Belgian painter and photographer Wouter Van de Voorde was recently profiled in the Canberra Times. Influenced by artists from David Lynch to Rene Magritte, the article details Van de Voorde’s medium format film photography which documents alternative narratives in and around Canberra, Australia.
Written by Gillian Freeman, the article points readers to Van de Voorde’s show in April at The Photography Room in Queanbeyan.
Traveling is in Danny Zapalac’s blood. When Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968, his parents fled west. Thirty-nine years ago, Zapalac was born in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, New York. Five years later his parents moved again, this time to East Long Beach, California, where he was raised.
Attending college locally, Zapalac went to Long Beach State University, and graduated with an International Business degree. After graduation, he worked at a snowboard shop. He eventually realized it wasn’t for him, and, at 26, he picked up a camera for the first time and fell in love with photography.
In the Fast Company story, Sussman gives a recap of her ongoing project and points out her Mamiya 7 II and Fujifilm Pro Pack among the standard gear she carries with her on expeditions. We can’t wait until this project is complete. One woman traveling the globe to document what has been here longer than any of us, and still quite alive, is one of the most exciting photography projects we’ve heard of in a long time. Go, Rachel!
Michael Zhang at the awesome PetaPixel site has another fabulous post for photographers everywhere. This time, he brings to readers’ attention to a Chinese photographer working under the name ERIC. The video (included below) was shot in China and on the streets of Hong Kong.
ERIC, armed with a Mamiya 7 II burns through medium format film like it’s nobody’s business, shooting street photography of pedestrians at a blinding speed. The end of the video promises there’s more to come.
Check out that bag of film! Haven’t seen that kind of fun in years! Thanks, Michael.
Originally from Baltimore, Rachel Sussman has spent the last fifteen years in New York City, but don’t go looking for her there. Although she got her B.F.A. in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York, she’s often on the road, and searching for some very old things.
On a cross country road trip, Sussman wanted to visit Biosphere 2, in Oracle, Arizona. Built as a sealed ecological experiment in self-sufficiency, the giant greenhouse simulated different natural environments and was built to study, among other things, if humans could exist with finite biological resources recycled for extended periods. The structure fascinated to Sussman. “It was just absolutely captivating to me for the lines and the color and the light,” she says.
Finding the longterm implications profound, Sussman saw a melding of art and the natural world. “This idea of control of nature in the sense with this idea we could possibly live on another planet if we know how to do this right,” she says of her interest in the physical facility. “There is something completely fascinating about that. It is that perfect combination of the scientific, but it was also aesthetically really pleasing.”
Typically, her travels didn’t require tremendous planning. She picked a place she found interesting, and headed out. That’s changed with the project which is giving her a tremendous amount of attention, The Oldest Living Things in the World.
What is old? In the 4.54 billion year history of our planet, lifeforms showed up within the first billion years. Anatomically modern humans can be dated only to about 200,000 years into the past, with modern man evolving about 50,000 years ago. Our species has wildly fluctuating lifespans, with just 210,000 out of 6.8 billion people reaching the age of 100 years or greater. In short, we haven’t been around too long, and Sussman has set out to put things in this perspective with her Oldest Living Things in the World project. With the goal of photographically documenting organisms at least 2000 years of age and older, her images are a wake-up call to humanity. Encouraging preservation, concern for the continued stewardship of our natural habitat, and understanding lifeforms far more hardy than we are, Sussman may be undertaking one of the most important individual campaigns of species self-awareness and reverence for the fragility of the planet’s ecosystems since Charles Darwin sailed out of Plymouth, England on the H.M.S. Beagle.
Traveling the Earth to remote lands to photograph plants and animals—yes, animals—which have been in place since what many humans have denoted as year 1, Sussman goes through an inordinate amount of planning. She makes contacts among biologists researching these ancient organisms, and hopefully gets invited to visit them when they are in the field. Many of these specimens couldn’t be found without experts. A recent trip to Greenland required six months of planning. Logistically coordinating excursions to Antarctica and Tasmania require building entire teams to get her there and back safely.
No stranger to shooting landscapes, Sussman finds similarities with finding and photographing extraordinarily-old life. “I am doing that same sort of looking and exploring—that sort of ‘you know it when you see it moment,’” she explains. “That still happens. It is just a different framework than landscapes in which I am going out to do these shoots.”
The Oldest Living Things in the World has kept Sussman busy for the past five years. With over thirty examples captured on film, she believes she’s completed about two-thirds of the project on her list. “The list is somewhat flexible, as I discovered,” she says. “I find out about things as new things are discovered. Sometimes others are removed as new research come out. I think I have about two more years left of work on this space of the project. I also feel like it is something I would probably do for the rest of my life as these things get discovered. I don’t think I would be losing any interest in this.”
