Instant Surf: A Film by Adam Bell

We had the opportunity to chat to Adam and Matt about their exciting project, Instant Surf. Instant Surf is a film by Adam Bell, telling the story of Matt’s relationship with Polaroid instant film and surfing. Read on to find out more about these two awesome guys and their unique project!

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Thanks so much for doing this Adam and Matt! First off, give us a little bit of background information on yourselves. Adam, how did you get involved in filmmaking? Matt, how did you get involved in photography? How did you two meet?

AB: I got involved in filmmaking through a love of skateboarding. Specifically skateboard videos. I watched my first 411 Video Magazine three times in a row the day I bought it. At that point I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with. I saved up and bought my first video camera as soon as I was able, and filmed as much skateboarding as I could. I inherited a small amount from my grandfather, enough to buy a decent mac laptop and editing software and taught myself to cut. Later I got into snowboarding and would regularly film that as well, dryslope every week in the UK, holidays abroad, seasons and extended stays.

In 2004 I had the opportunity to start work for a small independent film company covering Judo. I learned a lot about filming and editing from the company’s founder Simon Hicks, who had made feature films and corporate videos as well as being an expert on sports coverage. I’ve been self employed since 2009, and I’m lucky enough to regularly travel all over the world to film at some of the top sporting events. When I’m not traveling or working on the highlights edits we produce, I make documentaries, music videos, promotional and educational videos.

Matt and I met over 20 years ago at university. It was one of the first nights we were there, we got talking and both released we were into skateboarding. We went for a skate the next day and have remained friends ever since.

MS: I’ve always enjoyed taking photos but initially more just of holidays and friends and recording things I want to remember. Then back in 2006 some good friends were shooting polaroids and as soon as I saw one being peeled I went and bought a camera for myself, and haven’t stopped since.

I can clearly remember when Adam and I met – first week of Cardiff Uni back in 1996, in those days if someone was wearing skate shoes they were likely a skater… so that got us talking and we’ve been friends since.
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Image: Matt Smith

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Image: Adam Bell

Adam, what compelled you to make this film? What drew you to Matt’s photography?

AB: I knew Matt was into instant photography and had seen him shoot photos when groups of friends had got together or at friends weddings, and saw shots of his surf trips. Over the last few years on Instagram I’ve seen more and more of his work and was really drawn to the aesthetic and effects that he was getting from expired film. Striking images made with old cameras and film that shouldn’t really still be working. I released it was something I wanted to try out. About a year and a half ago I took his advice and invested in an SX70 Alpha, I wanted something small and light that I could travel with and it fitted the bill perfectly. From the first test shot I took I was hooked. The SX70 now comes with me on every trip abroad I make. Shortly after I got into shooting peel apart film, investing in several cameras, as much expired film as I could get my hands on and a fridge to store it in! I could really identify with why Matt was so into the format, and how pleasing it can be when you get good results with a challenging method of photography.

I wanted to document what Matt does, as it’s pretty unique, and even more of a challenge shooting surfing. As well as the photographs and the method behind making them, I wanted to document the obvious passion he has for the format. Having experienced it myself, it was easy for me to see why he has been shooting instant photos for over a decade, but I wanted to capture some of his passion on camera and share this.

I wanted to work with a small crew on this project. I developed the questions over quite a long period of time with Adam Murray, a writer and filmmaker I have worked with on many projects. He conducted the interview with Matt and my girlfriend Katy worked as camera assistant. As soon as I was back from the shoot, I showed the rushes to another long term collaborator, Ben Crystal who created the perfect soundtrack. Everything came together really well in the edit and I’m very happy with the outcome.
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Image: Matt Smith

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Image: Adam Bell

Matt, tell us a little bit about your photography. What draws you to shoot instant film? What about it excites you and what is your relationship with surfing and instant film?

MS: I really enjoy the process with instant film. Getting old clunky cameras and super old film to produce something good is really rewarding. I love how it looks, but I also find the battle to get all the elements in place to get an image I am happy with really satisfying.

Even though I am probably close to 4000 polaroids now I know the next one is going to be as exciting to peel as the first.

Also, whilst it sounds obvious, I like the fact I am holding a unique developed image 90 seconds after hitting the shutter.

I think that polaroids allow me to capture surfing and the culture and things that surround it, with a look that fits. Some of it goes back to still wanting to record things I want to remember, but it’s also become part of going surfing for me and trying to grab a photo or two before or after getting in the sea.

And I think as you do more of something, you start to appreciate all aspects of it. That makes me want shoot not just the best turn on a wave but also all the other things that happen alongside.

