Perhaps best known for his role in the Netflix show The last Kingdom, we talked to James Northcote about his film photography for our 64th In Focus interview this week.
Section 1 - Background
Share your favourite image / print shot on ILFORD film and tell us what it means to you?
This is a shot I took during the final season of the Last Kingdom. After Season 2 I started tying a point and shoot on the inside of my costume so that I’d always have a camera with me wherever I was. It didn’t matter if I was on a horse, in a battle or in the middle of nowhere. I love this photograph of Arnas Fedaravičius. There is technically a lot wrong with it (light leak anyone?) but its one of the few times where I’ve stumbled across that in between moment where an actor is half in character and half out. Its a really rare thing to capture. It feels like you are stepping back in time somehow. A real person is present in front of you but they are still somehow in an other world.
Just in case anyone doesn’t know who you are or what you do can you give us the overview?
I’m an actor, filmmaker and photographer working in Film, Television and Theatre in the UK and Europe. I’m best known for my role in the Netflix show The Last Kingdom and a lot of the photography I do is on set with the cast and crew of that show and other screen projects. What I’m most interested in is documenting the process of creating things and taking portraits of people who create them.
How and why did you get started shooting film?
I started shooting film a number of times – its definitely not been a straight line. My family has a long history of enthusiastic photographers. My grandfather, on my Dad’s side, fished the North Sea and always carried a Leica III in his pocket. I first started shooting regularly when a friend of mine at university brought me a “golden half” camera from a trip to Japan. When I graduated and started acting I shot a little bit behind the scenes on my first few films – Wuthering Heights with Andrea Arnold and a short film by Rose Glass. I found the process so fascinating. Then I let it slide as I put more focus on digital film making – using vintage lenses on early mirrorless cameras and that kind of thing.
It wasn’t really until The Last Kingdom that I got properly hooked. We shot out in Budapest for 6 years and there is a really strong film photography community there. The labs are really accessible and cheap. I started shooting on set with an Olympus Trip I inherited from my other grandfather and then things quickly got out of hand – starting with my first Leica rangefinder. By the time we got to season 4 I was likely to be carrying 4/5 different film cameras with me from scene to scene. In my set bag I’d have 35mm and instant film to medium format, 8mm and 16mm cameras – sometimes all at once. As I said – completely out of control!
Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?
The photographer Agatha A Nitecka who was the set photographer on Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights. She worked exclusively on film and in a slow, considered and delicate way. Her images from that film are breathtaking. Not like any other publicity stills I’d ever seen and yet completely appropriate for the film itself. Since then I’ve found inspiration in lots of set photographers and actor-photographers who shoot film like Wilson Webb, Jeff Bridges, Atsushi Nishijima and Thomas Kretschmann but Agatha’s work is where is all started.
What is the best piece of photography tip or advice you have ever received?
Focus on what is close to home. I recently got to meet and learn from the photographer Tim Richmond at his new dark room in Colorado. It was something he said to me. He definitely practices what he preaches and you really see it in his work. I’m lucky that what is close to home is often a film set and a group of pretty interesting looking people but I think that its generally great advice.
What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?
I’ve got some things lined up around the film of The Last Kingdom “Seven Kings Must Die” - portraits and also a series I’ve been working on. I’m shooting more authors/writers which I really enjoy. But I’m also playing with different ideas for a new project on the people that make computer games. I think the process of performing in that world is really interesting and not explored enough.
What / where is your next shoot and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?
For my next shoot I’ll be taking a Rolleiflex SL66, a Rolleiflex TLR and shooting HP5+. HP5 has slowly become the only black and white film I use. I’m usually one of those people that jumps between films like a butterfly but something about HP5 has made me loyal. Everyone says it but its just so versatile – and also forgiving. I love its character and I usually push it which allows me to really take risks with the available light. My Rolleiflex TLR quickly became my favourite camera to use on set other than my Leica M4 because its surprisingly tough, quiet and quick to shoot and load. Because I loved it so much I recently bought a SL66 from Photosound in Bishop Stortford and its a perfect companion for me as its great to focus in low light, still pretty quiet and being able to switch the same lens between portrait and macro modes just by reversing it allows for a lot of creative options.
My approach in the past has been to take lots of different cameras with me and then improvise with different formats on location but I’m trying to simplify my approach. For a long time one of my favourite things about shooting film was the surprises and its only recently that I’m beginning to appreciate the craft of aiming at images with a bit more precision rather than totally improvising!
