Photography by its nature is just taking a photo. What separates us is our own experiences and thoughts about this medium. Some follow in the foot steps of the greats before them and some carve their own path with their camera. John Free is one of these individuals that make their own mark their own way.
Reasons why his work is inspiring to me.
1. Trust in ones self.
John doesn’t give a shit what the greatest street photographers did or had done. He knows what he wants to do and knows how he works. This is incredible to hear from someone in this day and age. So many people are just following what popular hoping to get popular themselves but this isn’t something John concerns himself with. He also is a huge advocate in not just waisting film or shooting to be shooting. He has worked long enough on the streets to know the “decisive moment” when he sees it. In some video clips of him he is shooting in a alley a a guy with a cane is walking buy, he proclaims that this shot is too easy, there is no depth to it and he wouldn’t even use it so whats the point. He believes in waiting for that moment and creating layers in an image. Making an image that is going to make the person viewing feel or want to know whats going on.
This kind of thinking is pretty amazing to myself. I always looked at other street photographers work that shot thousands of rolls of film and thought thats what you have to do but John really takes the medium back to the Bresson days where you got that one shot and that was the best image you could get and didn’t get muddled by thousands of shots that you would never want to use. If you check this video you can see more about his thoughts.
2. Does not care about gear or photography education.
I think that this point is so underrated in todays world. John shoots with a Nikon F3 and a 50mm f2 lens. First of all, i find it amazing that he shoots this set up as I personally have the same lens and a Nikon f and f2, so pretty much the same set up. I find this very refreshing in a world of street photographers who spend thousands on Leica cameras that essentially do not help their work. John has taught workshops and at several colleges in the field of photography for the last 20 years or so but warns against them. These two things combined make John very inspirational to the person just starting out in street photography. You do not need the best gear to take the best possible street photographs. Yes, a Leica or some expensive camera nice and would be great if money was no option but these are not going to make you a better photographer. Instead I would suggest buy a cheaper camera and spend your money on film and practicing your craft.
Although John is avidly out in the streets photographing, I think its his seminal work in the Los Angeles freight yards that would shape his future work and his future style. John photographed the transients in the fright yards daily for about 10 years. Its hard to imagine that someone would spend 10 years working on a project, most young photographers I know of today have a hard time focusing on a project for a couple weeks and maybe even months. John wanted to bring some beauty and compassion to the lives of these people and he has been on record as saying he gave them prints. One story John tells where he photographed a homeless man in the freight yards in the 70’s and gave him a print next time he saw him. 27 years later John was walking the same yards and this guy yelled out to him and showed him that he had carried that picture around for 27 years in his pocket.
How unbelievably amazing to have your photographs mean so much to one other person on this earth. If any of os were to have ay of our photographs mean that much o one other person we would be extremely fortunate in our photographic journey.
John talks about his work in the fright yards here. Take a look for yourself.
Dear fellow film photographers…..
Of all the forgotten things in this world better left undisturbed, Kodak Portra 160nc is not one of them. I wanted to share with those who may not know or those who have forgotten about my favorite film of all time Portra 160nc. I recently was able to acquire 6 rolls of this for a bargain 25 bucks! All of it expired in 2009 but i was told it was cold stored so what the hell, should be fine. So I shot a test roll on the way home form a road trip of some landscape just to see how it performs.
Scanning these negatives in brought back a lot of memories of buying this stuff brand new and getting it back and being in love with the colors. I shot portra 160nc for a good 3-4 years as my only color film before you couldn’t find it anymore anywhere. If you have never been able to shoot this film or are looking to shoot it again, it pops up on ebay from time to time and can be had for cheap if you use the accept offers button and bargain with them.
Scanning these brought back some great memories but as the same time was incredibly sad. There are hashtags like #filmisnotdead but in reality its nothing compared to how it was even a decade or two ago.
Naturally when I am out shooting in the streets or anyone sees my Nikon F2 that I inevitably have on me at all times I get questions like can you even develop that film still? You would think I’m carrying around relic of the old world, which is most likely what it looks like.
In this post i wanted to go over a few things on film and how to get started. Now I have been film only for a long time now and with this experience you learn some tricks of the trade and I want to share those with people to help them out.
Here is how I see most people go about shooting film. Buy the camera and jump right in and start shooting. Eventually the price starts to weigh on them and they stop shooting. Now lets get started and I’ll drop some knowledge of film and getting started.
1. Just get a dam camera.
As photographers we tend to be gear obsessed and with our increasingly addictive and wasteful modern culture its getting really bad. I see photogs who are upgrading every year to newer and newer models of cameras and these companies cant wait to sell you the newest ad greatest thing but some of the best and most iconic photos were shot on film and with photographers who kept the same camera for 20+ years. These photographers knew their cameras like the back of their own hand, what it was capable of and exactly how to work within its confines to create beautiful work.
If you have little to no clue where to start then my first suggestion is go to your local thrift shop or goodwill and find something there, you can find cameras working for $0-20 bucks and sometimes there dam good. If you want something you can order I would suggest keh.com and just pick up something cheap with a lens. With film photography the actual camera body isn’t as important as say the lenses, any old Nikon, Pentax, or Minolta cameras with a lens are going to be a great start and these are systems you can build up in the future buy buying better lenses and better bodies.