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Image: Adam Bell

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Image: Matt Smith

Matt, the peel-apart film industry is certainly not what it used to be, with Fuji discontinuing the last professional peel-apart instant film. What do you see for the future of peel-apart instant film and do you believe a revival is in the future?

MS: The days of $10 packs of film are gone forever. I’m so pleased that Supersense were successful with their recent kickstarter and they’ll deliver lots of high quality films, and it sounds like maybe some variations of previous ones too. New55 also seem to be getting going again which is great.

I think we all need to give them the chance to settle into production and support them when we can, it’s pretty incredible that there are people out there who are willing and dedicated to keeping these beautiful formats alive.

I think there are enough polaroid addicts out there to keep buying film. Hopefully from that more people will see and appreciate it and shoot it themselves.

It won’t be many millions of packs a year like it has been previously, but hopefully enough to keep our cameras in film for a long time to come.
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Image: Adam Bell

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Image: Matt Smith

Matt, what cameras do you enjoy shooting for what purposes and why? Also tell us a little bit about your favorite film stocks.

MS: For pack film when I’m out and about I use a manual camera, as I prefer the control they allow compared to automatic exposure. I’ve got a 180, 195, Mamiya and a few I have made.

It often comes down to which ones have film in and how much stuff I can carry. If I’m out with the family it’s normally the smallest one! If I have more time or I am trying to shoot portraits I often use the speed graphic as working with that beast is lots of fun.

I mainly shoot expired polaroid film and I love any I can get my hands on.

If I could choose any type to find a case of somewhere, it would be 108 or 669 pack film because of the amazing blues and reds, time zero for my SX70 because that stuff really is magic, and 59 or 54 for my speed graphic.

Those films all give the iconic polaroid look that make us shoot this stuff in the first place, and for me are the films that work best for the images I am trying to create.

Saying all that, the fuji black and white peel apart is pretty amazing stuff too.

Matt, who are your inspirations when it comes to surf photography and photography overall? Who’s work did you grow up loving?

MS: My parents never took many photos, and really until I started shooting myself I didn’t think too much about a photo other than the skater or surfer or whatever it contained.

I am drawn to images that are a mix of action and landscape, rather than close cropped images of a surfer. This is probably partly because that’s really the only kind of images polaroids let you take, but also I appreciate seeing the whole scene and getting a feeling for the entire moment.

Now most of my inspiration comes from other polaroid photographers, and surf, snowboard and skate photos. There are way too many to mention them all. but they include Leroy Grannis, Joni Sternbach, Ron Stoner, Leo Sharp, Bastian Kalous, Ryan Tatar, Thomas Zamolo, Matt Georges, Matt Schwartz, Francois-Xavier Laurent, Adam Harriden, Al McKinnon, Arto Saari, Bernard Testemale, Atiba Jefferson and many many more.
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Image: Matt Smith

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Image: Adam Bell

Adam, what is the relationship between your filmmaking and photography? Have you made films on photography before? What do you enjoy about making films about photography?

AB: As kid I always enjoyed photography, but it never really went further than 110s, disposables and few second hand 35mm point and shoot cameras. I tried shooting skateboard photos with friends, but never got good results as you really need a manual set up. I never really had first hand contact with Polaroids, except for birthday parties or at a friends house. My first experience of peel apart was seeing tests shots brought home by skateboarding friends who were being shot professionally. A Polaroid back on a Hasselblad to get the set up right before the photographer shot film.

As soon as I found filmmaking I put all my energy (and money!) into learning and doing that. Going from 8mm video tape, to digital video tape and now several digital cameras deep. Across the time I have been interested in shooting video the technology has accelerated very fast. From those first 8mm tapes, to 4k or shooting super slomo on a live broadcast. At home I never had access to a cine or video camera, so I had no connection to those formats. For me it was always about better quality, larger resolution, digital workflow. The first file based edit I worked on was a revelation, no tapes! Of course everything is digital now. A lot of the work I do professionally is very fast paced. Filming on a live broadcast, cutting a news edit for delivery to a tight deadline shortly after the event.

