For many photographers with commercial aspirations, one of the names that will invariably come up as a source of inspiration is Dave Hill.
Earlier on in his career, he was known for creating complex, high-concept composite images with digital photography and Photoshop, with which he became synonymous.
His personal work harkens back to something much simpler--most of the personal images he shares on his site and social channels seem to be shot with his Leica M6.
More recently, we have gone behind the scenes with Dave on big commercial jobs he shot on film, such as for Honda and Jeep (watch those Behind the scenes videos--seriously, we'll wait), and quiet lifestyle images using only natural light.
He's obviously been very busy shooting commercial jobs--and that he has been able to convince art buyers at such high levels to approve campaigns to be shot with film is nothing short of amazing today.
But late last year, he quietly launched a book of his personal medium format film work chronicling his travels through the city of Barstow, CA. It is a quiet book full of revealing images and moments of peoples' lives in a small town. Dave took a few minutes to tell us about the book.
Tell us about yourself and your commercial work
My name’s Dave Hill. I’m from Carlsbad, CA and now live in Los Angeles with my wife and 15month old daughter. I got my start in photography in high school in the 90’s, shooting my friends skating and snowboarding. I went to UCLA for History and they had an amazing daily newspaper. I joined freshman year as an intern. We had to roll, process, and scan all of our own film, mostly TRI-X 400. The UCLA newspaper is were I really learned how to approach people without fear. It was a wild time. I became the Photo Editor my senior year in 2000. I got to spend our entire photo equipment budget that year on the new Nikon D1, so I had a very early start in digital.
That led me to spend the next 4 years after college really getting into Photoshop and compositing and creating worlds. I was also in a punk band at the time and started shooting a ton of music groups. No one was really compositing in the music scene yet, so I started to get meetings and attention from bigger artists and labels. From there, it led to a bunch of rappers and lots of CD packages, and then eventually, into the advertising world.
The entire time, though, I was regretting my obsession with Photoshop and really yearning to get back out and just shoot film with natural light. My longest break in shooting film was from 2003-2005. After those couple years of gaining weight and living in Photoshop, I bought my first Leica M6 and 35mm f2 lens on Craigslist. That was my first film cam purchase since my Nikon N70 is 1998!
So it’s taken me about 10 years from when I got that Leica, to now being finally hired for some natural light commercial jobs. It was really, REALLY tough to break out of the compositing world. At some point, I just had to accept loosing the bigger budgets and retouching fees and just go for it. The past few years I’ve really been trying to push film and at least non-composite lifestyle images to all my clients. It’s been a tough trying to impress anyone these days.
The bonus from my lack of Photoshop time has been more exploration back into street photography. I used to love shooting street and journalism stuff in college and the past 1-2 years, I’ve been taking random weekends off, documenting areas that fascinate me.
Your book "Barstow" is quite a departure from you commercial work. What is the motivation for it?
I love the desert. I always have. My dad used to take us camping to Anza-Borrego in East San Diego camping. We’d go dirt biking, shoot guns, bond with my brothers. It was awesome. We’d pass lots of random towns, including Barstow, from time to time.
As an adult, I’ve passed through Barstow on the way to Vegas like everyone else, but always had a fascination with it. My wife is awesome and a few times, we were bored in LA and decided to drive to Barstow, watch a movie at the little ghetto theater in town, and stay at the Ramada. It’s an experience. After doing that a couple times, I really wanted to explore the down more.
My wife had a baby shower weekend and I knew that was my chance. I packed up my iPhone and just my Mamiya 7 and 80mm lens and headed to Barstow. I spent the next two days walking around the city, getting yelled at and getting called a pervert. I found Barstow to be a really rough town. People didn’t respond well to me walking through their neighborhoods. I’m still fascinated why people would live in a desert town like Barstow.
Shed some light on the creation of the book
My edit was really focused on people. Sure, there were some cool/depressing old buildings out there, but I wanted to include as much of the people as possible. It was hard to toss out some of the landscapes, but I felt like my strength was how I approached the people.
I had it printed at A&I here in North Hollywood. I did a test of the bigger on-demand printers and A&I’s paper really kicked everyone else’s butt. They are a little pricey, but I felt it was worth it. I only did an initial run of 50 copies and still have a few left for sale. I feel like I’d have to sell 200-500 copies to actually make any money. With a run of 50, I actually lost money when selling the book for $30, but I did it more for art’s sake, and really wanted people to have the book in their hands, whatever it took. In the future, it might be nice to go big, print more, and make a profit!
