Saturday, July 13, 2013

Interview with Stephen Dowling

Born in New Zealand, Stephen Dowling is a London-based photojournalist specialising in music, reportage, portraiture and travel. He shoots film 100% - "something about it that will always do it for me."
"I shoot on a range of cameras, from autofocus Nikons to Lomos and medium format Kievs. I love snooping round eBay and second-hand shops for bargains.He says.
He also has a film photography blog, where he's posting his daily "adventures in analogue". We asked Stephen some questions to know more about him and his background in photography.

Hi Stephen, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a New Zealander who's been living in London for almost 20 years. I'm a journalist by day – I work for the BBC – and cram as much photography as I can into my free hours. I've been working on a couple of photography projects over the last few years, but I also like nothing better than loading up one of my old cameras and shooting just for the fun of it.

How did you get started in photography? And why you choose film in this digital age?
I had to take pictures in one of my first jobs as a reporter on a weekly paper back in New Zealand. I bought a camera before I went on my overseas travels – and this being the mid-90s, it was the days of film – but didn't really get into photography for several years. I'd upgraded my camera few times with autofocus Canon SLRs, and then decided to learn the basics. I bought an old Praktica camera and learned how to expose manually. I was hooked.

What film cameras do you use and which is your favourite? Is there a film you like best?
I have a bunch of cameras; probably around 40. A lot of them cost me next to nothing however. I like chopping and changing, trying different camera/film combinations, but of course I have a few favourites. I have a couple of Pentax ESIIs I like taking away on city breaks or trips abroad – it's a really classic design, the aperture priority and manual focusing is a nice compromise and the old Pentax lenses are superb. I do a lot of shooting on old screw mount lenses so have quite a collection of M42 cameras – Zenits, Chinons, Prakticas, and Bessaflexs. I love my old Lomo LC-A and the Olympus XA rangefinder – a camera with a superb lens which you can fit in your pocket. I also love shooting medium format with a Soviet Kiev 60. The lenses are superb.

I love all kinds film, and I've tried to shoot on as many emulsions as possible. I'm really sad Kodak's Elite Chromes have gone – they're great travel films, and are also perfect for cross-processing (they give that saturated lurid with just enough grain). The old version of Agfa Precisa is a great film to cross process aswell. My favourite black and white film is Kodak Tri-X, though I also love pushing Neopan for low-light work, and I'm a big fan of the Fomapan films aswell.

Talk to us about your background in photography? Do you work as a professional photographer?
I'm not a professional, though I've done a few paid jobs or sold prints when possible. I'm lucky to have made friends with a bunch of musicians from my music writing days, and I've made that the foundations of a project shooting bands at soundcheck which I hope to one day turn into a book or an exhibition. One of those shots was used as the album cover for my friend's band Buffalo Tom; pretty humbling considering two of their albums featured pics by Magnum photographers.

I like making a little money to pay for old cameras on eBay, film and developing, but I don’t want to become a full-time photographer; it’s one of the things I do to relax.

I have a website which I’m aiming to revamp over the coming months, but the best places to see my work are on my Flickr and my film photography blog, which is called Zorki Photo. It’s got a bunch of camera reviews and other stories from my years taking film photos.

What gives you inspiration?
So many things. The work of other photographers of course. I spend a lot of time on Flickr and Lomography, and am constantly amazed at the quality of pics being made by enthusiastic amateurs on these sites.

I’ve got a few favourites on Flickr; FotobesLomokev, Patrick Joust and Gary Li. But photography is like any other artform – it’s influenced by all sorts of things, some of why you might not notice at the time. A song might conjure up an image, or a book, or a trip to the shops – which is where I shot this pic. I found myself walking past this mural day after day after day for years before I realised there might be a pic in it.

Do you have any tips for someone who’s just picking up a film camera?
Several. The main one would be: relax. So many photographers, whether they have never shot film, or moved over to digital, seem to think analogue photography is some arcane collision between calculus and Latin. It’s not. If you’ve ever switched your digital SLR to manual metering you’ve worked out 90% of the problems right there. Manual focusing may take some practice if you’re planning on covering Formula 1 or athletics, but otherwise shouldn’t give you too many problems.

Play around and have fun. Load up granddad’s old folding camera and take it to the city for a day. Shoot a band on your mum’s old Minolta. Hit the flea markets and eBay and buy a camera for no more than $20. Start a Lomo camera collection. Save your pennies for a Leica M6. Whatever – analogue photography is a broad church and you can do what the hell you like. There’s bound to be someone who enjoys it as much as you do.

Put your pictures up online. We live in the world of digital photo albums – and there’s nothing wrong with that. A like-minded soul in Santiago or San Francisco is still a like-minded soul.

Buy film. Use it. Develop it. And buy some more. Buy fresh film, even if it means forgoing something else now and then (but not your rent or food – be sensible). They’ll only keep making it if we buy it and use it.

Stephen, thank you for the interview.

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