Shooting analogue instant photos is the complete opposite to this, and I am really enjoying the process. It’s slow and the results are unpredictable and often far from perfect. Each single photo can work out expensive, the film is scarce and I don’t want to waste it, so I think more about each shot and don’t overshoot. The cameras are often awkward and heavy, but I am loving the challenge. I am able to apply what I have learned from shooting video to photography. From the basics of framing and composure, to how to expose the shot. I have worked with and owned many different types of digital camera. Several of them DSLR, so I have learned the principles of how to operate a manual camera. I recently bought a Polaroid 600se from Matt and it’s an amazing piece of kit, I’ve shot some of my favourite photos I ever taken on that, with expired film. Packing that beast into a bag next to my tiny full frame Sony always makes me laugh. It’s refreshing learning how to shoot a new format and how the different film types react to temperature as well as light. Luckily Matt has given me advice on the whole process, which cameras to look for, which film type gives good results, what expiry years to look for. So I feel like I have had an accelerated learning process because of this. I’ve shot hundreds of pictures and really happy with the results I’m getting. I try and shoot an instant photo most days if I can. Traveling for work has been inspiring as I’m often in really photogenic cities. I’ll always take a Polaroid camera with my video kit and once I’ve filmed what I need to, I’ll take some instant pictures. I’m also finding I shoot less digital photos or even snaps on my phone – it gets used more as a light meter these days.

Last summer I even managed to shoot some skateboard photos on polaroid that I’m happy with.

This is the first film I’ve made about photography, but I’m inspired to make more. I’ve got a few ideas that need some work, but hopefully it’ll be soon.

Adam, who are some filmmakers that have inspired you? Did you ever encounter any other work that inspired you to make this film specifically?

AB: I think I’ve honestly spent more hours obsessively watching skateboard videos than any other type of film. So they have all been a massive inspiration to me. I still have all the VHS tapes now! But I’d have to say Spike Jonze for his work on the Girl / Chocolate videos and later his music videos and films. Also Ty Evans, who shot the Transworld Skate films amongst many others. RB Umali for the Zoo York Mixtape film. The 411 Video Magazine has a lot to answer for as well, but that was a series with footage shot around the world by many different film makers and pieced together into a magazine format.

Some of my favourite films are documentaries. I discovered the photo book Spraycan Art by Henry Chalfant when I was about 9 years old and that had a big influence on me. I was obsessed with it and even used to take it with me to school to look through it at break times. It was years later that I found the documentary Style Wars which is produced by Henry Chalfant and directed by Tony Silver, made during the same era, documenting early Graffiti in New York, one of my all time favourite films. Dark Days by Marc Singer is also great, which documents the lives of homeless people living in subway tunnels in New York.

I cant say that any specific work directly inspired me to make this film, but I am definitely drawn to honest stories about people living in an unusual way or doing things that are not considered the norm and interacting with their environment.

Thanks again for doing this guys! Where can people find more of your work?

Adam:
www.adambellfilm.com / 
@adambellfilm

Matt:
www.instantsurf.co.uk / @instant_surf

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Interview: Nick Mayo aka Nick Exposed

Earlier this month, we had the chance to sit down with Nick Mayo, a photographer based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Nick has built an impressive community of like-minded photographic artists on his YouTube and Instagram. His content is photography-based but also dives into the artistic process as a whole. We want to thank him sincerely for spending some time with us! Make sure to check out his work!

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Box Speed: Thanks for joining us, Nick! We’ve been fans for a while so we appreciate you taking the time. For those that haven’t heard of you, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from/based and how would you describe your work?

Nick Mayo: Hey guys, humbled to be able to do this interview with you. I am Nick Mayo, a fine art photographer based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I am married to my beautiful and creative bride Emily, who in many ways is a greater artist than I, and challenges me to keep growing to new levels. If I were to describe my work in a nutshell, I would say it has a heavy focus on the intimacies of simplicity and the dynamics of graphic design as I focus heavily on shape and tone to tell a story that is at times hidden in the overall scene I am observing. I often work in series, and rarely rely on the strength of individual images, but instead, use them as chords to a song to build a hopefully greater narrative. On top of photography, I also serve a wonderful photography community through my YouTube channel Nick Exposed, where we dive into the process and theory of creative projects and fine art.

BS: When did you start taking photography seriously and when did it become more than just a hobby?

NM: I’ve been delving into various parts of photography since mid-2010, but it wasn’t until late 2015, early 2016 that I really felt it could be more than simply a hobby or pass time. In the summer of ’16, I spent two weeks in Maine, for an artist residency. It was the first time I truly felt I was “being” an artist. I was simply there to create, explore and dream, while everything else was catered to by the facilitators. I had an extended period of time to develop concepts, build narratives and truly explore the unbeaten paths of my creative curiosity. Around all of this time, I started focusing on bodies of work, rather than individual images, and there came new intentionality that was absent in anything I had created previously. I started building collections to submit for exhibitions, printing groupings of images to sell as sets, as well as explore the realm of zine building and book sequencing.  All of this paired quite well with the creative minds I was then discovering, such as Ralph Gibson, Elliot Erwitt, Bruce Davidson, and many others. I went from seeking out powerful images in their works to observing how they would sequence and build a concept. Ralph Gibson’s thoughts on the “point of departure” resonated so well with my approach to curiosity. I was starting to discover language and permissions that very much set me on the path I am still on today.