2. Learn how to use your camera in manual mode. Research aperture, shutter speeds and Iso. I will briefly explain these concepts.
- Aperture- This is the opening of the lens the lower the f number the greater light is going to reach your film. The higher the f number the less light that reachers your film.
- Shutter speed- A slower shutter speed say 1/125 will let more light reach your film but will not stop action or fast moving objects, there will be blur. A higher shutter speed lets less light reach your film but will capture action and motion more clearly.
- Iso is the films sensitivity to light. A higher iso will let you shoot in darker conditions and a lower iso will let you shoot in more brightly lit areas.
Now you can manipulate all three of these to achieve your desired look or outcome.
3. Buy some film
When your first starting out I would just pick up some fresh film from a reliable source like Bh photo or Adorama. They stock all kinds of films and there prices aren’t too bad. There are typically three film types used. Color negative, Black and white negative and Positive film. I would stick to color or Bw for now. These cheap and cheap to process. Positive film is way too expensive and complicated.
- Color negatives and Black and white negatives are cheap to process and scan and easy to shoot. There are several online or mail order services that develop these two relatively cheap. Just google mail order film developing
- Forget about Slide or positive film for now
4. Create, experiment, and have fun.
Buy lots of film and shoot, shoot, and shoot more. Experiment with different settings and different films until you find a combination you like. If you don’t mess up and explore then how will you ever learn. Failure is the greatest teaching tool and who knows, some of your mess ups might make the best pictures.
I like looking at photographs that have soul to them. I think as a photographer my biggest goal or biggest accolade i could have is that you can recognize my photos apart from other peoples. I love photos that you make you feel like your looking at photos of the photographer themselves. One such photographer that is a constant source of inspiration for me since the moment I set eyes on their work was William Klein.
3 reasons why his work inspires me.
His style comes across in every image you see from him from street to fashion and cinema. He makes no apologies for how he sees the world and thats what makes him so unique. He sees things differently than everyone else which comes across magnificently in his images. His landmark book William Klein: New York showed the city in such gritty light that most art directors in 54-55 hated the images and he had a difficult time getting it published in america. It was his style that redefined the publics view of New York at the time and create a iconic book.
Whether taking fashion photos or photos on the street, his style is evident, in your face and undeniable.
“Quite deliberately, I did the opposite to what was usually done. I thought that an absence of framing, chance, use of the accidental and a different relationship with the camera would make it possible to liberate the photographic image. There are some things that only a camera can do. The camera is full of possibilities as yet unexploited. But that is what photography is all about. The camera can surprise us. We must help it do so.” © William Klein
While most street or fashion photographers of the time were after the most perfect image possible. Klein was experimenting with techniques that most people considered amateur at the time. His use of blur, up close and personal vantage points and hard contrast all show that he was willing to stick his neck out at the time to create something truly epic. From the information I have gathered Klein pulled quite a bit of his film. Pulling film means that it is rated for a certain iso and he shot at a lower number.
Example: You have Ilford HP5 which is a 400 iso speed film, you shoot it at 100 iso instead allowing more light to get to the film.
Now when it comes to processing Klein would pull his film in camera but over develop in post to achieve more contrast, grain and the gritty look. This overdevelops the film and makes the negative more dense.
Example: So you shoot at 100 but develop for 400 or even longer for 800 per the instructions for the developer and film type.
These are techniques no professional photographer was doing let alone one who was working for vogue at the time on assignment documenting New York. Part of what made his New York photos in particular amazing was the fact that he photographed in a very amateur care free attitude.
- “I didn’t relate to European photography. It was too poetic and anecdotal for me…. The kinetic quality of New York, the kids, dirt, madness–I tried to find a photographic style that would come close to it.So I would be grainy and contrasted and black. I’d crop, blur, play with the negatives. I didn’t see clean technique being right for New York. I could imagine my pictures lying in the gutter like the New York Daily News.” - © William Klein
When Klein came back to New York after being away fro a couple years he saw it as an opportunity to get even with the city he was born in.
“I thought New York had it coming, that it needed a kick in the balls. When I returned to New York, I wanted to get even. Now I had a weapon, photography.” © William Klein
From my own experience I believe that quite a bit of photographers take photos with the hopes that people like them. Almost to the point where if you follow a photographers career they will bend their images or their creative culture to meet the needs of others in the industry they are trying to hard to be accepted in.
Looking at Kleins work I don’t get that feel at all, I think this is a photographer that lived by his own rules and even when people hated his work he didn’t deter at all.
In this quote form Klein you can see how he approached his projects and the editors who viewed them.
- I spent six months in New York at that time  and thought I had a book. So I went to publishers here, in New York, and got nowhere. Most of the people who looked at the photographs looked at the work and said “What kind of book is this? You make New York look like a slum.” I said, “Yeah, New York is a slum.” “What kind of New York are you showing me, everything black and awful?” I said, “No, you live on Fifth Avenue and your office is on Madison. You’ve never been to the Bronx, you’ve never been to Queens or Flatbush. This is the real New York.”
Klein was never one to shy away from speaking his mind and I truly think that every photographer can take a lesson from him and his work. At the end of the day you have ot like the photos you are taking.