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Part of the Process: Derek Boswell

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: Derek Boswell

Location: London, Ontario, Canada

Links:

Flickr

Instagram

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This one is still under construction, but it will be where I feature images of installations, mostly my photos exhibited in public spaces. I’m working with a couple of other artists to accomplish this, notably my good friend and fellow photographer, John Densky.

Our aim is to exhibit work outside the four walls of the traditional art gallery, so to speak; making it accessible to all persons in a given community. By exhibiting this kind of work in public spaces – something with a social documentary aspect to it – everyone is a participant in viewing the art, and ideally they can identify with the subject on some level.

Whether they want to be or not; they’re rendered as a captive audience, which sounds a bit nefarious, but it really just comes down to one pretty simple, benign concept: Often it’s those who don’t willfully engage with art that need to do it the most.

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

Underdogs is a favourite of mine. It can be also be found on Issuu.

First and foremost though, it’s a print zine – which is always refreshing to see when photography (a printmaking medium) seems to be dominated by online exhibition. Of course, electronic communication has its merits, and I probably wouldn’t be talking to you if it weren’t for Facebook/Flickr/Instagram, but it’s always nice to see photographs rendered in a tangible way.

A good print can really do a photograph justice, but exhibiting your work online lets an overwhelmingly huge number of people see it – that can be a great thing too. With Underdogs, Isa Gelb (the editor, and a great photographer in her own right) does a fantastic job at curating each edition. I always like discovering how other photographers see the world, and I think Underdogs does a fantastic job at communicating that. It’s long been a favourite zine of mine, and I was fortunate enough to be featured in the tenth issue. I believe they’re on the twelfth issue now – definitely something to check out!

Besides Underdogs, I often read the British Journal of Photography. What I appreciate about BJP, more than a lot of websites of its stature, is that their content often makes me reconsider what photography can be. A lot of the work that’s featured strays from photographic convention into some novel direction. It’s just genuinely good, novel artwork.

That aside, I always browse Flickr and like to read Japan Camera Hunter once in a while. JCH has a good mix of content, which does focus on gear a fair bit, but for what there is, the “in your bag” series acts as a sort of “typography” of photographers’ equipment. JCH’s other content is what I’m really there for though. I get to see some great work (especially photo books/zines) I probably wouldn’t get to see otherwise.  The same could probably be said for Flickr; if you know where to look (something which I’m still trying to figure out – it’s a never ending battle of sifting through the bad stuff, but when you get to the good stuff, it’s great).

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

I had always been around photography as a child; my cousins even had a darkroom in their basement. However, I never used it myself, but I was continually fascinated by it.

Rather, I began shooting with film when I was 17; right after high school. I didn’t feel ready for university quite yet, and I figured “what’s the rush?” in forcing myself to attend. There’s an excellent institution in my city called bealart; an art program for those fresh out of high school. One of my cousins had attended it some years before and really enjoyed it, so I figured I’d do the same. I’m awfully glad I did – attending bealart was easily one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

In my first year there I fell in love with film photography (our first assignment was shooting portraits of our classmates with a Cambo 8×10). Bealart allowed me to explore photography at a high school age, but at a university level; something I’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in Canada, or anywhere for that matter. With all the mediums I was able to explore, and all the artists I met, bealart has proven to be quite the formative experience for me. In my final year there prior to university, I worked as their darkroom technician, and I continue to go back there to teach C-41 workshops – the next one will be in a couple of days, in fact.

Voigtlander Vito II, 50mm f/3.5, Kodak Gold

What do you like to shoot on a regular basis?

Rangefinders like the Mamiya and the Linhof are great for night photography – especially urban landscapes – which is something I do a lot of. The Mamiya Super 23, as large as it is, is also a great camera to use handheld. I’m not really sure if you could call what I shoot street photography, but I suppose it shares a lot of characteristics with it.  However, shooting the things that people use and the “residue” of their action has always been of interest to me.

Mamiya Super 23, 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Portra 160

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

Like I’ve said before, digital media has its merits and I do shoot with it on occasion, but it’s always struck me as a bit odd that so many pictures never leave the digital realm. In many cases, bits of information go from sensor, to processor, to SD card, to computer, and finally to the internet. They never leave that electronic world; they never actually exist as tangible objects. I can’t really say if that oddity is a good or bad thing per say, but it’s always struck me as kind of strange; those photos don’t really exist.

However, I love film. I am primarily a medium format shooter, though I always keep a Leica IIIc and 25mm f/4 in my bag for quick snapshots. Coincidentally, the 25mm lens’ field of view matches what I see within my eyeglass frames. Shooting with no viewfinder aside from the eyeglasses I wear can be a fun, liberating experience.