BS: At the risk of starting a pointless debate, did you start on film or digital or both? What draws you to use film for your personal work? In what situations do you prefer using digital?  

NM: I started out on a digital camera. First a point and shoot, and then an old Canon Rebel T1i, but quickly started dabbling in film photography, and eventually went entirely analog for my personal work. I’ve always enjoyed simple mechanics and engineering. I was largely into cars and various types of racing throughout my formative years, and have always preferred the simplicity of vintage sports cars, as well as the connection to the road one experiences through driving a manual transmission versus an automatic. It was very much this same drive and desire that I found to be so romantic within analog film photography. The connection to the material, and process while creating a piece of artwork to me is part of the artistic motivation inside of me. There’s a certain autonomy to having your hands on the process all the way through. Whether it succeeds or fails, it’s my fault and is entirely my responsibility. I can’t tell you the last time I blamed a poor exposure or image on a piece of kit. I digress.

Are there times for digital, absolutely. I just photographed a gig for a high-level client of mine last Friday evening and used my 5D mkii (No need for an upgrade), radio triggers, studio lights, the whole ordeal. I was able to turn the images around for them overnight and exceed their expectations for the project. However, gigs like these are becoming less and less interesting for me. Over the last year, I have been turning more and more gigs away unless I have full artistic control, and can use the gear and process that most inspires me. For anyone who knows my work, they know I am primarily a black and white shooter. I prefer heavy doses of grain and contrast and want this to be a result of light and chemistry rather than sliders and presets. Both have their place in the world, but for my attachment to the work, once again I prefer the process of bnw analog film.

BS: You’ve often talked about the powers and pitfalls of social media when it comes to photography. How is social media beneficial and how is it harmful for photography nowadays? Do you have any tips on how to balance the two and avoid the trap of “shooting for likes”?

NM: I’ll say it this way, when my focus and intentionality on any of the platforms shifted from how can I get more likes, views, follows and money, to how can I serve, value and honor the community I want to connect with, everything else started to fall in place. Algorithms change, people do not. If you try to play to an algorithm you may have success for a certain amount of time, but when the algorithm changes you have to relearn the game. When you play to the benefit of the community (not necessarily neglecting the algorithm, just not allowing it to be the primary focus), you will find that growth is a natural byproduct. It goes back to the beginning of time, people love feeling accepted, appreciated, honored, valued, poured into and encouraged. They can also sniff out counterfeits of each of these actions from a mile away. When I started focusing on how can I add, versus get, value and respect to the community, I immediately noticed it was reciprocated back to me, often in greater doses. It’s been that way with my Instagram, just as well as my YouTube channel. It still blows my mind at how encouraging the community is, and how few of negative comments we get on the channel. I no doubt suspect it is linked to the act of serving the community, rather than sucking the community dry.

As creatives we truly want our creations to be admired and appreciated. There is nothing wrong with that. However, using social media metrics as a measuring stick of success, worth or value is a terrible trap that will more often than not lead to depression, anxiety, people pleasing and manipulation. Consider this, the fact that a Kardashian photo will get 100 times more likes, views, and interactions than a magnum photo should be a giant clue at how faulty the system is for revealing worth and value. It is, however, one of the greatest tools of long-distance connection that has ever been offered to the creative. The fact that we can connect and do things like this interview, or share bodies of work in progress and receive feedback and advice is nothing short of incredible.

BS: How much of an impact, if at all, does the city of Grand Rapids have on your work? Do you find that your surroundings change your photography, and do you find your photos change when you shoot in a different city?

NM: My work is an exploration of my curiosity. The city of Grand Rapids contains a certain language with which I can examine my interests, while other cities offer a fresh perspective and dialog to leverage. Sometimes the city itself is the curiosity that I am exploring, and other times it is only just elements of the city that I am using to play out a narrative in my mind that was carried over from a song, movie, experience, feeling etc. I try to not make to many absolutes when it comes to exploration and creativity. One week I’m documenting the intimacies of Grand Rapids, the next week I’m exploring the concepts of emotion and feeling while using the same scenes to build an expression to the best of my current ability. The photography is either a response to the external world or the internal one. On rare occasion, it’s a heavy combination of both. I have photographed the somewhat small city of Grand Rapids for over 7 years now, but my current philosophy is that the city only ceases to have something to say when I’ve become complacent in expanding my own personal vocabulary.

