graduated college, I pulled the Nikkormat out of the closet and began playing with long exposures, becoming very excited about photography again, but for only a short period of time."Short" because not a year later, perhaps just six months, that entire camera bag, the whole kit was stolen from my car parked outside a local theater I was rehearsing in at the time. I was gutted, because I knew I'd never afford to replace any of it soon, and because the kit my dad used to take some gorgeous images spanning before I was born until I was in high school, was gone.
Following that day I shot only sporadically with the odd point-and-shoot here and there, but mostly I just didn't shoot; I was sore about that loss for long time. But eventually I bought a Fuji digicam that was quite good for what it was (there are a number of shots taken with it that I still love) and then, finally, about seven years later I picked up a Pentax DSLR. I discovered the brilliant and ridiculously inexpensive Pentax K-mount legacy glass and from there the ball really started rolling. For me, like many I'm sure, photography really began with a fast 50mm lens. I picked up one, then a couple more in that year and my photography transformed as I began to understand what it was to "see" in different focal lengths. To this day I appreciate and feel loyally connected to Pentax because of how much their dedication to the K-mount influenced my journey. It is easy to use all the older PK glass on any Pentax SLR, film or digital; any lens they've made since the creation of that mount finds a home on any of their cameras. Add one tiny adapter and the possibilities expand to include all the old Takumar and other screw-mounts. As most photogs will tell you "it's all about the glass". A single fast lens led me down the path of "economy" in my photography; always having a simple and completely capable camera with me made all the difference and had a huge impact on my photos. Of course, I eventually acquired a K1000, because what else do you pick up when you've been shooting Pentax for several years and want to try film again? An avalanche of film photography re-exploration followed, delayed by about two years during which I traveled around the globe, carrying along only a tiny Ricoh point-and-shoot digital along with a Pentax K7 (also digital) with just one lens: a manual 50mm f/1.4. Upon returning I immediately shot several rolls of the film with the K1000, and a year after that I was hardly touching my digital cameras except for occasional paid client-work.
It was "economy" that brought me to back to film, the simplicity of it all, and I actually think that travelling the world with just a those two bits of gear I mentioned played a huge role in how I saw photography and how I returned to film. Wow, that was long-winded. How has my passion grown? I think the short answer is that I'm not sure I was ever genuinely passionate about photography until reuniting with film after all. There was a certain "eureka" moment several years ago, the moment I realized that throughout my digital photography work for all the years prior, every image I processed tediously, they were all just trying to achieve that "film look", and I didn't even realize it was happening.
Any advice for those looking to start shooting film?
Get yourself a simple, easy to load, no bells-n-whistles film camera. It doesn’t particularly matter what kind, provided when you pick it up you are at least slightly fascinated by it. My suggestion would be any sort of older, mechanical SLR or rangefinder (there’s only a bazillion) and a reasonably fast (f/2.0 or better) 35mm or 50mm lens and learn all you can about that camera and that lens. My favorite and most recommended personally would be the Pentax MX, but there scores of wonderful shooters up to the task. Ask folks here at the FSC. Check out Youtube and the library. Learn about where your camera came from and how it works, then load a roll of a film and play.
It’s funny, because I believe that digital cameras are brilliant for learning basic beginning photography, but only if you can get the learner to turn off all those bells and whistles and understand what it is a camera does and how it does it. A digital camera can give instant feedback, helping anyone to grasp ideas of aperture, shutter speeds and ISO, and from there you can move into film and not waste money and time shooting blacked out or blown out frames! But then again, all that really isn’t necessary; I learned on a cheap Nikkormat that was my dad’s, with many feet of hand-rolled Tri-X at my high school. Start wherever you like, if it excites you. If you’re you already a digital shooter, come on over and try some film – you can pick up what was once an entire pro film kit on the used market for the equivalent price of a Sony mirrorless, body-only. What’s not to love? It’s bananas! Finally, don’t stop – keep shooting rolls of film even when the first 10 (or 20) you shoot seem like garbage. Ask questions, learn how each film reacts and what its good at. Keep going, and eventually you probably won’t want to stop. It’s also entirely possible that you may even change your mind abou those first rolls you thought were awful. Film has a way of expanding your photographic eye.