It seems nothing will prevent Sussman from finding and photographing something appropriate for her documentation. She got her open water diving certification in order to photograph a 2000-year-old brain coral head at a depth of 18 meters below sea level in Tobago. She recently dove again to shoot a 100,000-year-old clonal seagrass. It possesses one continuously growing root system. One part of it is genetically identical to any other part of it, so, although it regenerates, it is not a new plant. Similarly, although on dry land, Sussman has photographed Pando, in Fish Lake, Utah. Although it looks like a forest, Pando is actually a clonal Quaking Aspen, with one massive root system 80,000 years old. Each “tree” is actually a genetically identical stem growing from one individual plant.
Her photo of Spruce Gran Picea in Sweden is 9550 years old, and is nearly half-defoliated due to climate change, with temperatures warming on the mountain it has called home since 200 years before the signing of the Magna Carta, and 100 years before the Crusades began. “This project is about art,” Sussman says. “It’s about science, but it’s really about that philosophy—the idea of looking at time differently—stepping outside of our quotidian experience. It’s not very often you get to consider that deep time scale. I think it hopefully touches on the feeling of art and the natural sublime, which we usually don’t run into on a daily basis.”
Sussman’s oldest inclusion in her project is a soil sample with Siberian Actinobacteria, which clocks in at approximately one half-million years old, give or take 100,000 years, which she photographed at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. It is possibly the oldest living organism on the planet, and was taken from the permafrost in Siberia. If the permafrost continues heating up, it will likely be lost forever.
When asked about her gear she uses to document this project, she laughs. “I am so not a gear head,” she exclaims. “That’s one of the reasons I love my Mamiya 7 II. It is such a great camera for me. I feel comfortable with it. I have been using it long enough that I have a pretty good sense of what I am going to get.”
Her Mamiya has been with her for the entirety of The Oldest Living Things in the World project. “Actually, I got the Mamiya in 2004, right before the trip to Japan, which actually ended up sparking my idea for this project,” she says. “The reason I chose it is because I love that it basically feels like a big 35mm. I love that it’s a rangefinder. It feels rugged for the way I shoot. I’m always traveling. I’m going to some pretty extreme climates. It feels comfortable in my hand. It’s easy to use and gets these gorgeous results. Really, what’s not to like? It feels great. As soon as I started shooting with it, I just knew.”
Not trusting her Mamiya to underwater housings, she used a Canon PowerShot G10 for her initial marine photography, although she now uses a Panasonic LX3 with a 10Bar housing for her underwater work.
Sussman shoots Fuji 160S and 400H in her Mamiya 7 II. Although she loves film, she is not afraid of digital technology. “I really am dedicated to film, but I do make digital prints,” she says. “I feel I get the best of both worlds by shooting medium format and then making drum scans and archival pigment prints.” Eventually, gallery-sized enlargements will be printed. This is one of the factors why she’s shooting Mamiya gear with medium format film.
For the immediate future, Sussman will continue heading to seldom-traveled areas. A 5000-year-old moss awaits on the Antarctic Peninsula, and a 4265-year-old coral chain lies off Hawaii, among other old things cradled on our planet. She has a book and gallery tour planned when The Oldest Living Things in the World project is complete. No matter how fleeting her images and their implications will make us feel, we look forward to viewing them in book form whenever we want, for however long we have left to go.
Rachel Hulin has lived in New York since 2000. A native of Windham, Connecticut, Hulin didn’t have far to go to relocate, but the city opened up a world of creative opportunities for her. “I was extremely into photography in high school,” she says, quickly adding, “kind of the teenage girl cliche. I spent a lot of time in the darkroom.” While attending Brown University, she was the photo editor of the school newspaper, and took photography classes at the Rhode Island School of Design.
After graduation, Hulin worked in the production department at Conde Nast for a year, followed by a stint at the unlaunched Guggenheim.com, before returning to school to get a Master’s degree in Studio Art from New York University. NYU has an affiliate program with the International Center of Photography, which Hulin took advantage of. After graduation, she went to work for ICP. “That was where I got really connected to the photography world in New York,” she says. Eventually, she became a photo editor at Rolling Stone online, Radar, People, and Nerve.com, splitting her time between fine art photography and photo editing.
She’s also shooting a lot of weddings, usually with film, aiming for quality over quantity. “I try to do them in an interesting and artistic way,” she says. “It’s more and more rare. I always have my Mamiya 7II and a Pentax 67. Wedding guests are always asking me, ‘What is that thing?’” she laughs. Her two favorite lenses are the 80mm and the 65mm for the Mamiya 7. She prefers fixed-length over zooms.
“Film has a way of capturing light which digital just can’t do,” says Hulin. “I shoot a lot of chrome, too. Because I can’t look at every image, I’m a little slower with the process, more careful to compose each shot. It’s more expensive and you only have ten or twenty frames. Not even seeing the images for a week or more while I have them developed changes my relationship to the imagery. I might choose different ones than if I had that instant gratification. When I shoot digitally I shoot ten times as much and worry about it later. Even when I do shoot digital, I often use film filters in post. Film feels very nostalgic now, and nostalgia is a big part of what photography is.”
Hulin does a lot of bracketing. “It’s very old school, but it works,” she explains. “This way you know you’re covered. I also use a Sekonic meter and rent Profoto gear for corporate client work.”
“My personal work is very narrative about family relationships and things that happen naturally,” says Hulin. “I always have my cameras with me. I’m always waiting and looking and hoping to see a moment that could be a poignant visual moment and tell a story. I make about five pictures every three months which I love, and I really love those five.”
“I much prefer natural lighting,” she explains of her warm, film images. This is even more impressive in the light of the even tonality she achieves across the range of clients she services. “I generally try to use the same style and cameras for my commercial lifestyle work and my fine art photographs. I want them to have the same feel.” She has some more personal projects in the planning stages, and hopes to continue her commercial lifestyle shoots. Soon to be heading to Mendoza, Argentina for a wedding shoot, she’ll be extending her stay to do personal work in the region.
With much of her time spent writing about photography, Hulin feels fortunate to be part of what’s happening now. “It’s an interesting time,” she says. “There’s so much changing every year. There’s so much information for photographers online now. There’s many photographers who want to help each other with comments and feedback.” She sees this community support similar to what photographers leave behind after college or graduate school is over.
One of Hulin’s latest projects is The Photography Post, a site chronicling the current state of photography. It includes feeds from all aspects of photography, including commercial work, fine art, fashion, and other sites and blogs. The site claims to “deliver the most current discussions on the state of photography.” This aggregate site features not only the live feeds, but it’s updated every fifteen minutes. A clean design and slick backend merge to form an impressive resource for photographers and photography-lovers. It also has corresponding Twitter and Facebook presences, and an RSS feed. A great effort with rich, ever-changing content.
From photographer to photo editor to photo blogger, Rachel Hulin has worn many hats in the photography trade. There’s no telling what she’ll try next, and, like her photographs, that’s worth watching for.
“Ever since I was young, I knew in my heart I would be an artist of some sort,” states photographer Ervine Lin. Unfortunately, the educational system in Singapore tended to frown upon students who chose to study art during Ervine’s youth, “leaving only the less academically inclined students to pursue it,” he says. Ervine was whisked away into science-related courses with other academically-gifted students. The closest he could come to art was becoming an architectural major, which proved to be an unhappy pairing.
Taking a year off from his studies, Ervine and a friend opened a photography studio. His friend quickly left the business, leaving the neophyte photographer with the studio and the rent to pay. Ervine found himself a professional photographer with professional responsibilities very quickly. Fortunately, commercial clients appeared, and Ervine began his autodidactic journey as a photographer.
When asked about his impressive blend of lighting and saturation, Ervine claims to have a split personality when it comes to work for clients and work for himself. He will do anything required to get what clients are paying him for, including total image manipulation with his formidable Photoshop skills. His personal photographs get very little digital tweaking, if any. Most are scanned directly from slide or negatives. Sometimes there’s dust removal, cropping, and maybe a small amount of dodging and burning. “Most of the saturation that you see comes from the slides I use,” he says. “If you thought the photos online were saturated, wait until you look at the some of the slides under a loupe!”
Although his black and white photos often exhibit a wide dynamic range of luminosity, Ervine professes to not work hard to get this effect with his Mamiya gear. “While I often bring my Sekonic with me, there are times when I’d rather skip the whole zone metering and just let the camera do its work in AE mode,” he says. “I’m using a Mamiya 6, (a forerunner of the popular Mamiya 7 II) and it’s metering is done through the viewfinder. Film latitude on black and white negatives is just so broad that it’s really quite hard to go drastically wrong.” For color work, he shoots Kodak VS100 and Fuji Provia 400F. His black and white films are Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 and Neopan 400, and everything is scanned with an Epson Perfection V700. He shoots with strobes for his professional work, but his personal photos are done with available light only. When necessary, he utilizes a Sekonic 758 meter. “One of the biggest plus points about the Sekonic is its ability to average out a number of meter readings. This really speeds things up for me when I need to move fast but still meter with a spot meter.”