BS: You’ve been a big advocate of using projects (big or small) to spark creativity and avoid plateauing. What are your thoughts on shooting for projects vs a stream-of-consciousness style which is more reminiscent of a daily journal? 

NM: Projects are a beautiful thing within the creative’s toolbox. At any given moment I have 5 to 10 projects I am working on. Some long-term, others short, while others still are seedlings waiting to sprout into consciousness. Maybe it’s simply my own creative style that works so well this way. But for me, I love being able to shelf a project when I’m not currently feeling it, only to come back later when the time is right, and the creative engine is firing on all cylinders for it. I’ve done this for years. When I was a graphic designer, I would bounce between design projects and photo editing or shooting when need be. Being able to step away from something, while still knowing the direction it should be heading, allows us to engage our subconscious mind while working creatively on another project. I’ve found that some of my most prolific ideas come while my conscious efforts are focused on a different project entirely.

Single images are great fun to chase down, and have their place within the artistic realm for sure. But for me, as an artist, sequencing bodies of work (whether pre or post shooting) offers a greater experience and narrative to not only my audience but also myself. There is a depth of conversation that is had within the sequencing of work that a single image fails to contain. To paraphrase Ralph Gibson “A photo/print will show you how a photographer sees, however, a book will show you how they think”, and I would even add how they feel. The rhythm, tension, and release that can be had in a project can bring the work to a similar place of impact as music or poetry. Very few images can claim this on their own merit.

BS: Who are some photographers who are inspiring you right now? 

NM: A big question, as I am inspired by such wide variety of photographers. I will say that I am a part of a wonderful collective of artists called the “All Format Collective” (@allformatcollective) and am so incredibly inspired by my collective family. To be in constant conversation with the members, and seeing the works they are working on keeps me inspired and challenged to move forward in so many ways. I had been following the works of Kit Young (@kityoung135), James Moreton (@go_jmo), and Mikael Siirila (@mikaelsiirila) for quite some time, before my membership in the collective. So you can imagine how incredibly humbling it is to be in the trenches with these incredible artists, serving the community of film shooters and pushing each other along in our own journeys.

To mention some legends within photography that I draw inspiration and insight off of regularly, Peter Turnley, Jay Maisel, HCB, Jim Marshall, Arnold Newman, Eugene Atget, Robert Doisneau, Sergio Larrain, as well as the aforementioned Ralph Gibson, Bruce Davidson etc. The list could go on and on, and sometimes it feels like my bookshelf does just that, but studying the greats can inform us on where we have already been as well as open the possibilities and give the permissions of where we can go moving forward.

A couple of contemporary photographers worth mentioning are without a doubt, Renato D’Agostin (@renatodagostin), Fred Mortagne (@frenchfred), Olga Karlovac (@olga.karlovac), as well as some good friends of mine, Jacob Murphy (@jacobmurphyphoto), Jahan Saber (@doyoudevelop also a member of @allformatcollective), Aleksander Mijatovic (@filmshooter7), David Zheng (@iamdavidz), Josh Bordelon (@joshbphotog), and Miles Smith (@captain.solo). Once again the list could go on and on, but when I think off the top of my head, these guys come to mind.

BS: Who are some non-photographic artists who are inspiring you right now?

NM: Outside of photography, I am inspired by so many different creative streams. I will try to spare you from long lists.

Jazz musicians like Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, as well as Japanese musicians like Ryo Fukui and Takuya Kuroda are frequently on in the background while shooting, editing or darkroom printing. Mark Rothko’s paintings continue to speak to me on both an emotional and somewhat spiritual level. Matisse, Rembrandt, Goya, Mondrian and the Bauhaus school of thought. I love looking up close at line drawings, etchings and micro prints of any kind. Recently I have acquired a deep appreciation for mechanical timepieces, and the artistic craft and style that goes into designing such a simple tool for everyday life. Poster and book cover designs, vintage marquee signs and finely crafted automobiles and sailboats. I am easily intrigued, so it doesn’t take much for me to find inspiration in just about everything I come across.

BS: What are some projects you’re currently working on that you can talk about? 

NM: Come new year there are two immediate projects that will be released. The first is the “All Format Collective Zine Issue #3”, where my work will be display alongside the other photographers in the collective’s works. James Moreton has been hard at work sculpting this project into a wonderful book that we cannot wait to bring to the community.

