Number 37 in this series, which started a year ago as the Lockdown Sessions, sees us finding out more about Michael Watson. Nominated by Ryan Loco, Michael is a photographer based out of Des Moines who primarily shoots musicians and pro wrestlers.
Share your favourite image / print shot on ILFORD film and tell us what it means to you?
Favorite is tough, I’ve shot most of the important moments or biggest opportunities of my life on HP5 for over 10 years. There are portraits of my parents that are really special to me. Photos of my wedding day, of my dogs since I got them. I'm going to take an easy out and share my favorite photo I’ve taken this year so far haha, and its this portrait of pro wrestler Darby Allin leaning his head against the wall. The photo really represents a lot to me now that I’m thinking about it. This shoot as a whole is a milestone in the path I’m trying to direct myself professionally. The photo specifically highlights some of my growth from practice over the course of the pandemic. Specifically in how I push film or how I process it, when to use those techniques.
Just in case anyone doesn’t know who you are or what you do can you give us the overview?
I’m a photographer based out of Des Moines, Iowa, USA. I think my photography as a whole generally revolves around people. Portraits of pro wrestlers & musicians tend to be my focus & the thing I find most fulfilling but that standout candid/action shot is so much fun to chase I enjoy that as well.
How and why did you get started shooting film?
I took a photography class in high school that was long enough ago to be all film & hated it. We had to bulk roll, develop, make contact sheets & I had a broken camera so it was a lot of work for nothing haha. I started getting into photography a few years later & ended up taking some classes at a local community college. They still had a darkroom room & thats where I fell in love with film. That was the start of 2009, the obsession has just steadily grown from there.
Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?
Zia Hiltey. I met Zia through pro wrestling, she was the first person I saw approaching wrestling as an artist instead of a photojournalist. I think she just makes the coolest photos, they always have a bit of wit or a sense of humor in the way she contrasts her subjects with their surroundings. The way she inserts her personality into an image without changing the message of characters/scenes is masterful. Her work & our friendship has absolutely inspired the way I approach photography.
What is the best piece of photography tip or advice you have ever received?
So it actually wasn’t even specifically about photography, but it was an artist name Rachel Buse, and she was talking about not hoarding away your best materials for the “perfect piece”. I related this into saving film or shots for the “perfect shoot”. Your best stuff usually comes when you’re least expecting it, so use that film you’ve had sitting in the back of your fridge for 4 years and make something cool.
What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?
I actually just finished a project where I made 12 zines out of photos I took last year. I basically made a goal to get out take enough photos for myself each month to make a zine. The pandemic changed a lot of what that ended up looking like but I’m pretty proud of my self for finishing the project. I just started working on a virtual art show that contain some of my film photography. Theres a lot going into that idea, it’ll be interesting to see how it comes out in the end.
What / where is your next shoot and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?
As of now my next planned shoot is a pro wrestling show in Minneapolis. About 75% of what I bring to shows is always the same, then I’ll inevitably stuff my bag with random cameras I’ll probably forget to use. The standard I always bring are my Mamiya 7II with 80mm & 43mm lenses for live/candid, Mamiya Rb67 w/ 65mm for portraits, a Polaroid 680slr, & about 20 rolls of HP5 120. Lately I’ve been throwing in my Holga every once and awhile & really been loving shooting HP5 pushed to 3200 on 35mm with my Leica M6.
What are your photographic goals going forward? (Can be business or personal).
I think my main goal is to just keep going. I have goals of working more consistently with certain people or companies or whatever, but I think the path to that happening is to keep putting in the work. Keep practicing, refining what I do, experimenting, finding inspiration, evolving, & learning. Photography is such an endless pursuit, sometimes is good to remember how far you’ve come but also how much there is left to discover.
Section 2 - Shout outs
We all need a bit of inspiration and love so this is your chance to tell the community about yours – from the film photographers whose work inspires you, the labs you trust with your film, your ‘go to’ film photography stockists, your favourite community darkrooms or just anyone in the community who you feel deserves a special mention.
Give a shout out to your 3 favourite film photographers (not photography hubs) currently active on IG or Twitter and briefly tell us why others should follow them.