What are your photographic goals going forward?
I’m a true enthusiast when it comes to photography and as I’m doing more paid work I’m trying not to lose that. I’m working on generating more personal projects myself and planning longer term. I feel like photography, whether its a career or just a hobby has this unique ability to be something that can adapt to where you are and what you are doing throughout your life and yet bring a sense of continuity whatever stage you are at.
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.
@paul_daly_ an amazing film photographer and filmmaker that I met documenting the Waterloo Bridge Extinction Rebellion protest in London. I love his documentary portraits and his in depth exploration of British Culture in all its forms.
@dolo_foto Chrystofer Davis a street photographer and educator in Newark, US. His ethos has always inspired me.
@dangaba Street Photographer and photo editor a good friend and massive inspiration of mine.
@dam.its.claire Claire Dam a beautiful family photographer and educator working on film based in the US who I recently came across.
Give a shout out to your favourite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one).
James Greenhalgh Who is an incredible portrait photographer on film who has a new-ish channel focussing on making film photography accessible and jumping between digital and analogue formats.
Zerobudgetfilmschool Is a quirky channel that is great if you are into cine-film and self processing.
Jess Hobbs I owe Jess because her channel introduced me to Analogue Studio DC (below) and the Mamiya RB67 polaroid conversions. Her work and videos are gentle and considered and I appreciate her approach.
Analogstudiodc Alin Tolea developed the 3D printed parts that allow you to turn an impossible polaroid lab into a film back and even though the channel is mainly walk throughs of conversions its a great example of what playing and inventing still can do to keep us creative.
Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers (name, location and website).
Parallax Photographic Coop in Brixton, London www.parallaxphotographic.coop/
Photosound in Bishop Stortford, UK www.photosoundcameras.com/
Cafe Analog in Budapest, Hungary www.cafeanalog.hu/
Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one.
Chan Photographic at Perseverance Works on Hackney Road in London and the legendary
Bayeux in Newman Street in Soho, London
Section 3 - Favourite kit
What film cameras do you own and which is your favourite?
Leica M4 with 50mm f2 Summicron and 35mm f2.5 Voigtlander Color Skopar, Rolleiflex 2.8D TLR, Rolleiflex SL66 w/ 80mm f2.8, Rollei Prego Micron (now stuck in panoramic mode), Mamiya RB67 w/ 127mm f3.5 and Analog Studio DC polaroid conversion back, Olympus XA, Paillard Bolex Reflex 16mm, Canon 512XL Super 8 and one well loved Olympus Trip.
Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?
My Voigtlander VC light meter, Domke wraps, Peak Design strap and then loads of grips and bits of plastic that drive my family crazy.
What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?
It has to be my Rolleiflex TLR that was a wedding present from my wife. She conspired with Aperture in London and worked up this whole misdirection campaign. She got the shop to wrap it up in the middle of this massive vintage Nikon telephoto lens box and kept saying that what she’d bought I’d find really useful for filming events (something I used to do and found horribly stressful). So the night before our wedding I got this box and opened it up expecting this monstrous telephoto lens and out slid this beautiful, early, well-loved Rolleiflex that has been one of the most inspiring cameras I’ve ever owned – and the best conversation starter.
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 know I’ve already said it but I love HP5+ particularly pushed to 1600. I love it in 35mm or 120. Sometimes when its really dark on set I’ll shoot Delta 3200 which is also beautiful. Before that some of my first self processing experiments were with XP2 and I think that’s an amazing film but something about HP5 in low light keeps me coming back. I still need to explore Ilford chemicals and paper – so I’ve got that to look forward to!
Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them.
Dan Gaba Instagram @dangaba
About The Author
James Northcote is an Actor, filmmaker and photographer. He is best known for playing the role of Aldhelm in the Netflix show The Last Kingdom. He has worked extensively in film in the UK and Europe with directors like Andrea Arnold, Lars Von Trier, Amma Asante, Joe Wright, Stefan Ruzowitsky and Jon Sanders. As a producer he supports emerging talent with his partner Elisabeth Hopper in short form storytelling across multiple formats through their production company Visual Goods. As a photographer he works documenting behind the scenes on Film and TV and making portraits of individuals in art, literature and culture.