As for personal projects, I am currently working through the sequencing and design of a dual zine project entitled “The Last Best Place” and “48 Hours Home”. These are two related projects that were created during a trip to Montana earlier this summer. I am quite excited about the work created while in Montana, as well as on the trip back home. This is the first tandem zine I have released, and although I am still working out what the details of what it will look like for the two to be merged while remaining separate, it has already been a wonderful stretch to my creative thinking as I have begun problem-solving and challenging the box. I am truly excited to see how the community responds to this project.

BS: Thanks again for taking the time to do this Nick! Where can people find out more about you and your work? 

NM: Guys, I am super happy to have had this conversation! You brought such great questions to the table, I only hope I did them a bit of justice in my responses. I would love to connect with people on both Instagram (@nickexposed) and on YouTube (youtube.com/nickexposed). I do what I can to respond to each message that comes in on Instagram, so I encourage everyone to reach out and say hi, as well as ask any further questions that you may be left with after this interview. I love love love getting to know the people in this community, and hope to continue meeting “new faces” for years to come.

Cheers!

-N.Mayo

Tokyo Mini Photo Essay #2: A Weekend for Compact Cameras

The weekend after my Fukuoka trip, I found myself in the nation’s capital again. This was my third time in Tokyo (not counting when I first flew into Narita from Canada). As usual, I brought my Leica M2, some bulk-rolled Tri-X 400, and some rolls of Superia and Portra. I was mainly there to see some old friends from Canada and elsewhere around the world.

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Nikon AF600/Lite Touch, Portra 400

I did, however, have a specific goal of finding a compact camera to replace my Konica Big Mini-301. The Big Mini’s ribbon cable finally crapped out on me (it was only a matter of time), so I was left compact-less yet again. I had my eyes on either an Olympus XA2 or a Nikon AF600/Lite Touch. I was hoping to do some hunting in Shinjuku to find either one at a decent price. I ended up leaving Tokyo with both.

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I found the Olympus XA2 during my first day in Tokyo at a shop in Ginza first. It was up for a pretty decent price so I grabbed it. Later that day I was walking around Shinjuku and found a store that had a Nikon AF600/Lite Touch for a pretty decent price as well. I almost left without it but I couldn’t help myself. The first couple hours of the weekend trip had already yielded not one, but two compact camera purchases.

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Nikon AF600/Lite Touch, Portra 400

For the entire weekend, I only shot with these two compacts. My Leica M2 was safely stored in a locker at my hostel and it never saw the streets for the entire trip. These two compacts yield two very different shooting experiences, I’m very glad I ended up with both. The Olympus XA2 is a zone-focusing rangefinder with no on-board flash, sporting a Zuiko 35mm f/3.5 lens. I considered the XA but wanted a bit more automation and wasn’t looking for a true rangefinder (I have my Leica M2 for that).

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Olympus XA2, Superia 400
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Olympus XA2, Superia 400

The Nikon AF600/Lite Touch, on the other hand, is a whole other beast. It’s a fully-automatic point & shoot compact, sporting a 28mm f/3.5 lens. I thoroughly enjoyed the 28mm focal length experience. It’s been a while since I’ve used a 28 and I really enjoyed the wider experience. It’s a small body with excellent autofocus and sharp glass.

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Nikon AF600/Lite Touch, Superia 800
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Nikon AF600/Lite Touch, Superia 800

This weekend was all about compact cameras. I came looking to buy one, ended up with two, and shot with both of them the entire weekend, leaving my Leica behind every time I left the hostel. Both of these compacts are very different and each have their own quirks. I’m very satisfied with the experience of these two compacts so far. A full review of each camera may be in the works for the future.

Here are some additional images from the weekend:

 

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Fukuoka Mini Photo Essay

A couple weeks ago I had the chance to visit Fukuoka for a weekend. Fukuoka isn’t a place that’s talked about a whole lot when people think about Japan, but it’s got its own charm that is worth checking out.

FukFor this quick weekend trip I took just my Leica M2 and my new Summicron 35mm f/2. For film, I brought several rolls of bulk-rolled Tri-X 400, and a couple rolls of Portra 400. It wasn’t the most eventful trip but I did get to do a bit of shooting. I was mainly there to meet up with a couple dear old friends from back home in Canada who were travelling through the country.

