Photographer of the Month - Emily Raftery (June 2020)
How did you get started in photography?
I started at high school on my dad’s old Olympus film camera, which I think initially was a move to fill my timetable with art subjects, as opposed to academic subjects you actually had to learn and do work in. Who knew it would fuel this fire in me I can’t seem to put out. I moved to New York when I was 19 and bought my first proper film camera there (Canon, I can’t actually remember which specific one now) and started documenting the city and kids I was nannying for. I think that really cemented things for me, as I looked into photography courses while I was there, and ended up coming back to New Zealand to start a BFA majoring in photography.
Have you always shot film or did you enter at Digital?
I started with film, and only shot film through school, uni, and then at the start of my professional career. I even shot my first two or three years as a wedding photographer all on film. I remember I was documenting Sir Edmund Hillary during an interview when I was 8 months pregnant, in my final year of university, and the guys who were doing the video were all giving me shit for still shooting on film. Granted, I did have an auto rewind on the camera and it did it right when he was answering a question and would have stuffed up their audio! But I defended myself (and my precious Kodak Portra and Tri-x that I still shoot to this day) that nothing in us, in nature, is square, and that the grain in film is round and therefore makes more sense to me, whereas digital is made up of tiny square pixels. They laughed at me. I remember thinking this digital thing wouldn’t catch on, but whether it was societal pressure, or the emotional state of an 8 month pregnant 22 year old… I caved and bought a Canon 5d the year after I finished uni to be able to work commercially and lower my overheads.
Do you shoot much film for your weddings and commercial work?
Sadly not. I dream to one day shoot an entire wedding on film, with a bunch of janky old film cameras that may or may not even work… that would be magic. But alas, digital is so much safer when you’re documenting a day you only get one chance to do so. I do always shoot a pack of polaroid film on my SX-70 on each wedding, to offset the digital, and give my couples a little something permanent to take away and put up in their homes. From what I know, only half of my couples actually print and display their digital files. So if any of you are reading this… PRINT YOUR PHOTOS PLEASE! Family photos, photos you love, photos you took, there is something so special about seeing your work on paper and walking past it every day, and the one-off nature of a Polaroid photo is worth its weight in gold.
Do you have a preference between digital and film? If so why?
Film for sure. I took a casual 10 year hiatus from shooting film when I was building up my business, and I only ever picked up my digi for work. It became the pack horse, the tool that I used almost daily, so I never felt like shooting my own work on it, and especially didn’t feel like sitting behind a computer to edit any more than I already had to! So getting back into film about 3 years ago now, just for me, felt so right. It separated business from pleasure, and kept them distinctly apart in the way I shoot, document, process and display.
Your personal work is very emotive, do you think shooting film adds to that?
I think the tones, look and feel of film, creates a nostalgic feeling only film can evoke. It’s a colour scheme we’ve grown up with being documented on (if you’re as old as me or older..) so whether conscious or not, I feel emotion is easier attached to something you’re familiar with. I also think it’s important to create from a place within, draw on your own background, surroundings, and upbringing as your source. I find a lot of imagery we are being flooded with now is quite same-same-y, with the rise of digital and the smartphone, photography has become so accessible now. I think too many people perhaps look to (Instagram) and other contemporary photographers, professional or amature, to draw their inspiration. But I believe the real work and magic is created going deeper, further back. You need to draw on your own personal experiences to really create emotive, original work.
You shoot a lot of personal images, do you find this keeps you creative when shooting commercial or wedding jobs? Does your personal work (and evolution) influence your paid work?
Hmmm.. tricky one, yes and no? I really need the two to be separate in order to create work just for me, and use film photography as my creative outlet. I definitely look to other art forms; paintings, sculpture and film for my inspiration, rather than other photographers. I would say this influences me more in my commercial practise, rather than my own personal work. I think as they both fall under the photography umbrella, there will always be a cross-over of influence, but I think using different cameras and aspect ratios keeps things quite varied. I do find the slow and more considered nature of shooting with film has come through in my digital work, I have slowed down, thought more, and been shooting less since getting back into film. That’s something I appreciate and think is improving the quality of my ‘work’ work.
How has the recent Lockdown (and absolute chaos) affected your personal photographic journey?
Massively. Within the space of 24 hours my business completely ground to a halt, weddings postponing, and all commercial shoots cancelling. But once my initial panic, tears and 3pm gin sessions subsided, and I realised that it was happening to people worldwide, I slipped into the quiet (and much needed sabbatical) really well. I enjoyed the break from business and the chance to get into my personal work more. I embarked on a little self portrait experiment, I’ve never photographed myself before so it was the perfect time and place to start. Having restrictions placed on me like shooting just within one space, on one camera and only taking one shot per day, enabled me to just get stuck in, don’t overthink it all, and has got the ball rolling for something I’ll continue to explore for the next wee while.
Quick fire ten questions
- 35mm or 120? Hmm... both? But if I really have to choose, 120.
- Colour or B&W? Fuck these questions... just one?! BOTH. But I have been shooting more colour recently.
- Zoom Lenses or Fixed? Ah, now we’re talking. Prime, baby. Fixed always, across both my areas.
- Portrait or Landscape (Orientation)? Landscape. Although some scenes will call for a portrait, I’m pretty bad at it for some reason. You’d think after 22 years photographing I’d have it figured out by now, but alas not.
- Flash or Natural Light? 100% natural, all the way.
- SLR (or TLR) or Rangefinder or Point and Shoot? All of the above thanks Sean. Ok ok... I think I lean more towards SLR’s and definitely TLR - my Rolleicord is probably my favourite camera, and the one I did my self portrait experiment with. But if someone has a Leica M6 to sell me, I’ll definitely convert to a Rangefinder.
- Must be razor sharp or more about the aesthetic? Definitely more about the aesthetic for me. I love a good blurry feeling of subtle tones and grain.
- Favourite Camera? Can I have two? My Rolleicord and SX-70. I adore Polaroid so much, but not the PO film sadly. So I don’t shoot it as much as I used to when actual Polaroid film was a thing. And don't even get me started on peel-apart film…this will bring on the waterworks.
- Favourite Photographer? You know those kids who fill out the ‘Describe yourself in THREE words’ question with ‘I AM A REBEL’... yes... that is me. If I was filling this thing out by hand I’d get a big orange crayon and alter some of these questions. Guy Bourdin, Sally Mann, Nan Goldin, Vivian Maier, Ans Westra, Bill Cunningham, and I feel I need to put Martha Cooper on the list for documenting a scene and artform that has always appealed to me since I was a teen.
- Favourite Photo Book? Look, I’m really sorry for breaking all the quick fire rules, but I just can’t put a limit on these things. Guy Bourdin Polaroids, Darcy Padilla Family Love (this one is so, so incredible, but so, so heavy, view with caution..) Guy Bourdin Exhibit A, can we count Patti Smith’s Just Kids as a photo book? And I’ll stop my nonsense now with a fun fact: when I lived in NYC I lived in the same apartment building as Cindy Sherman, so for my 21st I was given her book ‘Retrospective’ with a little birthday inscription in it from her. So that is a pretty special one in my collection.