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Part of the Process: Travis Latam

Part of the Process is a series of posts that puts the spotlight on film photographers and DIY film developers.  These features provide unique experiences and perspectives on shooting and developing film while also showcasing diverse talent and film photographers around the globe.  If you are interested in being featured, feel free to contact me!

Name:

Travis Latam

Location:

Leamington, Ontario, CA

Links:

Website

Blog

Facebook

What other websites or blogs do you keep up with to feed your photographic interests?

I watch interviews online with some of my favourite photographers like Michael Kenna, Martin Schoeller, and a few others.

I find that most of these guys on YouTube giving photography tips and lessons aren’t actually producing any stunning work – that’s not to say they don’t know what they’re talking about, but I choose to find out WHY passionate photographers are that way and how they observe life, what makes their clocks tick, you know?

Instead of treating the symptoms of a disease, I’d much rather dig to find what the culprit is and change whatever I need to in order to avoid being sick – so, I like to find out how these minds work (the culprit), relate my similarities, and not worry too much about the technical aspects all the time (the symptoms).

What attracted you to film photography? How did you get started/introduced to shooting film? How soon after did you start developing?

My dad did wedding and family photos as a side business when I was really young and he’d hand me his camera sometimes (a Contax 137 MD with a Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f1.4 lens) and let me shoot some pictures, giving me tips on settings and allowing me to manually focus.

The moment I got to see the physical prints was always a great feeling – somehow this device allowed me to see something again.  I found that it let me mentally re-live moments. Here I am 23 years later, still shooting film, even though digital has pretty much taken over.

It wasn’t until January of 2017 that I started developing my own black and white film, though, so I could fine tune the process and nail my development.

Minolta SRT200 // 50mm f2 // Kodak Tri-X 400

What formats, cameras, and films do you shoot? What do you like about the formats, cameras, films you prefer? 

On 35mm:

Why do I like 35mm? Mostly, it comes down to cost and portability. If a Mamiya RZ67 was in the budget right now, I’d go grab one and switch to 120, but that’s down the road.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy shooting 35mm and am happy to do so – it’s not heavy, the lenses are fairly small (except for the 70-210mm I lug around, but it’s still MUCH lighter than a modern image stabilized 70-200 beast), and the film is easy to find at my local camera shops. I was given my [Minolta] SRT202 with a 50mm f1.7 lens a couple years ago by a friend’s dad, bought a 28mm f3.5 lens at an antique shop in St. Jacobs, Ontario, Canada for $24 along with my [Minolta] SRT200 that came with a 50mm f2 lens on it for $34 (in perfect working condition).

Most recently, I picked up a 70-210mm f4 lens and a Polaris light meter for $205 together. That brings my gear cost to a total of $263 plus film and black and white chemistry/developing equipment. That’s a heck of a lot better than my previous Canon digital system that cost me ~$5500 (which I no longer own). So, shooting 35mm film really help me cut my costs while not really compromising quality.

On shooting black and white:

For a while, I’ve been shooting black and white because it’s something we don’t see with our naked eyes – the world is not black and white, good and bad.  These dichotomies don’t exist in life.

What I enjoy about Tri-X is its grittiness and contrast, especially when pushed to 1600. When I shoot during brighter light or dark night, I switch it out for some Delta 100, which is a really nice low-grain film with great latitude.

Minolta SRT202 // 50mm f2 // Ilford HP5+ 400

On shooting colour:

With the Portra, I tend to look at photography a bit differently because you can use colour to help describe the scene or person you are photographing. I’m really digging Portra for portraits right now and don’t see myself switching anytime soon, unless it’s to Portra 160 or Portra 800. I absolutely love the colour, contrast, and detail rendition of Portra films. I must say, it retains a lot of highlight detail as well, so it’s easy to shoot. It seems to be super popular as well, which gives me hope for its longevity.

Minolta SRT202 // 50mm f2 // Fuji Superia 400

What do you like to shoot on a regular basis?

I shoot a mixture of subjects and am working on a few different projects right now, so I’ll use these to really decide which path I want to take with my photography. I can take a guess at what I’ll always prefer, though: people! I love photographing people, especially when I can find that moment when they’re actually being authentic.

Minolta SRT202 // 50mm f2 // Kodak Tri-X 400

Is there anything unique about your photographic style or process?

My lighting is pretty raw for portraits sometimes, and I don’t mean that in an aesthetic way, I mean that I keep my budget pretty low. Any film portraits I’ve taken were done with lighting that cost me less than $75 CAD.

My setup includes two clamp-style work lamps with 9″ dishes on them, each equipped with a soft white bulb and I hang them on microphone stands (because I had these already, being a musician as well). I only recently picked up a Canon flash from a friend to try out some stuff with an off-camera speedlight. Whatever you can spend a bunch of money on in photography, there’s usually a cheaper alternative that will give you wonderful results as well.  So, don’t be intimidated by costs, find ways around them if it’s not in your budget.  There is always a way.

Minolta SRT202 // 50mm f2 // Kodak Tri-X 400

What types of film do you develop?

I only develop black and white at the moment, but am trying to get my hands on some C41 chemicals to develop all of my Portra rolls.