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After seeing places like Seoul, Tokyo and the tourist-hive of Kyoto, it was nice to get a glimpse at a smaller city like Fukuoka. There’s definitely less tourists around and it doesn’t have the crazy hustle-and-bustle feel that Tokyo does. A certain charm in its own right. The evenings are calm, at night the streets are quiet and people go about their business at a slower pace.

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Fukuoka is known for being the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen, which I certainly indulged in. One of the places I went to, Hakata Ramen Zen, was absolutely fantastic. Their main attraction is their dirt cheap (only ¥320!!) basic tonkotsu ramen. To this day I still think it’s the best ramen I’ve ever had in Japan (and I’ve had a fair bit of ramen here). Fukuoka is also known for their yatai (outdoor food stalls). I had some ramen here too. Seeing these tiny outdoor food stands packed with patrons along the river was something else. The first time I’ve seen ramen served outdoors in Japan.

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While overall it was a pretty uneventful trip, Fukuoka was a welcome change of pace. Walking around the town without anywhere to be anytime soon was enjoyable. Sitting in a park by the port with the sun greeting the horizon, watching fisherman pack up for the day and couples out for an evening stroll was a welcome shift in mood.

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Shooting 16-year expired Ektachrome P1600

About 3 months ago I won an auction for 2 rolls of very expired Ektachrome P1600. I’m not too sure why I bought the stuff. I didn’t even know Ektachrome existed in a 1600 speed variant. I’m not a huge slide film user (I’ve actually only shot it once before on 120). Nevertheless, I was browsing the film section of Yahoo Auctions and it looked interesting so I thought I’d give it a go.

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Couple of days later it arrived. Expired in 2002, the ad made no mention of any sort of storage conditions. I assumed the worst. As a relatively inexperienced slide film user, I foolishly applied the general rule of thumb for expired color negative film to the expired Ektachrome. It was expired 16 years ago, so I overexposed the film 1.5 stops. I’ve since learned that this rule shouldn’t be applied to slide film, as the latitude differs greatly. Nevertheless, I was still able to get some usable results, albeit the slides look terrible.

Ektachrome 1600 (2002)

I shot this roll in my Nikon F3 and 50mm f/1.4. I used the Nikon F3 for its metering system. I shoot 90% of my work on my Leica M2 and meter by eye, but this was a very unfamiliar scenario for me. I almost never work with slide film and certainly not slide film that was this expired, stored in unknown conditions.  So I took the Nikon F3 out and shot the roll around Tō-ji temple and on the Skyway of Kyoto Station.

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As expected, there was a heavy amount of grain, plus some base fog and color shift. I was still quite impressed with the performance given the conditions. I tried to shoot both a mixture of soft, even light and harshly contrasty scenes to test the film’s capabilities.

 

The magenta cast and the severe grain is apparent in both the above pictures. I’m actually a big fan of harsh grain and I don’t mind it at all given my expectations of the film (1600 speed film, 16 years expired), but the magenta cast was a bit less desirable.

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Overall I definitely enjoyed a handful of images the film yielded. I’m a sucker for grain and it was oddly enjoyable shooting a roll without much guarantee of what the results would look like. I have 1 roll of this stuff left so next time I’ll probably overexpose by less and try to shoot scenes with more forgiving light.

Shooting Film in the Lonely South

I started shooting film around the time I was 22 or 23, so about 10 years ago. I had taken photos before that with Polaroid cameras and the Kodak Ektralite 110 camera my mother had when I was a kid, but as a young adult it was the early days of the Lomography style that got my wheels turning.

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Growing up poor in rural Alabama (mama worked hard to make sure I had Nikes), one thing you learn to do is make the most of what you have. As a kid I would mow the yard for $5 and get to choose what to spend it on at the flea market. I could choose between two new comic books or a stack of older issues from the quarter box. This attitude towards money and material possessions stayed with me and has never left. So when I starting getting into shooting film, cheap cameras and cheap film were the logical choice and it’s been my style ever since. I’ve rarely ever bought a camera brand new. Almost all have been from thrift stores or yard sales.

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There’s plenty to disagree with about the American South. Religion, politics, you name it. Being a liberal / progressive leaning person, living here puts you in a tough position on a daily basis. Photography has always been my way of reconciling that for myself. When I take photos of old gas stations or beat up cars or whatever, I’m really saying a couple of different things with the image. I identify with the loneliness and isolation of the scene while at the same time I’m telling it “Hey, you did this to yourself. You refused to keep up with the times, and you got left behind.” For me the subject matter becomes so much more than inanimate objects; they represent someones’ dreams or accomplishments or lack thereof, and now they just seem like props in a particular scene and that’s what draws me to it.

