At this point, I only own a couple of digital SLR cameras and the rest are film cameras. In 2015 I didn’t own a single film camera but now, I own 6… and I love them all! This year, I’ve slowly been creeping film into a lot more of my client work and love the idea film. I think most photographers do don’t they? Everyone loves a bit of vintage, old school, retro photos, cars, vinyl’s etc. You name it. People love a bit of nostalgia… well I certainly do!
Using vintage Polaroid or my Hasselblad camera in my client work has had a hugely positive result and almost makes the picture that little bit more special because it was shot on film instead of digital. Film, as a format, has natural imperfections i.e. dust, scratches, light leaks etc. These are imperfections that cannot be recreated or duplicated. Film isn’t perfect, and neither are people. Nobody is perfect… and THIS is why I love to photograph portraits on film. The two just fit perfectly.
Anyone can manufacture perfection in Photoshop, that’s now easy to a lot of people reading this…but why do that? Your imperfections are your character traits; they make you who you are. Photographing with film allows me to take raw images of people, which capture their truest beauty and identity in my opinion. It’s honest, it’s moving and it tells a unique story.
It was a no brainer that this self-portrait project was going to be shot on film. I carefully went through over 30 different family photo albums and scanned over 350 pictures of myself from birth growing up to today and converted them into Polaroid prints from a company called Super Snaps. I had this vision in my head and thought, it would look really cool to have a bunch of polaroid’s hanging somehow and being submerged within the display of me growing up. I thought it would make a really cool backdrop for the self portraits and act as the perfect juxtaposition.
I reveal images I like and some I don’t like so much of me growing up. I struggled with my appearance growing up but I thought it was important to include these photos too. I wanted to reveal as much of myself as I possibly could in the photos and the video. Most people think vulnerability is a weakness, but I believe it’s actually a strength.
There were limitations to this project. The obvious one being the camera I used I couldn’t look on the back of an LCD screen to judge focus, composition and more importantly, exposure because I was using an automatic Polaroid camera. I had no exposure control except an exposure compensation dial, which wasn’t a massive aid to be honest. I obviously can’t delete a photo and have an endless supply of memory cards too. Some film cost a lot of money. The Polaroid film I use isn’t exactly the cheapest instant film on the market. I only had 16 frames to shoot. THAT’S IT.
Having said that, the benefits EASILY outweigh all the limitations though. Because when you get a frame that looks great, despite not having the luxury of all the things mentioned in the limitations, when you get a good shot, its beautiful! It’s something that can never be re created ever again! It’s so special and unique. I believe it’s good to put yourself in front of the camera every so often, even if it’s your friend taking the picture. Self portraits allow me to understand what its like to be on the other side of the camera and make me think more about each frame I take. You’re trying to find a spark in yourself that you like. I try and find that same spark in my photos of other people… my clients. I’m getting better at finding that spark in my collaboration with my clients. I know when I’ve got the shot, when myself and the client both see that spark. It’s a collaboration, it always has been and it always will be.
In this project I used the SX-70 Polaroid camera purchased from the Impossible Project, which is also where I bought the film used. Another obvious limitation with this camera I didn’t mention is it has no built in self-timer like our DSLR’s have. Straight out the box, this can’t be done. I couldn’t have had someone else take my picture with my chosen camera, otherwise it wouldn’t have been a self-portrait. So I purchased a rare self-timer from eBay. There were only about 5 of them on the entire site. The closest was from the US (I’m from the UK) and it thankfully come the day before the shoot! Phew.
The self-timer as you’ll see in the video clamps to the camera and is a glorified egg timer. Pretty noisy too actually. I had tested that a full turn gives me approximately 10 seconds before the shutter is mechanically pushed and the shot is taken. The camera also has no tripod mount, so I used my tether table to balance the camera on. I purposely wanted to challenge myself using this unorthodox choice of camera for self-portraits. Because…that’s the whole point of my monthly Personal Projects. To challenge myself, explore new mediums and new ways of executing ideas and connecting with my audience. I could easily have done this on a DSLR and got my exposure right very quickly… but where’s the fun in that?!
To stick with the vintage feel, I purposely chose an old barn to shoot this project in. I purposely picked the string used from Amazon and even used little pegs to hang them up with. Just to add even more vintage’ness (if that’s even a word) to the whole thing.
To sum up, I would encourage everyone try to do a self-portrait if you haven’t already. Set the lighting up however you want, wherever you want. Make it your next or even first personal project. It’s taught me to be a better more considerate photographer with my paying clients. When you nail a self-portrait, it just feels great. And if you nail it on film, it’s even better. Every photographer should own a film camera too. You’ll learn to take your time and think more about every shot you fire. I know I certainly did.
This learning combined with the learning from self-portraits too, made this a proudly successful project.