Why did you choose to shoot this project using film?
Film was a no-brainer for me. Film looks better than digital, hands-down. The colors are unbeatable, no matter your Photoshop skill level. I shoot all my street and personal stuff on film. With projects like this Barstow book, I shoot so slow anyway, it’s not like I’m blowing through a ton of rolls. Call me silly, but I feel like when I shoot a photo on a negative, I’ve really created something. With digital, it feels like a robot just collecting data.
Do you plan to use film for any commercial work in the future, if you haven't already done so? (Editor's Note: I asked this question before his amazing Honda and Jeep behind-the-scenes videos came out!)
Yes! I’ve been spending extra money to have a camera-man come along on recent commercial car jobs, capturing the experience of shooting film. These videos have been getting a little attention in the photo world online, but my primary goal was to be able to show art buyers, who are always a little skeptical, that film on a commercial job isn’t stressful, but can be just a simple part of the workflow. Film doesn’t need to mean HOLGA/blurry/artsy/grainy/window-light nudes. Film can mean commercial shots in high-res, with beautiful colors and skin tones.
A huge thanks to Dave Hill for talking to us and helping to keep film alive and a viable option in the commercial world! Please check out Dave's website and Social profiles below, and make sure to pick up a copy of "Barstow" while you still can.
Link to Barstow Book - now only $15! :-)
Print your pictures. That's the thing that is missing in a lot of photographer's workflows: the final print. In an analog process like film photography, a finished print is the thing that can keep the "tangibility" of shooting with film a tangible, living thing.
Especially important is collecting your work in cohesive volumes and collections, such as books. Today, we're talking to another film shooter who has created two books, with more on the way. Volume 1 is a book with images created across the country using only a Holga, and I Spent a Sunday in Miami was a project born out of spontaneity where the photographer hopped on a plane to Miami specifically to create the book, using medium format film. Let's get to talking to Laidric:
1) Tell us a bit about yourself, and what type of subjects you typically like to shoot the most. Hello, I'm Laidric Stevenson, residing in the city of Dallas, located in the Great State of Texas! Not a native however, just got down here as quickly as I could! I'm what happened to that high school newspaper / yearbook photogeek that you would see at basketball and football games, roaming the halls with a camera, or flashing you in the face during prom... I guess you can say that my formal training was photojournalism? Although, I never worked for a daily paper or weekly magazine, I still approach subjects with that sort of mindset. Get the wide establishing shot, then move in to the details to tell the story. I don't know if there's a subject that I like to shoot the most, my photos are my reactions to situations and objects that I come across in the wild. I will say that I am drawn alot to text and image, especially when the meaning can change when you take it out of the context of being an advertisment, or whatever the original intent was.
2) You have two books that are in print: Tell us about what inspired you to take those particular series of photos and put them in printed volumes. Volume 1 is a collection of images from my America Untitled series, which grew originally out of having to use a Holga camera for an assignment in my Intermediate Photo class back in 2005. I was a rigid purist up to that point, black and white film only, manual focus, manual exposure, etc. Using this camera that had gave me little to no control, that allowed me to shoot in a free-flowing stream of consciousness, and gave these dreamy, hazy, and techincally poor images, was a rebirth for me photographically. I started shooting any and everything I came across. As I started going through the negatives, certain themes kept reappearing; class & income inequality, patriotism, religion. After I had to leave school that year due to other obligations, I set everything aside for a few years. After my wife and I purchased our first home in 2011, I started shooting again, as well as travelling for the first time to photograph; New Orleans, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Antonio. I picked areas / cities at random, there really wasn't any rhyme or reason to it. I knew that the photos would eventualy end up in a book format, because I felt that the overall statement that I was making came from the images playing off of each other. The book is called Vol 1, because the intent was to release the series in a serial format, every couple of years make a book, and get it out into the world. I Spent a Sunday in Miami was actually the first book that I made, and I made it because I was inspired by all of the small photobooks / zines that I had been buying off of other photographers. I would just see someone's book on Instagram, or come across someone's tumblr and I would just buy it. After a while, I thought "I should be doing one of these", but I didn't know what to do one on. While on Facebook one night, I came across something about Urban Beach Weekend on South Beach (I think from a friend of a friend liking something and it showing up on my news feed), and I instantly thought, "I'm going to Miami for that". I jumped on a plane, and spent the Sunday before Memorial Day walking up and down Collins St and Ocean St on South Beach. I shot 6 rolls of 6x7 image on 220 film, which is 120 photographs, then I came home scanned and edited, put the book together and sent it to a few friends.