Completely self-taught in the art and science of photography, Ervine switched from the Mamiya RB67 to the Mamiya 6 Rangefinder. The reason for the switch was ease of portability in the field, as most of his personal photographs are done in foreign countries. Of the Mamiya 6, he reports, “It’s shutter is so slient you can hardly tell it went off.” He shoots the 50, 75, and 150mm lenses. “All three lenses are superb and pretty much ideal for the work I do. They tack sharp even when wide open.”
Ervine has written about how digital photos appear too clean for him, and film seems “more authentic.” When asked if this is something to do with medium format film, he replies, “Not just medium format film. Polaroids, 35mm, 8×10′s, et cetera, all have this wonderfully beautiful look. Anything shot on film looks more down to earth, more humane, more alive, even. There’s the fact that when you tell people you shot a photograph on film, it helps to give you a bit more credibility as a photographer.”
When viewing the gorgeous tonality evident throughout his work in exotic locations from Australia to China to Bali, it’s clear Ervine Lin made the right choice. He is definitely an artist, and was wise to listen to the voice which spoke to him in his childhood. With his sights set on moving from commercial photography to more personal work and possibly opening a gallery, Ervine says, “I love making nice images for no other reason than making nice images. There’s nobody to answer to, no lists of deliverables and deadlines to meet, no invoices and quotations to write, and so on — just taking photographs for the love of photography and nothing else. Again I boil this down to my photographic split personality. In the future, if the time and opportunity arose for me to earn a decent living with my personal work, I would make the switch in an instant.” Although his commercial clients would disagree, we look forward to more stunning personal work by Ervine Lin, and wish him the best in continuing to make his artistic dreams a reality.
Ben Delaney of Spokane, Washington, is back where he started. A native of Spokane, Ben shot film before and during his apprenticeship under John Rizzo in Portland, Oregon. In 2001, Ben began to dabble in digital photography with growing interest. Eventually, despite the technological limitations of the time, he went all-digital, and continued to shoot everything from engagements and weddings to corporate clients.
In the winter of 2008-2009, Ben “hit a creative wall,” as he recounts the story. One day while pouring over old film with his six year old daughter, “I was showing her the film, and it dawned on me she had no idea what I was talking about. It was foreign and magical to her that there were little pictures you could see when held up to the light. I knew some of this magic had been lost in the digital world. Right then I knew I had to get back into film.” Ben got a Mamiya C330 Professional and “loves the purity of it. As far as Mamiya is concerned, I’ve always loved their cameras, and all the photographers I’ve worked with have shot them. There’s a nostalgic quality about them I love.”
Much of Ben’s portraiture work is close up. He achieves this through both cropping and physically getting near his subject. “I like to feel close enough to the subject. The beauty of film is there’s so much resolution and great texture and detail you can crop if you need to.” His choice of lenses is also critical. “The 135mm is luscious for shooting portraits. The 80mm is a little wider, but I still like it for portraits because it’s a little more natural.” When working with E6 film as a photo assistant, Ben’s appreciation for film continued to grow. “That inherent texture and grain is what I fell in love with. The way it renders the color spectrum and blacks look different on film… it adds up to something you can’t get digitally. I’ve actually tried to emulate it when shooting digitally. I’m truly one hair away from selling all my digital gear and working in film exclusively.”
Although extensively experienced with utilizing off-camera flash with PocketWizards, he currently shoots “about 90% with available light. That’s one of the great things about film. You can push it a stop or two, and it has that wonderful natural quality. Also, I don’t like carrying a lot of stuff,” he laughs.
About his journey from film to digital and back, he’s noticed something else about his selectivity. “It’s slower. I can shoot a thousand images with my digital Nikon and inundate myself with work afterwards, or I can shoot twelve or twenty-four exposures with film, and be much more happy with the quality.” As evidence of this, Ben cites a current project he’s working on with a client’s library of approximately 25,000 images. “As we were going through and scanning my client’s family archive, the moment at which they started shooting digitally the quality of the photographs diminished by about 75%. It was absolutely shocking. The percentage of good photos shot on film versus what they were doing digitally, well, there was no comparison. Eighty-five to ninety percent of the old photos shot on film were beautiful—keepers. Maybe five percent of the digital stuff was worth keeping, and those didn’t even look as good technically. I’m fast becoming a convert back to my roots.”
