Highlights from Film Photography: Modern Challenges

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Brighton-based camera manufacturer Intrepid Camera Co. has teamed up with British Journal of Photography to launch the Intrepid Enlarger. With the Kickstarter campaign closing tomorrow, we look back at the highlights of last week’s event Film Photography: Modern Challenges.

During last week’s talk at British Journal of Photography’s headquarters in east London, we deconstructed the challenges of working with film in the 21st century. Our audience came face-to-face with leading and emerging artists in a debate designed to inspire and ignite curiosity.

Among the speakers was fashion and portrait photographer Katie Silvester; lecturer and film photographer Ellen Jane Rogers; documentary photographer Aria Shahrokhshahi; darkroom specialist Mike Crawford; and analogue archivers The Anonymous Project, who came together to discuss the trials and tribulations faced by contemporary film photographers.

From the comforting “clunky sound” of Katie Silvester’s camera shutter to Aria Sharokshahe’s passionate description of the “feel of film photography”, we unearthed a myriad of experiences and perspectives on the subject. Find out what we learned from the refreshingly honest discussion below.

© Alex Fleming www.alexflemingphotography.com
© Alex Fleming

Film Photography has more in common with bee harvesting than you would think

American photographer Katie Silvester presented exclusive images from her ongoing project Two. Two is, in Silvester’s own words, a documentary series of “real life lovebirds”; the aim of the project is to explore “people simply doing what they love”. P Honey, Silvester’s first and only subject to date, is a beekeeper whose love for bees translates into jars of honey and raps uploaded onto YouTube. While the project was meant to illustrate the love between subject and object, it also provided Silvester with the opportunity to re-engage with her own love of film. During the shooting of Two, Silvester realised “how much these two principles – photography and beekeeping – had in common. P Honey and I both genuinely enjoy the process, and patience involved, as much as the outcome of our own crafts.” Most illuminating was Silvester’s comparison between snacking on honey and working in the darkroom: “the honey exploded out of the cones and onto my tongue with the same warmth you get whilst watching an image appear in the developer.”

© Katie Silvester www.katiesilvester.com
© Katie Silvester

Getting physical in the darkroom is a joy only afforded by film

Taking us through the elaborate and intricate process behind Gnosis,  Ellen Jane Rogers reinforced the enjoyment that comes with the toil and labour of film. “I reverted to the age-old technique of mucking about in the darkroom”. At a time when most of our activities are undertaken digitally, Rogers convinced us all of the magic of simply making. Gnosis allowed her to once again “work with [her] hands. It wasn’t just a digital process where I was constantly shooting – I was able to stick images and to get dirty in an analogue way. This is so important to my process”. Rogers used varying methods of masking, burning and dodging in the darkroom to create her ethereal images.

© Ellen Jane Rogers ellenjanerogers.com
© Ellen Jane Rogers

Tripods are pretty hard to come by in The Gambia

Shahrokhshahi took us to the 35° heat of The Gambia where he spent over a month documenting Kalidou, a 23-year-old man with a degenerative eye disease. While Shahrokhshahi was fortuitous in that his film never ran out, he came up against a different problem: “The Gambia is the definition of supply and demand. They only have what they need and I had lost my tripod,” he recalled. “Kalidou and I had to spend three days walking around the capital trying to find one until eventually, we came across this guy fixing digital point and shoots.” “Kalidou and his family weren’t used to a camera that doesn’t immediately show the image on a screen. We couldn’t see these latent images, so a lot of the time it became this collaboration. We became intertwined in the picture making together. I had to rely on [Kalidou and his family] trusting that what I was doing would be truthful, dignified and respectful.”

Fatimia. © Aria Shahrokhshahi www.ariamark.com
© Aria Shahrokhshahi

You have to be willing to adapt

As with any art form, the refusal to keep up with new technologies can prove fateful. After spending over two decades as a printer and film photographer, Crawford found that working exclusively with film was no longer feasible. “I’ve seen a lot of changes. Ten years ago I started printing digitally as I had to eat,” he explained. To keep up with the pace of change Crawford realised that “continuing solely in the darkroom was not an option; the market had changed so much.”

Nocturne. © Mike Crawford www.mike-crawford.co.uk
Nocturne. © Mike Crawford

Digital and film are not enemies

Hailing from Paris, The Anonymous Project closed the show with a discussion, and short film, showcasing their most beloved archive images. Founder Lee Shulman and head of development Emmanuelle Halkin, outlined how the project aims to collect, scan, catalogue and curate unique amateur colour photo slides from the last 70 years. While a presentation filled with poignant, moving photographs played behind them, the pair discussed how digital technologies gave film a new life. “By using the technology available to us today, we can now explore new and exciting ways of presenting our work and telling the stories, especially in terms of archiving, preservation and restoration.” The advancement in preservation technology is what enables The Anonymous Project to “give a second life to the people often forgotten in these timeless moments captured in stunning Kodachrome colour.”

© The Anonymous Project
© The Anonymous Project

Click here to contribute to the Intrepid Enlarger Kickstarter – closing date is November 3, 7:00pm GMT. Pledgers will be given a reward of their choice and will be able to purchase the enlarger at a special price, before the release date.

The Intrepid Enlarger Kickstarter is supported by British Journal of Photography. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.

Alice Finney

Alice Finney is an arts and culture Editor and Writer, based in Berlin. A graduate of the Central School of Ballet and Sussex University, she specialises in writing about dance, design and popular culture. She has written for titles including SLEEK Magazine, INDIE Magazine, Mixmag, gal-dem, HuffPost UK, and Dezeen.