Tell us about your first experiences in developing your own film.  How did you muster the courage to give it a shot? What resources did you use?

I was sitting at a café in Waterloo, Ontario (where I was living at the time) and I had one of my Minoltas with me. A guy came over and introduced himself (Mark Walton of Foto:RE in Kitchener-Waterloo) and invited me out to an Edward Burtynsky exhibit and a peer review/critique of some of my photos. After that critique, I sold off all of my digital equipment because I was so inspired to go down the film-only path.

I met him at a Tim Horton’s 500 meters from my apartment and he gave me a Paterson tank. I went and picked up the chemistry that afternoon and attempted to develop a roll that night. I used a mixture of resources – a couple YouTube videos (Matt Day and Ted Forbes of The Art of Photography), one blog (I forget which one), and Mark, who gave me the tank, gave me a couple tips.

I double, triple, and quadruple checked my developing times for my chemistry ratios on http://www.digitaltruth.com/devchart.php. I was nervous and anxious the entire time and when I finally was finished with the fixer, I opened it up and was overjoyed to see that there were images on the film strip!

I started with a roll that I thought I might have ruined. It was a roll of Ilford HP5+ and had 36 exposures…I cranked it too far past 36 and the film snapped inside my camera! I thought I rolled it all back into the canister, but when I popped the back of my camera open, I saw the nightmare and slammed it shut. I closed up my bathroom, sealed the light leaks with towels and removed the film, put it in a black canister, and taped the lid on with electrical tape.

I thought, if this roll doesn’t develop properly, it’s not a big loss, it could be that I messed up. I tried to stay calm in my beginner mindset and forgave myself in advance if it didn’t turn out how I had hoped. To my surprise, not only did it work out, but not a single exposure was ruined from opening up the back of the camera!

Minolta SRT202 // 50mm f2 // Ilford Delta 100

Do you scan, enlarge, and/or print your work?

I scan my negatives with an Epson V550 in order to see which ones I will later have printed in the darkroom, to give examples on my website and blog, and to share on social media platforms for feedback (such as the Negative Feedback community on Facebook).

I’ve had a few printed digitally, just to have them to review or share in a physical state, but you can’t beat a good silver gelatin print!

What equipment are you using to develop your film and why?

My developing kit includes the following:

  • Paterson tank with a single 35mm reel
  • A thermometer (for consistent temperature)
  • Plastic measuring cups (dollar store purchase)
  • A Kalt changing bag
  • Ilford Ilfotec HC Developer
  • Ilford Rapid Fixer
  • Kodak Photo Flo

I develop in my bathroom, kneeling on the floor to reach into the tub. I was gifted the tank, so using that was a no brainer and the Kalt changing bag was due to its reviews and size.

As far as the chemistry goes, I was just starting to develop my own film and was looking for a cost-efficient and good all-around chemistry kit, and so I walked into the closest camera shop that carried this stuff and asked for some assistance. The chemicals listed were the chemicals I walked out with. Would I change them? Probably the Ilfotec HC, as I would like to try Kodak D-76.  It seems to work out nice and sharp.

For the most part, when I was starting, the gear I acquired was acquired due to cost, but now that I am becoming better versed in this art, I’d like to try some different things.

Minolta SRT202 // 50mm f2 // Ilford HP5+ 400

What is the end game of your photos after the shooting has taken place?

When I get the negatives back, I scan them to review and then have them printed digitally due to the cost and skill required to get colour darkroom prints now. I’m comfortable with this compromise of shooting film and printing digitally. This actually allows me to print at home sometimes as well for smaller prints.

Have you completed any notable projects or in the process of creating something from the film you have shot and developed?

I’m currently working on a project that involves a bunch of portraits for a book and another project of what are mostly intimate landscapes in the county where I grew up, which will most likely be an exhibit. I can go further into detail once I’ve got them a little closer to release.

The book is being shot on Portra 400, scanned professionally, and then printed digitally. The exhibit is being shot on Tri-X 400 and Delta 100 and then printed in a darkroom by a fellow photographer in the same county.

Minolta SRT200 // 50mm f2 // Kodak Tri-X 400

Do you have any other future goals or ambitions in regards to your work?

I’m interested in producing a substantial coffee table book, though I am beginning to entertain the idea of having some zines printed as a take-home for my exhibits coming up.

I prefer to focus on my own art from start to finish, getting more involved in every step as time goes on. Darkroom developing may soon be in my plans, though, since a local camera shop gives away enlargers, so long as you buy your chemistry from him! That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me.

What advice can you give to others who are interested in shooting and developing film but are apprehensive about getting started?

If you might be interested in shooting film, pick up an old SLR or rangefinder at an antique shop or secondhand store, grab a couple rolls of film and shoot away.

Take the finished rolls to a local lab or mail them away to an online service, and get prints made. After that, decide how you feel about it.

I think film is a great way to learn hands-on about photography and it teaches you to slow down and take more shots that matter. Instead of a roll of twenty-four shots of seemingly random subjects (like my first full roll), you will learn to bracket exposures to ensure the shot and you may end up with four or five fantastic and meaningful images.

As for developing, just dive in and do it – it is so rewarding and easy once you get rid of the nerves of the first few rolls. It’s more cost-effective and you have control over every step along the way.

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