3) It seems that you seem quite comfortable with interacting people and taking photos of them quite closely. How do you interact with these people? I wouldn't say that I'm comfortable interacting with people, I'm actually a shy person by nature (as alot of photographers are), I'm also a bit introverted and I tend to disappear into crowds of people, which makes for some good street shootin' (no g, it sounds dirtier that way...). I don't consider myself to be a street photographer by any definition, but I think that I do have those traits that allow me to blend into the environment. I think it also helps when you photograph in places where people are naturally comfortable and unaware in their surroundings. For example, in Miami, there were so many people with video cameras (trying to videotape the girls in bikinis) and photographers (searching for "models"), that people weren't apprehensive, like "What's that guy doing with that camera, what are you taking pictures for?!" The only opposition was the photo in the book with the woman that has a snake draped on her shoulders, and there's another woman with her hand up in a "No Pictures" gesture towards me. She actually said 'no pictures', but I had already made the shot, so what are you going to do? That was actually one of my favorite photos from that trip, and I actually walked past them at first! I don't generally interact with people when I'm out shooting, unless they are the ones initiating the interaction, these are generally the "What are you taking pictures for?" people. Which I get, to a point. The public at large generally views the usage of photography as a tool of record; recording some event like a graduation or wedding or a concert. Even as photography is viewed these days as a major tool of communication, it's mostly "We were here, look at this". It's just replacing or accompanying words / text that would normally be used, a visual shorthand as I've heard it referred to. And it's difficult for them to understand why someone would making photographs that aren't going to be used in that fashion, or maybe they think that there's some more ominous intentions at work. Which of course with the way that photos are taken and spread these days (like in internet memes), or how corporations will take and use images without permission without a second thought, I get that as well. After we get past the "What are you taking pictures for?", if we do get past that that is, as some people are just opposed to cameras and photography in public. I've been meaning to start carrying around some materials, not for marketing purposes, just a 'this is me, who I am, what I do'. I've been looking at a couple of print on demand companies that offer small (3.5 x 2.5) inch books, something to fit in a coat or pants pocket. A conversation difuser / starter so to say.
4) What inspired you to use film for these projects? I only have one digital camera currently, a Fuji Xpro-1, and I mostly use that for family snapshots and such, when I'm out to do what I consider my serious work, I'm always grabbing a film camera. I just have so many more options with my film cameras, do I want the grainess and portability of 35mm, or do I want the resolution and tonal richness of medium format? Or do I want the holga? And when I get my hands on a 4x5, that will give me another option. I think personally for me, that's what keeps me using film, that choice in tools, choosing a different tool, changes my approach and mindset on making the work. That and the whole process of film photography, editing raw files in Lightroom, I can't stand that for more than 15-20 seconds, it just bores me to no end...but I can sit there and spot a film scan for minutes on end. I just seem to have more patience with film.
5) What kind of cameras/film did you use for these projects? The Volume 1 book was a combination of Tri-X / HP5 (which ever one I found cheaper or more available) with various Holga cameras. I Spent a Sunday in Miami is Fuji 160s and Portra 400 with a Mamiya 7 + 80mm
6) What are you working on next? What new projects can we expect from you? Right now, I'm juggling being a new father (with a soon to be 6 month old) with a bunch of scattershot ideas. I've actually changed to carrying all small compact 35mm cameras, Olympus XA, Stylus Epic, Nikon Lite Touch, etc and that is strongly influencing my current approach to making new work. One of my biggest photographic influences / favorite photographers is Lee Friedlander, and I've found myself making images inspired by his America by Car series, it's only a few months old at this point, and I'm not sure where I'm going to go with it at this point, but I've gotten to a stage in my photography where if I have an idea and I feel strongly enough to work on it, I want it to naturally run it's course to where I can feel like "Okay, that's done" I started a series about Miami that's on hold. Not just Miami, Florida, there are 11 states that have a city named Miami (maybe not pronounced the same, but spelled the same); Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia. I want to do a compare / contrast of the differences (and similarities) of these places with the same name but spread out throughout the country. Due to the amount of travel that something of this scope pertains, it will take me some time before I feel I have enough work to show. I keep coming back to America as a theme and subject, so I have another series called GBA or God Bless America (that's a working title), this project I feel is an extension of America Untitled, but taking me down what I feel is a different pathway. Then of course, I just have random images that don't really fit any particular project or theme, I just see something, and I shoot it. And of course, more books on the horizon!