Leica iiic, 25mm f/4 Snapshot Skopar, Fuji Superia 400

With that said, I typically shoot 6×8 with a Mamiya Super 23 on Portra 400, 160, or 100T. As much as it is an oddball format, I think 6×8 is simply one of the most pleasing to look at; the negatives are huge, the depth of field can be extremely shallow or deep if I want it to be, and it’s relatively easy to use tilt/shift movements at this size. 6×8 also allows me to differentiate myself from the typical 2:3 ratio that dominates much of photography, while not straying too far with a 4:3 ratio. All in all, I’d consider this my ideal format.

Mamiya Super 23, 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Portra 160

I recently bought a Linhof Super Technika III in “bargain” condition – I’ve spent the last few months refurbishing it myself! I’ve always been fascinating by how mechanical things operate and I enjoy metalworking, so this works well for me. I probably won’t shoot much 4×5 though, as I’m primarily a colour photographer, and I’d like to explore more panoramic formats.

4×5 Technika III with Sinar Zoom, Mamiya 90mm f/3.5, Ektar 100

What types of film do you develop?

I mostly develop C-41, though I began with B&W and have even done a bit of B&W reversal for cine film.

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?

My first experience developing film was very much so one of “those” experiences you continue to remember: Inherently, something goes wrong the first time and there’s at least a little bit of embarrassment. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t one of those people who thought you could beat the system by developing, stopping and fixing all at once. ( I recall our teacher making a joke about the soup of developer/stop/fix in the “photographic waste” jug allowing you to do this, and someone took him literally)…

For me, it was embarrassing, though not too bad: Everyone else was used to 35mm, yet I was enamored with a hand-me-down Minolta Autocord, and just had to start with medium format. For this, I was rewarded with hours in a dark room trying to load 120 roll film with the backing paper still on. Somehow I managed, but I left the room all hot and sweaty many hours later, possibly without a shirt, to the confusion of my classmates (no air conditioning in a tiny room during the heat of the summer). Yet, the magic of the process makes up for it – let’s be honest, weren’t we all amazed when we popped a curly roll of plastic and silver dust into a black tank, poured some stuff in it, and out came reflected light forever imbued onto a piece of acetate?

What is your development process like now?

I usually begin with a drive, bike ride, or walk around different parts of my city to scout out locations; places I am not familiar with, nor are many others. More recently, I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing a friend along to shoot with. This wasn’t my decision per say; over the last year or so, a dozen people – some whom I know well, some whom I hardly know at all – have asked to tag along, especially while shooting at night. I’ve never really understood the appeal of watching someone twist a lens barrel and cock a shutter in -25 deg. winter weather, as is often case, but to each their own!

Regardless, it’s grown into something that’s really helped my creative process: Different people are aware of different aspects of our surroundings, and can provide insight that helps me determine what needs to be shot; they’re almost like my guides, in a sense. This also speaks to why I enjoy medium format, particularly with my Mamiya. It’s great on a tripod at night; slowing me down to be contemplative, but not so much that it is a burden. Likewise, I can use this camera handheld – it’s pretty quick to operate. This lends itself well to the variety of subjects I shoot, and how I wish to render them on film, considering how Mamiya’s lovely 100mm f/2.8 lens has the ability to isolate the subject from the fore and background, plus those massive 6×8 negatives.

Mamiya Super 23, 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Portra 400

I do everything myself – from developing C-41 in an (old) kitchen sink, to scanning and printing. Since I shoot a lot of colour, and since I’m a university student, photographic enlargements aren’t really in my budget. With that said, the results I get from inkjet printing on rag paper make up for it. I begin by scanning with an Epson V600, cleaning the image up and colour correcting in Lightroom, then printing with a Canon PIXMA Pro-100. There really isn’t too much to the process; I like to keep it as streamlined as possible, but the use of rag paper does add some complexity to it. However, I’d say it is definitely worth it.

Having attended bealart, I was exposed to other printmaking mediums as well. One thing that always stuck with me was the quality of paper the lithography students used, versus what we did in photography. That’s not to say one paper was objectively better than another, but inkjet paper – even photo paper – has always seemed too clean and sterile to complement what I shoot. A friend of mine at bealart had began experimenting with inkjet and rag paper, and I was really liked the results she was getting. Weeks later, we developed our own techniques for printing on rag paper, finding that Somerset 200-300gsm rag was the best, Stonehenge paper was objectively horrible for inkjet, and colour calibration was tedious to say the least. However, all the work was definitely worth it. I love the results I get from printing on rag paper, and that I have complete control over every step of the process. It’s great for 13×19 prints, and it’s great for printing zines. I think it’s safe to say that the creative process doesn’t just stop at the click of your shutter or in the darkroom, there’s definitely more to be explored beyond that.

 

What’s your processes regarding scanning, enlarging, and/or printing your work?

