5 Questions with Christopher San Nicolas

26 Apr 2019

 

 

 

1. Can you please introduce yourself, tell us where you're from, and how long you've shot on film?

My name is Chris and I'm from Long Beach, CA. I started shooting film in 2016 as my first foray into photography. I often took disposable cameras on trips and liked the intimacy of these one-off, non-digital images. I have always been attracted to visual arts, I enjoyed drawing and painting as a kid, and I took a Studio Art Minor in college.

 

 

2. Why do you like to shoot on film?

So many reasons, but I think I can condense it all down into one common theme: process.

With modern phones and the internet, making images is so easy and I feel like I'm constantly being bombarded with imagery - content. It's instant and easy, but can also be replaceable and shallow. Analog (sorry, I spell it like this) photography is the opposite of that. There's a process, it takes time, energy, work, and most of all you have to care.

I called this theme process, but maybe processes is a more accurate term. There's a process for everything. When I load my film, I have to: make sure there's no roll already in the camera, open it up, realize I haven't picked which roll to shoot yet, evaluate the light and think about the time of day and what I'm gonna be doing that day, think some more, finally load up the roll, close the camera, advance, make sure the film's advancing, and then I'm ready to shoot. 

There are so many processes involved in making photographs on film: shooting, developing, scanning, archiving, printing, lab drop off-ing, sharing, and one of the best parts is how personal each of these steps are for each person. Some people always overexpose their C-41 film because it looks better to them, some people use certain chemicals for developing to get the look they want, some people sit on their exposed rolls and don't process them for months, some people double expose all their frames, some people listen to podcasts or music to make scanning tolerable. Everything is a deliberate choice, some personal habit or preference created from trial and error or experimentation. 

It's this element of deliberateness is a huge part of the reason I shoot film. It has weight, literally. Every time I make a photograph, it exists as photo-sensitive chemicals on plastic. It makes taking photographs something physical and real, not ethereal pixels that can exist everywhere the instant they're made. Each image matters, and is a precious thing. 

The part of the process that I've become more and more fond of is the lack of instant feedback. I love the delay, it's so freeing. When I take a photo, I try my absolute best to capture the moment the way I want to communicate it and then I let it go and re-enter the moment. There is no fussing to make sure I got the shot then retaking the photo because it wasn't perfect, which is the inclination with digital photography. You either get it or you don't and you move on. For me shooting film feels like a natural way of documenting real life rather than trying to romanticize moments through "perfection". In this way I'm much more process-based than results-based, in that my priority is not getting the perfect shot no matter what, I want to get the best shot I can, and do it my way. Many of the greatest photographers in the world never saw a digital camera with auto-focus and auto-exposure and they still created powerful, moving, and iconic images in sometimes crazy conditions. I like to shoot all manual cameras so the challenge of "getting the shot" on film is something that constantly pushes me to become the most skilled photographer I can be and makes the successful shots very gratifying.

To sum it up, all the micro-processes that go into into analog photography as well as its limitations make it something precious that also aligns with the way I enjoy documenting moments.

 

Some other quick things I like about film photography are:
How cool the cameras look and feel. I've always been into antiques and mechanical things and film cameras have quirks and personality that digital cameras don't.

The "look" of film. The grain is natural and not ugly like digital noise and the colors of film are hard to duplicate.
COMMUNITY. Shooting film today is not a necessity like it was pre-digital, it's a choice and it's something you have in common with any other weirdo you see walking around with a film camera. Say hey to them. Find local groups and communities that are about film photography. You'll make great friends and by just shooting with people and seeing their work and their passion you'll become a better photographer! In the LA area I've become involved in Beers & Cameras and Los Angeles Photo Alliance. I can't quantify how much being a part of these groups and meeting these people have improved my photography and given me great friends as well as a supportive network.

 

 

3. What’s your favorite gear to use (camera, lens, film) ?

My favorite setup is my M2, 35mm lens, with HP5+ loaded, which I usually push to 800.

Pushing HP5+ to 800 with a 35mm lens allows me the speed to accurately zone/pre-focus when I need to, allows me to shoot indoors in most conditions, and also has the right amount of contrast and grain for my taste. The lack of mirror slap on my rangefinder camera allows me to be more discreet and not interrupt whatever scene I'm trying to capture. It also allows me to shoot at slower speeds which is helpful pretty often. However I do enjoy the more precise framing of SLR cameras, especially if I'm trying careful compositional layering.

People get hung up on gear, and while it may sound hypocritical, it's not the camera that makes the photo it's the person. Get a camera that is within your means, that you enjoy handling and using, that has the features that allow you to make the kinds of photos you want to make, and shoot with it until it's natural and you don't have to think about it. 

 

 

4. Among your works, which one is your favorite? Why?

I really love this photo of my mom cooking. It brings me home.

 

 

5. Exactly what it is you want to say with your photographs?

This is something I think about often. When I first started I wanted to show the beauty in every day things and I mostly took aesthetic/moody pictures in color of objects or scenes. I wanted to show people to be present and take in their environment because beautiful things are present and happening everywhere.

 

Through joining Los Angeles Photo Alliance I got into street photography and also shooting more black and white. When I started down that path I was constantly hunting for something similar to Cartier-Bresson's decisive moment. Normally that would mean visual story telling, but in my most romantic/grandiose moods this would mean capturing a slice of reality that reveals some universal truth to the viewer or providing some commentary that inspired contemplation. But there's no such thing as a universal truth, people will interpret art however they choose, photographs lie all the time, and nobody is as invested in or will think about your own photography as yourself. 

 

Recently I've thought of photography in a much more personal way, like a vehicle in which I experience, contemplate, and interact with the world. Now I just document moments that captivate me and do my best to capture that essence, whatever it is. I think the objectives I had before still exist in my work, but it's not an agenda I push or an external audience I think about when creating, it's a combination of musings and affirmations for myself - which in the age of sharing and self-promotion is a healthy habit that I want to keep. So if there is anything I want my pictures to say it's: "I was here. This is what I saw." and that's good enough for me.

 

 

You can see more of Chris' photos here.

Give him a follow on instagram @chrisnicpics

 

 

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