For years the Lomography Community has served as a central and reliable hub of innovation and ingenuity for experimental artists. Both old and new alternative approaches of the analogue medium find a place in this corner of the Internet. We invited longtime and seasoned experimental Lomographer Mike Allison a.k.a. mike1allison and student Lomographer and promising artist Jake Westbrook, a.k.a. thegreatgasmaskman to share their endeavors on alternative analogue.
Mike started with film photography in the late 1960s when he was a young boy. His father was an avid amateur photographer and Mike himself would take photographs during his travels with his family. He then upgraded from his mother's Brownie Hawkeye camera to an SX-70, which he'd use to take self-made dioramas to create "real life-looking" scenes. When he graduated from high school, his father gifted him his own Canon A1, and he was off to the land of 35 mm film from thereon.
Jake officially began his journey with film in the summer of 2017, firstly starting to simply gain experience for his college's darkroom photography course. The first roll that came out of his class sparked his love for the medium, setting it in stone. " It may be a common phenomenon, but people who try film after using digital are often enamored with the limited exposures, and being forced to think about what, where, and how to shoot a subject matter."
Feeling the Film
Both Jake and Mike share a particular love for quirky, unusual films. Jake started on black and white film, tried color films as well, but what truly captured him are expired colored films and the effect they have on the photograph – the unpredictability an expired roll of film offers.
"Maybe I watch too much Italian grindhouse cinema, as expired films often mimic the graininess and desaturated colors like the inexpensive film those movies were shot on. I have tried expired black and white films, and while I will use them if I do find them, I do not find it particularly exciting as expired black and white film will just lose contrast and increase in grain. I want my black and white photography to have high contrast.
Jake's favorite technique is cross-processing C-41 films with E6 chemistry. He says that E6 films with C-41 chemistry are often done, but not so much in reverse. He loves how cross-processed films have unique singular palettes to them.
"Kodak turns orange, Fujifilm blue/green, and 3m/Ferrania offers a nice magenta and yellow. But at the same time, I ask myself what films don’t people consider for cross-processing? And one such film was chromogenic black and white films- crossing those gives a similar look to color tinted black and white."
Mike elaborates more on a film's character and believes that each roll of film has a certain texture and feel to them – the age, its speed, emulsion – all create some uniqueness. He loves using films that are decades old, even owning some that are already over 80 years old, and finds joy in being able to create beautiful pictures with tools that seem impossible to work with, as would technical film "experts" will say.
"A good photo has luck – lucky lighting, lucky mistakes, lucky timing, lucky action, or lucky things going on beyond the subject. A good photo pulls you in. Black and white or other monochromes can isolate details when those details would, otherwise, get lost in the color. Color can create texture throughout a picture and bring together details that are outside the main focus. Color can also bring out highlights especially when the color is rendered wrong. Incorrect colors can surprise us and cause our minds to have to relook and resee common patterns that otherwise get overlooked. A good photo will, at times, cause that reset in your brain when the scene gets recalibrated and you see it again for the first time."
It's All in the Alternative Process
Despite Jake's more alternative approach with film, as his creative process does have experimental aspects, he does not consider himself fully an experimental photographer yet. His images have cinematic look to them that even his peers and professors tell him so. However, for Jake, he's simply thinking of fresher perspectives, angles, and newer ways of capturing images.
"What I’ll generally do is try and get outside and see what I can find that I can render in an interesting fashion, whether I try and find something new and exciting, or see a familiar location in a new way."
For Mike, experimental photography is the art of creating something with the use of unusual mediums, or tools not originally meant for photography.
"Experimental photography happens every time you create an image in a way the tools or media were never intended to be used. When the photographer sees and creates something in a way that is different than the actual scene... Experimental photography is never a waste to the experimenter. Those same naysayers are often impressed when they see images pulled off the film. The appeal of experimental photography to me is just that – creating art by using tools in a way they were not meant to be used. I would consider myself a pulverantilist in that sense."
He'd take photographs of architectural structures, especially old, beautiful buildings. Urban decay also captures his attention. Candid photographs are also appealing to his experimental analogue style. "Especially the people in the backgrounds that do not know they are part of the picture behaving in their natural way. Sometimes what people are doing in situations is fascinating and out of place."
He would also take macro shots of numbers and letters from coins, keyboards, lenses, all blown up, and isolated in their own way. Scenes where real-life looking dolls or toys become "alive" through the use of clever backgrounds also fascinate him. Mike loves using expired color film as well, even some films with low ISO – films that are never intended to be used with a camera with natural light. He also loves macro photography with film, in love with seeing small things in a different, upscale way.
A Sense of Individuality
Being experimental also comes with being a Lomographer, and Mike urges fellow Lomographers to be even more involved and personal with the creation of the image. He believes Lomography is phenomenological, meant to make images not only existing and printed, but also "living". Photographers should try to also "in" the picture with the subjects and be part of the experience.
"Actually, the best we can do is care about what we are shooting. I cannot say how many times I have left a stupid comment on a picture asking for more details about how they got the shot just to have the photographer explain how they were in the shot. I will never forget a beautiful railway shot that was elevated and provided this fantastic perspective of the tracks going into the distance and the landscape around. I asked the photographer how they were able to get that fantastic shot. The reply – “At the end of the upper passenger compartment”. It was not staged, it was lived... Be mindful of your shot and your composition but not so much that you forget to capture it or overwork it and lose luck. The meaning starts with the photographer even though the picture may take on other meanings for the observer."
For Jake, the most important aspect in photography is the presence of the auteur – even more so, the iconoclasm in one's process. The Lomography community is filled with creative artists, but he challenges everyone to be as unique and as individualistic as they can be.
"One thing I can say for sure is an iconoclastic photograph is something that can only be created by its author, and not replicable by any other. And while I do see a great many images within the Lomography community which I love, the most common trend I see is the pursuit of the trend. People often get caught up in the latest and greatest technique or try so hard to replicate the old greats that they often forget to pursue their own perspective. I say, take a step back, and find your own vision. Inspiration is inevitable, yes, but you are you. You must find a means to your own expression.
Jake continues his studies as a college student, but he's also getting all busy with his analogue grind. He just recently finished using up his expired film cache for a summer project. Once he finishes up more rolls of film, he plans on experimenting again in cross-processing color negative films.
"After I get my film supply down to a more manageable size, I think I might continue experimenting with cross-processing c41 films, and trying to understand and master E100 and P30- as I’m also an aspiring filmmaker, and I feel like those are the films I’d shoot my movies on. But who says I won’t try experimenting there with expired cine film?"
Meanwhile, Mike's shooting with Land cameras with early Polaroid roll film models using 120 film. He is also repairing another Polaroid camera. For Mike, " the fun never stops!"