Yes, I do everything myself. Having complete control over the process is something which I desire. I think there’s room for creative choices at every step of the process, from shooting to exhibiting – a process which I always try and get the most out of.

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

I order my chemicals from Argentix.ca – their service is great, it’s economical for us Canadians, and most of all, once of the few places we can get ORM-D chemicals when places like B&H don’t work. Most of my film is bought from Freestyle or B&H though, which both offer fair prices and shipping. As for things clips, tanks, jugs, etc. I get whatever I can.

Right now my C-41 kit consists of three Datatainer 1.85L jugs, a 2L graduated cylinder from a lab, three funnels with wide throats (an important feature for pouring quickly) from an Autozone, two meat thermometers (one for chemical temperature and water temperature), a pair of vinyl gloves, a gas mask, and a 1 ft. square white plastic tub to carry everything and use as a tempering bath. C-41 can be quite nasty, especially while mixing the chemicals, so don’t cheap out on a gas mask. Organic Vapour filters are important, even with good ventilation.

Mamiya Super 23, 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Portra 400

Are you content with where you are now with your shooting and developing? Do you have any future plans or ambitions?

I love what I’m doing now, though of course, I’d love to even more. I like to engage with the public. Taking that further means moving beyond exhibition and  into the realm of actively communicating with the public (e.g. workshops).

That’s not to say I want to teach some class on “how to become a photographer just like me for only $29.99”. I don’t really have anything to offer in that respect; few if any truly do. Rather, something simple like teaching artists (and generally curious people) the basics of developing film, printing in a darkroom, with inkjet, and so forth – how to reign control over the entire creative process, essentially – is something that does interest me. I do that now with bealart, where I had attended as a student some years ago, but I’d like to extend that to a broader audience.

Mamiya Super 23, 65mm f/6.8 (modified to open at f/5.6), Kodak Portra 160

I’m not saying I want to move away from exhibition either – I wouldn’t say exhibition and teacher need to be mutually exclusive pursuits. Recently, I was asked to photograph a particularly underrepresented and misunderstood community near where I live. I don’t want to reveal too much, but a lot of people tend to hold negative connotations regarding this group of people – there is very much so a cultural divide and an “us vs them” mentality here. Exhibiting work within this community’s spaces could bring in outsiders and ideally, help ease relations by making those spaces more approachable.

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

I like my work to comment on local places, local objects, and local issues – especially aspects of the community which too few people are aware of. I’ve always lived in the quintessential Canadian city; too small to reliably be on everyone’s map, yet too large – and lacking any outward character or charm – to be an inviting location. It’s a sentiment that even locals tend to agree with. Having traveled through the US and Canada, I see this unfortunate trend repeated often. So many places lack an overt incentive to visit them. Yet, objects of aesthetic pleasure exist covertly in these locations. By forcing oneself to navigate these landscapes, these scenes can be discovered. Here, photography acts as a patron searching through the shop-worn bargain racks of a department store; seeking that diamond in the rough. Its existence may have been disarmed by its surroundings, but when that object is viewed in an alternative context, it has the power to be just as captivating as any other sight.

4×5 camera with Graflex 6×9 rollfilm back, Portra 100T

Here in London, Ontario, that “philosophy” has two parts to it. Firstly, this city does have a lot of great things to offer, and like many places, you’ve got to put effort into looking for them. I think photographers have the intrinsic ability to perceive their surroundings in a novel way compared to non-photographers. So ultimately, my goal is to uncover those things which are pleasurable to look at – better yet, use my cameras to render objects typically considered unpleasant and unsightly as objects which elicit desire and intrigue.

Secondly, I think this takes on a different form when it comes to photographing issues which are integral to my city’s identity. London, Ontario is nicknamed the “Forest City”. Yet, it’s hard to come across a forest that hasn’t been torn down for a new subdivision or an apartment complex. At the cost of growth, we’re selling our soul – quite literally, we’re selling our identity. With a lot of my work, I wish to comment on this. What is our current identity? Where are we headed? This can be made especially powerful when coupled with public installation or online galleries seen by my peers, where the gaze of someone who doesn’t normally look at art can be captured. I think there’s a lot of potential in this approach to shooting and  exhibiting – it’s definitely something I want to explore further.

Mamiya Super 23, 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Portra 400

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

Just do it. That phrase gets passed around a lot with varying degrees of seriousness, but it still holds water. Go buy a film camera. Really, they aren’t that expensive. If you have a basic understanding of the exposure triangle, focal lengths, and so forth, start with medium or large format. A RB67 is a fantastic camera, and can be had for obscenely low prices. Same can be said for a 4×5 Graflex. If you’ve ever cooked or baked before, you’ll do just fine with developing film. It’s a recipe like any other – the only difference is that you aren’t supposed to eat the end result.

 

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