Please make sure to check out more of Laidric's work, and buy his books at the links below:
Buy the books: http://www.magcloud.com/user/stevensow
Tumblr (shared project): http://meetingnewpeoplezine.tumblr.com/
We're proud to feature Nate Matos, a photographer from Portland, Oregon. I first came to know Nate through his YouTube channel, which has become prominent among like-minded film shooters looking to feed their appetites for information about film photography.
More recently, Nate has just published his latest printed book, Serif & Silver, a quarterly film photography journal of his curated work. The first edition, Polaroids, is a collection of his instant film work between from 2010 to 2015. Today, we get to talk to Nate and learn about his process of getting his work from the idea stage to a final, printed volume.
Tell us about yourself, and what you do. I'm from the Portland area originally, although I was born in Fullerton, CA. This has become a small point of contention in my life as when people ask where I'm from I can't simply say born and raised. There is always an asterisk on the statement. Photography for me took a few tries to get going, and a lot of that was finding exactly what spoke to me and what I was able to say back with my images. I don't think I'm alone when I say I was first introduced to photography via a high school arts credit. The wet darkroom we used was outstanding, and a great outlet of creativity. But unfortunately after the class was over I didn't pay much more attention. It wasn't until my 18th birthday that my mom bought me a Canon Digital Rebel XT for me as a birthday gift, hoping to rekindle the passion she saw while I was taking the class. That brought on a new wave, lots of digital work, specifically automotive. I even had my photos show up in a few car magazines and got a bit of recognition. But when I picked up a Canon AE-1 to play around with something new started for me. Since then (around 2009 when I purchased the AE-1, and I've shot film exclusively since late 2011) the pieces have come together and provided me with direction and context for my work. I use film to support my images and the stories I tell, it's a choice just as one would pick oil over acrylic for painting, and a choice that I am grateful we are able to use.
Photo © Nate Matos. All rights reserved.
What motivated you to create printed volumes of your work? Printed work has been in the works for a long time. I've always been a fan of the printed medium, we subscribe to and purchase individual magazines at home, am always picking up photo books, and I love to support other photographers through their small print works like zines. My last self-produced publication (I've had my work in other collections) was in 2011. Since then I've gathered a large backlog of images and prints, and I knew that something needed to be done otherwise the work would never get released. So I sat down with my many boxes of Polaroids and started pulling out photos I liked. From there it was a tedious process of review, sort, review, sort, into perpetuity as I narrowed the selection to about 50 images. Once I had reached that point I could finally arrange them into a format with more of a narrative attached.
Which cameras/films did you choose for this particular project? As this collection was based off content within a photo format, the materials and cameras used are many. But as a quick rundown; Fuji FP100B is very prominent, and most of the time I was using an NPC 195; a large format rangefinder that's been designed to use polaroid pack film. Sprinkled in this is some Fuji FP3000B, FP100C, Polaroid 690 of various expirations, as well as a bit of Polaroid Chocolate and Blue. Other cameras include a Colorpack II and Automatic Land Camera 100.
From Serif & Silver, all Photos © Nate Matos. All rights reserved.
Since this is planned to be a quarterly volume, are their any ideas for what the next volume will be? I've committed myself to one year of a quarterly format. Based on how this goes I may switch to a bi-annual, but who knows. I do know where the next issue will take me, and I'm actually already in the midst of working on it. But can't say too much just yet. Issue II of Serif & Silver will start shipping September 1st 2015. Beyond that a roadmap does exist for issues 3 through 6, and I'm excited to present work through various formats and themes; though I don't know where it will ultimately take me.
What other projects can we look forward to? Right now Serif & Silver is taking up most of my time. But for me 2015 is a year of beginnings. The series featured on my website currently have been up for about 2 years, and are coming to a close. They will eventually be replaced with new images and bodies of work with more direction and greater stories to be told. Within that though there is still a lot up in the air, and I'm not entirely sure when it will come to the ground. I'm excited for what the future brings, and I feel Serif & Silver is a good start.
A big thank you to Nate for taking the time to talk with us about his project.
Make sure to get your copy of Serif & Silver here, and connect with Nate on social media below: