Making A Film Life
By Bellamy Hunt
Shooting film is not just about getting out your camera and taking a picture, or even developing at home. One of the reasons that I believeinfilm is that I decided to make film a part of my life.
This idea came to be about 4 years ago, but the seed of it was from much earlier.
I have been taking pictures since I got my first camera when I was 13 years old (a Minolta XG-7, for those who are interested). Shooting film was not unfamiliar to me and I went through many different types over the years, and although I was serious about taking pictures, I was not all that bothered about what I shot them on. I used the cheapest film I could get my student hands on and was not all that careful about developing. I kept on this way for years, developing god knows how many rolls. When I arrived in Japan in 2004 digital cameras were just starting to become more than just a gimmick and I decided to make to make the move to digital. I went out and bought a Nikon D70, as I had a load of Nikon lenses and at first I loved it. The freedom to shoot and shoot, I thought it was wonderful. I hated the workflow, but I was prepared to deal with it. Later I bought a D300 and kept on going for it.
By this time I had been lucky enough to get a job working for one of the premier Japanese photography supply companies in Tokyo. And it was here that I found film again. One day I was cleaning out the backroom with a manager and we found a box of old film SLR’s, I asked what we should do with them and he motioned that we should just chuck them away. I was saddened by this, as I hate the idea of binning a camera. While I was looking through the box I found something familiar…A Minolta XG-7 with a 50mm lens. I told him that it had been my first camera and he just said “keep it, take it home”, which is exactly what I did. I cleaned it up, bought a couple of rolls of Portra 160VC and went out shooting. It all came back to me immediately. There was something that I had been missing in the digital work that I had been doing. I had never felt complete and I was lazy about composition. I knew that I could just shoot like crazy with my digital camera, because it didn’t matter. But with the Minolta every shot counted. That was what I had been missing, the thought and the time. I started off slowly and shot about 2 rolls a week. I tried out all of the different films that I had missed and wanted to try. It was a revelation, like starting all over again.
One day I was speaking to one of my co-workers and he told me that he had sold off all of his digital gear about a year previously and bought a Leica MP. I was really surprised and I asked him why. He explained that he had no real need to shoot digital for his personal work, and that as the company we were working for had an extensive rental department he could just ‘borrow’ one of those cameras any time he had a situation where he needed digital. That was all the information I needed. The next week I went out and traded all of my digital gear, zoom lenses, everything and bought a Nikon F3/T. This was a camera that I had always dreamed of owning, but had never been able to when I was a student. I also got a 50mm f/1.2 lens and a 35mm f/2 lens. I was set.
This completely changed the way that I took pictures and I became a lot more careful and mindful about what I shot. But I was still working in a full time job. The good thing about my job though was that I was surrounded by cameras, photography and photographers. This gave me a complete photography life. I was attending galleries, meeting photographers, testing cameras and buying cameras as part of my job.
I was also buying a lot more cameras in my personal life. I was able to buy the cameras that I had always dreamed of owning, because I knew the market. My collection was growing to such an extent that it was getting a little bit out of hand. At one point I was buying two cameras a week for myself. Bear in mind that these were all film cameras.
After a while I realized that I was not going to go back to shooting digital if I could help it and I decided to try and make film a more central part of my life. I started to sell of my collection and realized that I was pretty good at selling cameras too. At this point in my life my health took a turn for the worse and I was unable to continue working in my current job. I took some time off and took stock of my life. What was I going to do?
I went back to the UK to spend some time with my family and I took about 40 rolls of film with me. I shot like crazy while I was there and I realized that having a film life was what I wanted. I was so enamored with shooting on film that I couldn’t let it go, it was the one thing that made me feel truly happy and calm. I have had many hobbies over the years, but nothing has been as long standing as photography. But, I didn’t want to be a full time photographer. I had tried it in the past and I had not enjoyed doing it, shooting things I didn’t want to shoot. I had to find a way of being able to shoot as much as I wanted whilst making a living. This is where Japancamerahunter came from. I realized that I was good at finding cameras, and selling cameras so I thought “why not make it my job?” So that is what I did.
I started the website and spent as much of my time as I could shooting on film. Through the website I noticed that my posts about film where the most popular and there was a whole community of people out there who thought the same way as me. I decided very early on that promoting the use of film would be an important part of Japancamerahunter. Japan has a strong film scene and there are a lot of photographers who are pushing it hard. Tokyocamerastyle was also a strong influence for me. John Sypal is so passionate about shooting film that it is massively inspiring.
In the beginning Japancamerahunter was not all that well known, so it gave me a lot of time to go and shoot. This coincided with me getting my first Leica camera, which completely changed the way I shoot...again. I started shooting only in monochrome and mainly on Super Presto, which gave me the grain and the tones that I had been looking for. Coupled with the incredible clarity and rendering of the Leica lenses I was getting what I considered to be my best work. An interview for the Leica blog and with Eric Kim really highlighted what I had been doing and gave me a sense of validation. This also got the Japancamerahunter name out there.
Now JCH is a lot more popular and I don’t have so much time to shoot, but I am still completely immersed in what I think of a ‘film life’. Everything I do is based around photography in some manner. I wear T-shirts that are about cameras and photography (buy film not megapixels being a big one for me), my house is completely filled with cameras. I get to test the best in the world and I get to shoot almost every day. Now I am travelling a bit more too, so I get to shoot some really interesting locations. My photography is still a very personal thing for me and I rarely show what I shoot, but just being able to use film and have it as part of my life is a joy for me.
I am not evangelical about shooting film. I think it suits certain people and certain situations. I own a digital camera, which I use for the site. And I think it is an invaluable asset in any photographers bag. But I choose to shoot film because I enjoy the feeling and I like it when I meet other people who like to do it too. And as long as film is available I will be shooting it and selling film cameras.
One of the reasons that I love the Believeinfilm site is because the fantastic community that it has built up and the wonderful resource that it has become. It really is a complete film lifestyle resource and that is something that we need to support. The more that we can show the makers that film is a viable medium the longer they will keep our favourite emulsions in production.
I hope that you enjoyed this personal journey that I have shared with you. If you have any questions don’t be afraid to ask, I am happy to hear from all of you.
Bellamy aka Japancamerahunter