It's week 25 in our In Focus interview series and this time we set our questions to Arkadiy Shlein who was nominated by Lina Bessonova back in August. Arkadiy is a Russian large format photographer and analog printer with a classical style.



I’ve got so many favourite photographs that I don’t have a single one hanging at home (yes, couldn’t decide :). This is one of them. I photographed this beech glade in the fog in on 4x5 film in Fall 2015 in Crimea. I’ve never been to Crimea before and totally fell in love with the peninsula at first sight. Crimea is heaven for a landscape artist: all the gorgeous mountains, forests, and the fantastic seashore. Since 2015, I’ve been going there every year: alone, with friends, with my fiancee and eventually with my wife and son. We are now getting ready for another trip hoping that the pandemic won’t ruin our plans.

I made several attempts to print this negative, but it worked out best on Ilford Fiber Multigrade Classic. I was able to get the right tones and contrast that I envisioned for the scene back five years ago.

Just in case anyone doesn’t know who you are or what you do can you give us the overview?

I graduated from an engineering school, so you might notice some excessive symmetry in my imagery. I once heard that the engineers' thinking patterns transfer to their art. I once tried earning with my passion and went into wedding photography, but quickly realised that the market’s demands and boundaries are killing my desire for artistic self-expression. Now, working with film, I only photograph what I truly want.

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How and why did you get started shooting film?

Oh, that was quite a while ago, around 2010 I believe. Back then, I was focused on upgrading my Canon sensor in hopes of a full-frame camera turning every shot into a masterpiece. Yet after buying the newest top camera, I still had a feeling of not quite getting enough. I felt like I just wasted a lot of money for nothing.

And then, my friend gave me one of the latest Zenith ETs. Like most people's experience with film, mine was of a limited kind: my vague memories from the 90s were about loading a 35mm roll into a point-and-shoot camera, dropping the film off at the lab and walking out with 10x15 prints. This is exactly what I did with my Zenith. I bought a roll of color film in the nearby food store (those were the days!) and shot some trees, cats and fellow students. When I saw the 10x15 prints, the film’s airy, three-dimensional look got me totally hooked. The ease of getting a beautiful result came as a bonus. After that, I spent quite some time studying analog photo forums and photography books, sold my Canon, bought a 6x6 Bronica and never looked back since.

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Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?

The absolute number one is Christopher Burkett, whose show in Moscow impressed me immensely. I visited it twice, coming out absolutely convinced that his work is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life. From then on, my future development as a photographer was decided. There is another Burkett’s fan in Moscow, who stocked up on Ilfochrome and was making direct slide prints. I was lucky to obtain some of those prints for my collection, but the process was so complex that I lost the desire to do it myself. Burkett is still my big inspiration, but I gravitated towards black-and-white. In that area, there is another master - John Sexton. His prints are truly glowing. They are full of shadow and highlight details and are of such crispness and quality that you have an impression of the trees sticking out of the prints.

What is the best piece of photography tip or advice you have ever received?

True photography is a print. This is so important for people to realise. The global digitisation already buried many great enjoyable things. Thanks to such companies as Ilford, we still have the ability to do traditional photography. An image can be on a smartphone, laptop or projected on a wall, but only paper in a frame is a true handmade work of an artist. Scanning is a waste of time. We should be doing the full and real photographic process while it is still existent.

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What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?

I don’t like the concept of projects. I pack my cameras, get out in the wild, see a beautiful scene and shoot - this is my project. I go with the flow and keep it simple. Every image to me is an individual project with its own story behind.

What / where is your next shoot and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?

Hopefully, my next photo destination is Crimea, but I never stop shooting. The process goes all year round. I usually pick some nice spots near my home and wait for the best light and weather. After a few years, I am sometimes lucky 🙂

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What are your photographic goals going forward? 

The number one priority is the darkroom work. I’ve been printing since 2012, but only this year, in 2020, I finally managed to put together a highly functional compact darkroom at my place. I want to improve masking and master other more complex techniques. I'd be very happy for my images to be on the walls of classical photography collectors and connoisseurs.

I would also love to take my 4x5 to the mountains, last time I did that five years ago. Now I’m waiting for my son to turn four, to take him camping. I want him to learn how to enjoy the nature in all its beauty.

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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.

@anton_artoffoto He’s just a cool dude. Kidding. He isn’t just that. He is a truly gifted large format photographer, mountain climber, gallery curator, blogger and analog printer.

@maxbedov - Max is russian Adams. Just look at the laboratory equipment he makes. I personally use his pin system and washer. The best on the market. And of course the photos are top quality.

@dpartphoto Pavel is a great man too. His darkroom equipment is pretty impressive. He is a Leica maniac and a dentist. You can give him your money twice - by getting your teeth fixed and buying his print.

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Give a shout out to your favourite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one).

Ben Horne. Really high quality content. I don’t spend much time on Youtube (and I don’t advise you either! Detach from your screens and go shoot 😉 But if I see Ben’s new video, I always find time to watch it.

Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers (name, location and website). - Very good physical and online store in Moscow, but they are basically monopolists. With the rouble weakening against the Euro, getting a single pack of 50x60 baryta paper from Europe costs like a used Hasselblad (I wish this was a joke)

Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one, (name, location, website). I do black-and-white film at home, but Photopro is the only place in Moscow for a proper and reliable E-6 process.

@ambrotypos is Artem, who has two drum scanners and does the best job at running them.

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Section 3 - Favourite kit

What film cameras do you own and which is your favourite? 

I tried so many cameras in 10 years. Pentax, Mamiya, Bronica, Rollei, Pentacon, Kiev. I gave up on roll film eventually and moved to 4x5. My large format journey started with an old heavy metal Wista, but after a few trials and errors I ended up with an Anba Ikeda (a lightweight wooden camera for trekking) and an Arca Swiss (for everyday work). Those were the best ones I could find, now I’m not looking anymore and just focusing on making art.

I also accidentally got a 6x17 Lihnhof and an Xpan, which are absolutely wonderful cameras. I am not a huge fan of 35mm, but Xpan impressed me so much that I got some Ilford Delta 400 and now am learning to see the world in panoramic.

Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?

I don’t have a bag but a giant backpack which fits everything I can possibly need for a shoot. But one thing is very important - a small foldable Fiskars saw. When shooting landscapes, you constantly run into situations of a great shot with some random dry tree or bush ruining the composition. Since I don’t have photoshop, I have to fix it all in real life.

Arkadiy Shlein

What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?

I had many interesting cameras going through my hands, but the LPL 4x5 enlarger was one great buy. I literally snapped It from under the noses of resellers and got it directly from a woman from Saint Petersburg for a very modest price. This fragile-looking lady took the entire enlarger apart and packed it so carefully it arrived in a perfect condition. I still cannot believe I was lucky enough to get such a piece of equipment.

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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?

My go-to combo is Ilford Multigrade Fiber Classic paper with the Multigrade developer. Since my Acros stock is running low, I am thinking of moving to Ilford Delta or FP4+, haven’t decided yet. They are both great films with different characteristics, and I don’t take the decision of changing film lightly. In 35mm format my film of choice is Delta 400.

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Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them

@olegkasko I don’t know him personally and I would like to learn more from this interview series.

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All images ©Arkadiy Shlein

Thanks to Lina Bessonova for the translation 🙂