Ben Vos (@benvosphotography), a local buddy who I think just has an incredible eye for black and white photography. All his work feels so timeless and universal. His photos also really encapsulate Iowa in a lot of different ways. He’s also put out a couple really fantastic zines that have great concepts & execution. Notably, turned me on to PanF as well.
Reid Haithcock (@reidhaithcock), my favorite photographer working in the music space. He photographs a lot of the hardcore/underground metal scene & documents it in a way fitting of how harsh the music is. He’s also been very inspiring when it comes to zine making & has always been super generous with info about his process.
Margaret Muza (@margaretmuza), this one might be cheating because she shoots wetplate but her portrait work is jaw dropping. The way she approaches her craft & her dedication to it is also incredibly inspiring.
Give a shout out to your favourite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one).
Matt Day is the standard response here it seems like but I think that's for a reason. He’s been such a positive force in the film community, any praise he receives is well earned.
Vuhlandes’ work is just unreal. I think he is an incredibly important current photographer & will be even more so in retrospect. So to be able to get a raw behind the scenes of his process and how he approaches photography is awesome.
Ribsy/Doin Film Things, awesome channel. Does a bunch of really great videos on color printing. He’s very knowledgable on his topics and obviously researches them well for really solid well informed videos.
Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers (name, location and website).
Blue Moon Camera & Machine in Portland, Oregon is my favorite, hands down. Amazing staff & selection. Cannot say enough good things about that place, its magical.
Brooklyn Film Camera in Brooklyn, NY, THE place for Polaroid. Incredible team of people, super cool space, & they have a VERY cute shop dog.
Special RIP shout out to my favorite local camera store B. LeiserowitzCo., who unfortunately went out of business in 2017. They somehow sold Ilford products cheaper than you could buy them online & made it very easy for someone getting into film to shoot a lot for cheap. Miss that place a lot.
Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one, (name, location, website).
TheDarkroom.com in Southern California is who I send the little bit of color stuff I shoot & have always had great results/experience. I’ve used IndieFilmLab.com out of Alabama a few times over the last year & loved those results as well.
Section 3 - Favourite kit
What film cameras do you own and which is your favourite?
Hahah I think I have too many to list and not feel embarrassed about it. Im admittedly a bit of a camera hoarder. My favorite camera is without a doubt the Mamiya 7II. If I could only have one camera the rest of my life its that. Its the most unobtrusive medium format camera that I’ve used, I love it. Some other highlights of my “collection”, Mamiya RB67, Leica m6, Polaroid 680slr, Polaroid 600se, a few Canon AE-1’s, Nishika n8000, Holga, a bunch of other random toy point & shoots, just too much stuff. I get attached to cameras so I have a hard time letting them go. Oh and I just finished a Cambo 8x10, so I’ve just started using that as well.
Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?
Pocket Wizards, as many of my rechargeable AA batteries I can find, my favorite flash (a Lomography Diana flash haha), JCH film cases (these make keeping track of film SO much easier), Sharpie, knife. Nothing too out of the box or interesting. The one funny thing I need now is this marker that is meant to wet envelops that I have to bring with me so Im not licking rolls of film to seal them.
What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?
When my favorite local photo store closed down one of the owners gave me an SX-70 that belonged to one of the other former owners, who had passed earlier that year. The camera just sat in the leather case on a shelf in his office since it came out, I think they just wanted it to go somewhere it would be appreciated.
As this is an ILFORD interview it would be remiss of us not to ask about your favourite ILFORD products. Tell us you favourite ILFORD film, paper or chems and why?
For black & white I really only use ILFORD products. I have a small private darkroom I share with my wife & a friend, we keep it stocked up with Ilfotec HC, Ilfostop & Rapid Fixer. I don’t print as much as I should/would like to but I like the Satin finished ILFORD papers. About 95% of the time I load any camera it's with HP5, lately I’ve been using some of the PanF and really enjoying it. I like Delta 3200 as well, but I think I prefer the harsher grain of pushing Hp5 for low light.
Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them.
Reid Haithcock, I’ve been such a huge fan of his work for so long & I think its really important to a music community that I love. His work also has a really unique voice that would would be a good addition to this series.
Images © Michael Watson
About The Author
Michael Watson is a Iowa native photographer. After dabbling in photography for years, he fell in love with film while taking photo classes at a local community college where he now teaches digital photography classes. Lover of all dogs.