We had no idea when we originally started this series in April 2020 with Em from Emulsive that it would still be going strong 50 interviews later. This week's interviewee Debra Wilson was already on our radar before being nominated by Margaret Fitzgerald last month.
Section 1 - Background
Share your favourite image / print shot on ILFORD film and tell us what it means to you?
I chose this image of Another Place on Crosby beach. I don’t often get to the sea so although the setting is not typical for me, it does represent what I like to shoot because it’s literally about man in the landscape.
I photograph a lot of landscapes, and what interests me most is the human impact on the land. A field barn, a drystone wall, a footpath or track. Though it’s a different setting, this photos sums all of that up - in the sculptures, of course, but also in the wind turbines and ship out at sea. On that day out my tripod slowly sunk into the sand and my feet got pretty wet but the light was lovely and I was happy with the result. It was the first image I printed on fibre-based paper, and I was amazed by the difference between it and the work prints I’d made in RC paper.
Just in case anyone doesn’t know who you are or what you do can you give us the overview?
I’m a film photographer living in England’s heart - the Peak District. I take mainly black and whites and prefer medium format. I develop my own films and print in my home darkroom. I’m pretty much self-taught, and have learnt a lot from books, by lurking in online forums and from photography videos. I spend a lot of time outside so many of my shots include landscapes, though I’m not exactly or entirely a landscape photographer.
How and why did you get started shooting film?
I’ve always shot film, though I do have some digital cameras, I never fully made the switch. I love film because it’s so tactile you can hold the image you shot up to the light and hold the photo in your hands. It’s slow photography - old manual cameras take longer to set up, meter and expose. I love developing the film myself and printing in the darkroom. I enjoy the process as much as the end result. It’s thoughtful and meditative in some ways and includes maths and art.
Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?
I would have to say my father. He let me into his darkroom when I was very young – and I can still remember the magical moment of the image appearing in the tray and the excitement of seeing prints hung up to dry. He was a brilliant portrait/people photographer but I don’t think he valued how good he was.
I guess that magic is what got me into developing and printing my own work, which is so satisfying, as well as being frustrating at times. I love being able to control the process in the darkroom and not having to mess about with digital post processing on a pc. It’s really relaxing and energising, especially after spending a day staring at a screen. I still feel that magic every time I develop a print - there is nothing to match it. I have my own dedicated darkroom space now but you don’t need an expensive set up – I’ve used bathrooms, corners of rooms or corridors without running water. All you need is a space you can make light tight.
What is the best piece of photography tip or advice you have ever received?
Stick to one combination of film/developer/paper while you learn your craft. Experiment later, and always take notes of what you do.
What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?
I tend to take a camera whenever I go out hiking, mainly in the Peak District at weekends.
I have some long-term projects – I have a barn I’d been photographing every week for years. More recently, during lockdown, I started taking a photo of a lone hawthorn tree for my weekly walks and I have quite a series of them, mainly on instant film.
I’m not entirely sure what is next – I love doing these series but they evolve on their own. I find myself coming back again and again to the same thing before I’ve consciously decided it’s a project. And then at some point I realise it’s finished, and I guess my subconscious mind is looking for another subject. That’s where I am right now. I might not be between projects, maybe the new project is already happening but I just haven’t realised what it is yet.
What / where is your next shoot and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?
I’ll be out next weekend, wherever the whim and weather take me. Hopefully a long hike in the Peak District. I love Delta 100, so that’s usually in my camera. I prefer to use my Hasselblad 500C/M but it’s heavy on a long day out. If I need a lightweight camera then probably my Pentax MZ5n. I do tend to switch cameras a lot, so whatever already camera has film in is a likely candidate.
What are your photographic goals going forward? (Can be business or personal).
I want to get back to taking more people shots and maybe do another self-portrait series. I’m always promising myself I’ll spend more time in the darkroom, so that’s another goal.
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.
Give a shout out to your favourite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one).
Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers (name, location and website).
I get most of my film direct from Ilford, but have used Silverprint for their online services. https://silverprint.co.uk/
Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one, (name, location, website).
I process all my own black and whites but for colour I use the Darkroom in Cheltenham.
Section 3 - Favourite kit
What film cameras do you own and which is your favourite? (Please send us a picture of it if you can).
I own too many cameras to list but some of them are: Pentax ME Super and a pile of lenses inherited from my dad, Pentax *ist, Pentax MZ5n, Holga 120N, Rollei 35, a pinhole paintcan, various polaroids and Instax cameras. My favourite is my Hasselblad 500C/M, called Vlad.
Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?
I used to carry around a bag equipped with lens hood, filters, macro tubes, spare backs, an assortment of lenses and a tripod, but these days I tend to keep it simple with a cable release, light meter and spare batteries.
What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted
Most of my kit has been gifted in one way or another. But the most useful is probably a Kinestat dust remover for negatives, bought secondhand as a Christmas gift. It works like magic.
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?
I love Ilford Delta – it’s beautiful for landscapes. I usually stick to 100, but 400 is good in winter. Pan F is wonderful for summer landscapes - so fine grained it can be hard to focus the enlarger in the darkroom. Not something to complain about – it produces beautiful images.
I tend to use Ilford Multigrade RC paper, and for framed prints, FB paper is perfect. I switch between glossy or pearl.
Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them
I would love to hear more from Meredith Wilson.
All photos © Debra Wilson
About The Author
Debra Wilson is film photographer living in the Peak District, UK. She has a collection of vintage cameras, mainly 35mm but she prefers to shoot in medium format. She develops her own black and white film, and prints the results in a darkroom.