In a business where time is money, Ben feels film adds to his bottom line despite the processing costs. The results keep his clients coming back. “The film images have more character. To get the same quality digitally takes a lot of extra work and time. Film gets great results right out of the camera.” The quality-dollar ratio also has misconceptions surrounding the digital/film debate, says Ben. “To get the resolution and color depth of film digitally, well, you’re spending a ton of money. You can get there, but it’ll cost you tens of thousands of dollars. I spent a ton of money on a new Nikon system last year. Now I find myself using much cheaper film cameras and getting better results, and faster.” With less time behind the computer, Ben has time to research his next film venture. A Mamiya RZ67 Pro IID system or the Mamiya 7 II is next on his list. No matter what Mamiya he’ll be shooting with in the future, Ben’s feet are happily planted back in the world of film.
…or shooting film or digital, Italian photographer Veliero knows his way around both. When he picks up his Mamiya 7II, he proves he is an elegant master of light, composition, exposure, film developing and of course scanning. His work is truly superb and well worth a trip to Flickr to see. Plus he knows English well enough that we could have a short email exchange. Bellisimo!
Travel story and social documentary photographer Matt Shonfeld travels extensively, but not quickly. Typically, after being flown to an exotic location by a top publication, he’ll elect to stay in-country for weeks after his initial assignment, moving almost exclusively on foot, and shooting the locals with his standard gear: two Mamiya 7II bodies and three lenses.
First handed a camera at the age of six, Matt has been “passionate about pictures” since that day. In fact, there’s no lack of passion in Matt’s love of the work he does. In an increasingly digital world, Matt remains loyal to medium format film exclusively. “I’m Frugal. Each picture matters. There’s ten exposures on a roll. I’m very careful,” he declares. “I’m passionate about color and color diversity. We see in color. I only shoot in natural light—never in the middle of the day, and I never use flash.” His beautifully-saturated photos for clients such as Vanity Fair, Courrier International, andThe New York Times bear this out. Self-proclaimed as “hopeless in Photoshop,” Matt insists of himself he get it right on film. As a rule, he always slightly under-exposes his Fuji negative film.
Matt’s sense of mission for photography takes him to extremes. He once walked 540 kilometers from Pakistan to India with a camel train, camera in hand all the way. He also spent one month in the jungles of Columbia with the FARC. Known for their habit of kidnapping foreigners, Matt narrowly avoided getting murdered near the end of his stay.
If his travel habits are extreme, his approach to gear is not. “I’m a real traditionalist. I travel light. The Mamiya 7II is like a big Leica, but it’s light. It doesn’t need a tripod. It’s as easy as it always was.” Without shooting digitally, there’s no need for a laptop or external hard drives to weigh him down or require power. “I can’t see myself going down the digital route.” He only develops his film after returning home. “It’s like Christmas when picking up film from the lab.”
To get his work in the hands of clients, Matt uses a Hasselblad scanner for a resolution of 32,000 dpi images, which are then reduced to JPEGs.
Originally a lover of Rolleiflexes, Matt spent a long time shooting with Canon, then Leica, before moving to Mamiya after someone at a photojournalist festival recommended the Mamiya 7II to him. “They’re tough cameras. They’re good in different temperatures and all kinds of climates. The lenses are great quality. The 65mm is fantastic, but I’ve fallen in love with the 43mm. For portraits I use the 65 or the 80. There’s not a better camera out there. It’s simple and easy to use.” He travels with two bodies: one for 400 speed film, one for 160 speed film.
Although modest about his process, Matt’s frugality and concern with “getting it” seems to pay off. Often on a contact sheet with ten exposures, his client will use as many as eight or nine photos, an astoundingly high rate, especially when compared to his digital counterparts.
Having lived in Poland, France, Italy, India, and South America, UK-native Matt is currently engaged in years-long personal project of documenting British seaside towns with his 7IIs. Treating his fellow countrymen the way he treats his subjects when a guest in foreign lands, Matt says, “don’t ask permission. If you ask permission, the picture’s gone.” This approach has only caused him problems in one location: the city of love. While once shooting on a Parisian street, he was chased a few blocks by a large man not happy to be photographed. Matt still feels fortunate he escaped.
When advising beginning photographers Matt says, “learn the traditional craft. Do it with film, not the computer. Learn about light and traditional processes. This is important. Look at other people’s work, both contemporary and earlier.” In a competitive industry, he advises, “cut your own way. There are many great resources available, both real and online. Get out there. Shoot. Learn to be confident locally first. Can you tell a story in pictures? It could be a mundane thing like making tea, but if it’s shot beautifully, then it works.”