My photo lab, The Black & White Box, have started a great little series on their blog called “Artist Interviews”. I was surprised and honoured to be asked a few questions for it recently. It was actually really nice to sit down and put my thoughts about shooting into writing.
You can see the original post on their website (and more) here: The Black & White Box - Blog
A super dad and husband, as well as an awesome photographer, we’ve been long-time fans of Sam. And because we think he’s the best, we wanted to ask him a few of our burning questions about his practice, and he gladly obliged…
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m 27, I live and work in Masterton for an innovative local tech company, I’m a husband, a dad, a songwriter/musician, and I’m a 4 on the enneagram. I’m deeply interested in art, theology/philosophy (from a post-evangelical perspective), and how they inform and impact our lives and the world. I love brewing single origin coffee in my V60, heading on family adventures, and connecting with people.
How did your love of photography come about?
I started with a hand-me-down iPhone 3 and VSCo filters, so I could post our newly-married adventures online. I guess that my initial desire to take photos came from being of the social media generation – wanting to document what we were up to and share that with friends, especially with things like recording music, playing shows etc.
One weekend my good friend Tom (hollow.co.nz) documented our band practice and the surrounding antics on his family’s old film camera. I wanted a taste of the film action myself, so I bought the cheapest 35mm camera and film I could find online – Holga 135BC and Superia 400, and I took that combo with me everywhere that summer.
My boss caught me with it one day, next day he turns up with his old (mint) Minolta XE-1 and 50mm f/1.4 lens he had tucked away in the garage and said I could have it! I was so excited that I took it on a trip to Nepal as my only camera, before I had even put a test roll through it. It was getting those scans back that solidified my love for photography – I was hit with waves of emotions as I scrolled through the photos. I think that moment showed me the power of photography, I just knew that I wanted to keep taking photos. From there I started to see photos as expression and communication, rather than just pure documentation.
And I still use that Minolta regularly!
Why have you decided to document your family and life on film as opposed to other mediums?
Partially, it’s the resulting image I get without having to sit at a computer working in Lightroom, but it’s also the way it forces me to shoot. Shooting with a limited number of frames helps me to think more about the photo – framing, light, timing, what should/shouldn’t be in the frame etc. Shooting without immediate feedback on a screen also means that I’m more engaged with what’s happening in the moment – I’m shooting someone and as I lower the camera I’m looking back at them straight away, rather than down at a screen. It’s quite a peaceful experience shooting this way with old cameras, especially after spending my work week in front of a computer. It’s also a nice feeling to know that in the future, my photos aren’t going to be lost when a hard drive fails or becomes obsolete!
I guess you could summarise it as: having a camera on me helps me to keep my eyes open to the beauty of moments I may have missed otherwise – like the way the light falls somewhere, or a small gesture between people – and shooting on film helps me to stay engaged with that moment and know when to put down the camera.
How do you find motivation to continue to go out and pursue your creative endeavours?
That’s a tough one. With both my main creative endeavours – music and photography – motivation comes and goes in waves. I always feel a need to express myself from within what’s going on in my life, so I can never just sit back and not create, but I do allow myself to have breaks. After I finish a roll of film I just won’t load anything up again until inspiration strikes and I want to shoot again. Sometimes that can be a couple of weeks. In the meantime I usually read up on the masters of photography and look at their photos for inspiration. I’ll often reflect on my photography and make notes of things I want to work on or shoot more.
There’s a quote I heard Rob Bell say, “you’re a human being, not a human doing”. This one stuck with me – I try to focus on being, being present to myself and the moment, and allowing the art to come out of that naturally.
What advice would you give to your younger self given your experience in life so far?
“Follow your gut”. I’m only learning this now and it’s still so hard!
“Be true to who you are. Try not to compare yourself or your work to anyone else.”
What is your current camera setup and favourite film?
Hasselblad 500CM (80mm lens and waist level finder) with Portra 400/800 – hand in hand with the Olympus XA with HP5+ or Tri-X, pushed to 1600.
That being said, I have a few other inherited cameras I still use for fun and a bunch of old expired film to work through!
Are there artists you look up to or admire?
I just love looking up all the masters of photography, some of those who have had significant impact on me are: W. Eugene Smith, Josef Koudelka, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, Gordon Parks, Sebastião Salgado, and William Eggleston.
I’m also a fan of (the slightly more contemporary) Andre Wagner and Alec Soth.
What importance do you think film could have for future generations?
I think everyone learning photography should learn about film – the process of shooting, developing, and darkroom printing. It is just so magical, and so fun. Working with actual light and materials instead of sensors and settings and menus is so refreshing for me, and I can see that being the case for even more people in the future too. For certain types of commercial and personal work, film can be a really good fit too. I try encourage anyone I can to shoot a roll!
Where do you see yourself in 5 – 10 years time with your photography work?
I’d like to organise family shots into some really nice albums, but also I’d like to get out in the community with my camera more and maybe work on a photobook. I’m always thinking about what photographic project I could take on, going over my photos for reoccuring themes to run with a bit more. But for now I’m just following my gut and my curiousity and seeing what comes of it! The outward goal for me is to record what I see in the world in a way that will make people feel what I feel when I’m in the moment. The world moves so fast so if I can learn how to stop and feel, and share that others, I’ll be happy.