Monday, 16 January 2017

Laura Hudson Mackay - Shooting Film in the Sahara

On the recent Galloway Photographic Collective tour of Morocco, I shot exclusively using Black and White (6x6cm) film, with a Medium Format Hasselblad camera made 60 years ago in 1957.

Once there, I quickly realised what a challenge it was going to be, given the tour was with other members of the group who all shoot digitally. There were times when I did struggle to keep up. For me, taking quality photographs with any type of camera is about the process, slowing down and seeing more, taking time to capture an emotion or evoke a mood, and film photography does this particularly well.

On the road trip to the Sahara desert, the other members readily leaped from 4x4’s, with their digital cameras in hand, having noticed yet another fabulous vista to capture. I too would leap from the car, shoot one or two images, but then realise there was only one more exposure left of just twelve on the film. By the time I had loaded another, the digital shooters were back in the cars and on their way! They took many images at each location and over the course of the whole trip, collectively, this ran easily into the thousands. By comparison, I shot only 14 rolls of film (168 exposures total) as I had to overcome the challenge of taking longer to get set up at each location, the lack of any automatic functions on the camera and having to use a separate light meter.

Each evening, once settled back at our accommodation in Morocco, there was a buzz to share and edit images taken that day and to even post a few on social media, but not mine as I had to wait until I was back home to process the films before seeing the results. But that waiting, that anticipation, was exciting, if a little nerve wracking.

Other working trips in Morocco are planned, plus I am currently collaborating with two Moroccan artists on a joint art project. For each trip, the same type of film and camera equipment will be packed. I’m oddly even looking forward to waiting at the airports, while members of security hand check each film individually.

Compared to using a digital camera, a film camera requires the flexing of different ‘photographic muscles’ and by working these muscles, it is possible to get more out of photography and explore the craft to a deeper level of learning. Being more focussed, by the limitation of exposures on each roll, pushes the photographer to shoot with a clear goal in mind. 

Disconnecting from the digital life once in a while is rewarding and refreshing. Not every camera needs to have an LCD screen and batteries to produce great photography!More and more photographers seem to be getting into analogue photography. There is a re-emergence of film being used in fashion shoots and fine art photography. The movie industry is also getting on the band wagon with high profile directors such as Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams and Chris Nolan recently using film in the production of Hollywood blockbusters such as Silence and Star Wars - Rogue One.

Why despite its cost and apparent inconvenience is film photography growing as a medium, particularly amongst many young photographers? Perhaps it is because many have grown up using modern technology and are now favouring using film as it’s harder and more challenging to use. We appear to have reached a point at which digitally produced images we see have become indecipherable from reality and no longer represent trust. Viewers and creators are again looking for authenticity from photography.

LHM Loading Film in Sahara from Scott Mackay on Vimeo.

A collection of Medium Format Film photographs taken on the recent photography tour of Morocco will be on display at The Whitehouse Gallery, Kirkcudbright, in the GPC exhibition ‘The Art of Photography’ from 4 February - 4 March 2017.

Laura Hudson Mackay

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