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Every Saturday I try to get out and take photos. I wake up around 8 or 9 and make coffee and gather all my film and cameras and hit the road. I usually carry 2 or 3 cameras max. For awhile now a Minolta Hi-Matic AF 2 has been my main camera. I generally keep it loaded with expired Fuji Superia 200 or Kodak Gold 200. I’ve been shooting some really expired Ilford HP 5 that I’ve had for years as well. I go through phases of shooting with my old Instax 7s. It’s usually a matter of money and I have to choose between buying Instax film or getting 35mm rolls developed.

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There’s a couple of thrift stores that I hit up every week to check for new cameras or CD’s to listen to in the car. A cool thing about where I live in Birmingham, Alabama is that from the middle of the city you can drive 30 minutes in any direction and be out in the country. It makes exploring easy and there’s always some new small town with one traffic light to check out and take photos of. I’ll usually leave the thrift store and just keep driving until I don’t recognize anything or I’ll take the interstate and start getting off random exits.

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I’m usually pretty careful when I’m out in rural areas by myself driving around and shooting. I have a $5 pocket knife that I always have on me and that’s the extent of weaponry that I own. I’m naturally prone to anxiety anyway but shooting in these unknown areas can bring on the paranoia when you’re creepin’ around some little town and the locals are looking at you with suspicion. It’s a funny contrast to how my family is scared of coming to the city for fear of getting robbed. I try to practice getting closer to subjects but a chunk of my photos are taken from a bit of a distance out of anxiety. Luckily I’m not really interested in taking photos of people or I’d really be in trouble. Something that I encounter a lot when I’m shooting around new areas and talking to people is that there’s a lot of fear of folks they don’t recognize. They’re weary that I’m some sort of VICE reporter there to mock or exploit their little slice of heaven and let’s be real, in certain ways I kind of am (not the VICE part obviously.) So to me it’s important to be respectful of people while still doing my thing. Personally I’ve never been enticed by the whole street photography method of sticking your camera in strangers’ faces but that’s just me. My mission is to document as many artifacts both big and small before they’re gone forever. I guess you could say I’m a hoarder of scenes and places in time.

I intend to keep exploring the South and wherever else my camera and curiosity take me. You can follow me on the ‘gram at @casualsceneryzine if you’d like to tag along.

Dirty Sheets Never Made for Comfortable Rest

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Following a conversation with a friend, I realised that I kept painting myself as the victim and didn’t take any responsibility for my own well-being. This body of work mirrors the way I began to hold myself accountable in order to aid my own mental health recovery. The phrase ‘you’ve made your bed, now lie in it’ is one that has echoed in my mind throughout the creation of this project, and I feel that these images rebel against that. We are able to take autonomy over our own actions and we do not have to lie in our own mess. 

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I have used my own mental health as a muse in my photography before. Documenting the bad days. The ones where doing the simplest of tasks felt impossible. This time, I wanted things to be different. This project was the result of a change of mindset, an epiphany if you will.

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One major source of inspiration for this project was a painting by Sir John Everett Millais named Ophelia. It depicts Ophelia, a character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet who was driven mad when her lover, Hamlet, murders her father. As Ophelia was picking flowers, she falls into the river and slowly drowns, singing all the while. Her face looks hopeless as she lets herself sink into the river. I could see myself reflected in the painting, which shocked me a little. It acted as a wakeup call that I didn’t have to let myself slip, that I could help myself.

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Recovery is a long and tiresome process. It requires you to constantly challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours. Therefore, I wanted to use a method of photography that I felt gave this process justice, one that would require me to slow right down and think about each composition in detail. Hence the choice of medium format analog film. I had never successfully used medium format prior to this project, so the prospect of doing so conjured feelings of both excitement and anticipation. The weeks building up to my planned shoot date, I spent time getting to know my camera, a Bronica ETRSi that I had borrowed from college. It was a small, lightweight and easy to use. A nice introduction to the world of medium format. Then came the time to shoot, a warm early evening in June. The act of setting up the tri-pod in various locations, getting a light meter reading and composing each frame felt cathartic, as if the very process of photographing mirrored what I was trying to portray in the photographs themselves.

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I wanted these photographs to be a reminder to myself that I am in control of my own recovery. It’s strange to look back on in retrospect, as a few months have passed since the creation of this project and I still find myself dipping into old habits and ways of thinking. But I am still a strong advocate that the process of making photographs can act as a form of therapy, a way to ground yourself and connect with the world around you.

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To keep up to date with my work, you can find me over on my instagram page.