(analogue) Photographer of the Month (February '23) - Faye O'Sullivan
I grew up in the 90s, so my first awareness of cameras = film. I had a ‘Nikon Coolpix’ (!) as soon as SD cards and AA-battery powered LCD screens were a thing, but when I was 18 I got a part-time job at Jessops (a UK chain of camera and photo processing stores). They were winding down their sales of second-hand gear and my manager loaned me a Pentax K1000 to use on the art course I was doing. I took a lot of terrible shots, dabbled in the darkroom and held onto the camera (I gave him £30 eventually). I used it on a few holidays, started to play around with other cameras, then the iPhone came along, my Pentax light meter broke and I hardly touched film for years. About 5 years ago, I was re-inspired by a good friend shooting beautiful film shots. There’s no going back now!
What draws you to shoot film?
How long have you got? The aesthetic of grain, light leaks, dust, that burned first half-shot and the colour and tone of different film stock. The unpredictable nature of film (or possibly my erratic approach to it...) make it a playground. And I think the constraint is good for creativity: if you only have 36 shots, you’d better choose wisely. The delay in seeing the results too: the feeling of getting a roll back weeks (or sometimes, months, years, decades (but that’s another story)) later. There’s something romantic about revealing images from a long-forgotten roll, especially in a world saturated with instantly created images that are shared in seconds. I’ll stop now.
Do you shoot much digital?
Does my cracked iPhone count? I know it stole the show for a while, but I use it differently now, it’s a tool. I take snaps with it constantly, looking for strange patterns, shadows, colours, perspectives, graphics, things I find funny, not to mention the weird stuff you can find on the floor in Wellington. I call it ‘looking practise’.
Your instagram features a lot of ‘film souping’, how did you get into that? And what do you like most about it?
I think Josh (@josh.oxl) told me about it! He was raving about it and I was like ‘what’s that?’ and then fell down a deep instagram hole. I’ve actually only souped one roll so far, but it had incredible results on nearly every shot. I have plans for more! I love the erratic, vivid, graphic nature of it and being reminded of the alchemy of film: the destruction of the film surface itself is what creates the effect (I especially enjoy when the chemical reaction interacts with the subject: sometimes the patterns follow or mimic the composition beautifully).
Your images look like a healthy mix of ‘snaps’ and more set up shots, do you specifically go looking for set-up shots? Or do you carry your camera with you everywhere you go?
I think the two kind of feed into each other for me. I often have a camera on me and think the ‘snaps’ thing is a mix of how I look at the world, some kind of desire to document everything, and my ‘dabbling’ / slightly skulking approach to photography. But sometimes I do deliberately go out seeking shots, or get inspired by something I’ve seen and then it turns into a more set-up shot. I’m very much on a journey with my style and I have patient friends who will let me direct them (sometimes) for more set-up shots, or I’ll spot a scene and wait around for a ‘moment’. I’d like to get bolder with attempting more considered shots as my skill and consistency improves.
Quick fire ten questions
- 35mm or 120? 35mm, I have a 120 ready to try out, but I’m still too nervous to load it...
- Colour or B&W? Hmmm, tough. I do love the fun and variety of colour, but if I had to pick one to shoot for the rest of time it would be B&W. Can’t beat the classics.
- Zoom Lenses or Fixed? Fixed. Move your body!
- Portrait or Landscape (Orientation)? Landscape
- Flash or Natural Light? Natural (though I do love the bright grimey flash on a cheap point and shoot!)
- SLR (or TLR) or Rangefinder or Point and Shoot? SLR, but Point and Shoot for the lols
- Must be razor sharp or more about the aesthetic? Blur + vibes all the way
- Favourite Camera? Pentax MX is my solid, reliable go-to but my Miranda F is my current crush. She’s a heavy old SLR with a light leak (must fix that) but the detail in the images is so so fine, and a prism slides out of the top to reveal waist-level viewfinder!
- Favourite Photographer? Argh! Not fair. If I can really only pick one it’s Saul Leiter, but if I can cheat, then there’s my classics: Cartier Bresson, Vivien Maier, Diane Arbus, Aberlardo Morell, W. Eugene Smith. And contemporary photographers Chloe Rosser, Liz Ham, Deirdre Lewis.
- Favourite Photo Book? ‘Where Children Sleep’ by James Mollison. Powerful visual storytelling that provokes questions of culture, society and narrative.