I haven’t used a 35mm film camera for about 15 years and what a mistake that was. Through my teens and then twenties it was my Nikon FM2 with a 50mm 1.4 that helped me become the documentary filmmaker that I am today. Dealing with people, getting permission to take their picture, finding stories, learning all the basics – framing, lighting, patience, timing and being nice – all skills I still use everyday and it was that little tank of a camera that started me off on the right path.
Why did I give it up? Digital and my love of moving image. DVtape, PD150s, Canon XL1s, lens adaptors, DSLRS, ENG cameras. Everywhere I looked, there were new shiny things. The world’s also a busy place – who’s got time to take 36 shots and send them off to the lab or develop them at home? Bad attitude but that was the case.
An artist I admire once told me, “you get to this point where you just need to break your style down and rebuild it” and that’s where I am today. Years of long shoots and client work effects you and sometimes your own palette and tastes get muddied. Between regularly moving countries and taking on different jobs and not really being able to focus on my own style, it felt the best course of action creatively was to start right back at the beginning. This time with a Nikon FE2, a 50mm Series E lens, (not my choice but its what was about) a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus and a roll of Lomography Lady Grey 400. With the streets of Seattle my current home I went off to do some street portraiture.
All the pictures here were taken during the course of a week, and what a revelation. Focusing was always quite natural for me and that felt good, but I had to work at it a bit more. The stripped down nature of the Nikon was a breath of fresh air and I just had to concentrate on what I wanted to get. People reacted well to the camera. With digital there’s the compulsion to share the picture with the subject, but it’s not possible with 35mm film and I’m much happier about it. That element of trust between myself, camera and subject was allowed to exist and it makes for a better moment. This I’ll also be taking back into client world where everyone loves to surround you and give you their bit of creative input as you take hundreds of shots in seconds.
The results could have been a lot better, but I’m still very happy. I’m now searching for a style and vibe I felt I used to have, but now I want it refined, better and more consistent. It all feels attainable but I know it’s not going to be easy.
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