This is our first Feature Friday and it seems fitting that I would start with Chris Taylor. Chris and I have been shooting together for the last 3/4 years and in that time, we’ve travelled to some fun, beautiful, exciting but overall awesome places, loaded with enough film to last a sane person a year and more cameras than we can carry.
I have been a witness to Chris’ work and have always been impressed with his natural ability to just spark a conversation with someone on the street and grab their attention for a portrait. His passion for photography is something that shouldn’t be mistaken and I’m really pleased to showcase some of his work here.
Where are you from and what’s it like to shoot there?
I grew up in Cheltenham, but have lived in Bristol for over ten years, and it’s where I found my feet as a photographer. I was a student studying film and learnt photography as a means of becoming a better filmmaker, learning how to frame shots, how to create depth of field. As soon as I moved over, or should I say back to the film cameras I grew up with as a kid, I was no longer a filmmaker, I was on my way to becoming a photographer.
I’ve shot in Bristol constantly over the last six years. I was taking street photography shots before I really knew what street photography was. The very literal streets of Bristol first, and then as my eye for photography grew and I understood how to take those shots, people within them, real moments. I took on an almost documentarian approach at first and then I found that I was looking for certain types of scenes and compositions, I learnt to move myself as well as the camera.
I learnt to shoot in crowds. In the summer, Bristol would have something different on every weekend, Harbourfest, Carnival. On the those busy, summer days I would learn to find the shots within the noise, or try to at least, and it really shaped me as a street photographer. In contrast, I’ve never been a fair-weather photographer, I’d shoot all year round. Some of those days where your hands are frozen to the camera and you are walking streets you’ve seen a thousand times before – in a lunch break where you haven’t eaten yet – are the days you take your best shots. I’ve lived in Clevedon for the last couple of years and I’ve brought that approach with me. Even on these quieter streets and sea fronts, you need to be shooting, creating.
How long have you been shooting with film and what aspects of shooting film do you enjoy the most?
I’ve been shooting film properly for 6 years and my love of film is two-fold really, the love of the cameras I’ve used and the film itself. I don’t think I’ve ever owned (until very recently) anything other than ‘consumer level’ cameras, I inherited a Zenit 11, and shot that until I just needed something else. The Zenit has a ton of character, beautiful glass, and its this really tactile, brick of a camera, and it screamed analogue photography, everything looked like it was taken in the seventies.
I loved those imperfections and light spills, but I wanted something that I had a little more control over. I bought and shot a Pentax Spotmatic P, which felt like a huge step up into taking photographs I could recognise as looking more like that which I had aspired to shoot just months before. I shot it until it literally wouldn’t shoot anymore and then once it sadly gave up the ghost, I bought the Canon A-1 and a romance began haha. It’s just a huge performing camera. Cameras fundamentally are tools, and whilst I try not to be a gear-head, I bought this £70 mid-range camera from the seventies that shoots as well as anything I’ve shot up until now – including my first real foray into top end cameras like the Nikon F5. It’s an extension of how I shoot, it makes things possible for the shot – which is where it matters. The simplest but truest exposure that I’ll stack up against a Leica or a digital 20 times its price.
What I’m saying really, with this nostalgic look back at cameras, is that for me it gave a body to making work. That physical component of shooting, of getting out of your own way to become better is what I love about shooting film, and that’s without even mentioning the film itself! The act of loading a camera is a commitment to something. There is a permanence. I’ve shot most Kodak, Fuji and Ilford films, colour and black and white, but the act of loading a film and just knowing the sheer potential is what keeps me shooting film.
Your street portraits are always extremely powerful, how do you find it asking strangers for a photo?
Thank you! Street photography can be incredible personal without ever needing to exchange in a real conversation with someone. I remember the moment I realised that I had been avoiding approaching people for portraits. It felt like this huge hurdle, it was near inconceivable that I could walk up to someone on the street, stop them in their tracks and ask for a portrait. And the only way to do it, is to do it.
I used to worry that people will want to know why? Why would you want to shoot them? And they will ask you that so have a reason and have it be real! But a lot of people won’t. The yes’s will be more surprising than the no’s. People need to trust you and your intentions and they can see what they are before you even introduce yourself. They need to trust your want to take their photo and then the care that you take as you do it. If you take the time to do it right, to make it worth the decision they made to stop, it will be worth it.
The thing is 95% of the people you take a portrait of will never see the finished photo. It’s another huge advantage of shooting film, there’s no showing of the shot then and there, there is the wait that comes with it, the importance of doing it right so you don’t disappoint yourself or anyone else. For those that want to see the portraits after, that can also be an amazing thing, maybe they’ll follow you on Instagram and then a few weeks later or a year when you exhibit or share online, they get to find that moment again for themselves.
Has your relationship with film changed at all from when you started to now?
If anything it’s only gotten stronger. Digital will always feel like a necessary evil to me. I’ve tried to shake that feeling, and there are photographers making great work with digital, but for me personally and how I shoot it just never seems to get all the way there for me. If I’m shooting digital I’ve ran out of money (or I’m scanning my negatives).
You were published in the Portrait of Britain book in 2019, what’s the story behind that?
I’d been shooting portraits for a couple of years by this point and had borrowed a Mamiya 645 from a friend (you, actually!) as like most photographers, I’d reached a point where I felt like I needed to try medium format. Again, these things are tools first and foremost and it’s what you can do with them, that potential of the bigger negative, the look of medium format. I’d gone to Brighton for a couple of days with my girlfriend to watch a band but had set myself a day to shoot continuously, trading off between the new Mamiya and the trusty A1. We got up early and began to explore the streets in expanding circles of the city and then the seafront. I’d shot just one roll with the Mamiya before whilst in Malta and struggled with the waist level finder but this time had fixed the prism , taking me back within a comfort zone of sorts.
There were a few shots that morning but nothing amazing until I met Eva. It was still early and the seafront still had a mist to it. Eva Petulengro was waiting to begin her day as Brightons own clairvoyant, I later found out of some real acclaim having read the palms of royalty and stars. I asked her if I could take a portrait and she was surprised but instantly captivating. I took one shot on the medium format – which is the one I entered – and a couple I almost liked as much on the A1 out of pure fear that I wouldn’t have exposed the shot properly on the Mamiya and that moment would be lost. The day I found out it had placed in the top 200 and would be published was my proudest moment to date as a photographer.
You’ve recently started developing your own film, how have you found that?
It is amazing in all the ways you would imagine, taking this roll that you shot, and through some miracle of chemistry, in the end, there are the negatives that you made with your own two hands. I was put off for a long time by assuming that this was going to be too technical to feel creative, but I wish someone had told me to just get on with it sooner.
Anyone can and should do it. The learning curve can be steep – getting used to the mechanics of it all as well as the chemistry, finding your dexterity in the changing bag. It can be maddening stuff at first and the stakes feel high when its your own work, but it does gets easier and surprisingly quickly. A quick tip, learnt the hard way – Paterson reels are the devils work, AP reels at least give you a fighting chance.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into shooting film?
Pick up a camera, load it with film, and get after it. Find out what you like to shoot. Try it all. Make mistakes (a cliché I know) and learn as you go, it’s a lot easier to get better whilst in motion. Watch for the light, and not just in an interesting shot kind of way, figure out what you can shoot in and still get something out, find work arounds. Don’t be afraid to shoot at night either – the shop and street lights will let you know where to look and what will still work. Street photography can be seen as a bit of a boys club, be a voice that helps to stamp that out.
Be real, find scenes that say a little something about you. Look for beauty, trust your instincts.
All images belong to Chris Taylor, support the artist by buying a print here.