John Whitmore is a 'sometimes' event and black and white documentary photographer, a Darkshed owner, darkroom printer, YouTuber and Sunny16 podcaster. We're really pleased that he took some time out of his busy schedule to become the 24th 'In Focus' interviewee.
Share your favourite image / print shot on ILFORD film and tell us what it means to you?
In some respects photography could be explained as one massive scientific research project, capturing data to show the state of atoms and how light reflects and refracts at a particular point in time and space. The data collected by film/sensor, recorded as grain/pixels and visualised on a screen or as a print. (well, that’s my GCSE science recollection of it)
By freezing a moment in a photograph we are able to consider and analyse what came before it, how those atoms got to be at that exact location in space and time, whether that be through photographer intervention or capturing life as it happens. We can look back and see how things have changed since that moment and can compare and contrast that data.
Of course this is a very clinical description of photography and suggests that we are simply robots, constantly collecting and analysing data with our senses. However, how we perceive the collection of those atoms, the objects they create, the people, places and how light interacts with them, and the role the photographer has in controlling that capture, all invoke emotion and meaning to us way beyond data collection.
And it doesn’t explain how this photo of a clock can bring a tear to my eye.
Just in case anyone doesn’t know who you are or what you do can you give us the overview?
I’m not entirely sure who I am and what I do?!
Sometimes I’m an event photographer, especially interested in behind-the-scenes and documentary photography (all shot on black and white film, of course). Other times I'm locked away in my darkshed (it’s a darkroom in a shed if you hadn’t guessed), printing, experimenting, streaming to YouTube, recording podcasts with Sunny 16 and staring at a big pile of negatives.
How and why did you get started shooting film?
I’m of an age that analogue photography was all I knew growing up and then the digital revolution took place, which I enthusiastically jumped on board. 20 years later a series of unfortunate, chaotic and self inflicted events twisted my life around. On the other side of that tornado I found myself fully engrossed in analogue processes and never looked back. One of the driving factors was to step away from computers and screens. The darkroom workflow offers me this and is an escape, allowing me to focus on the processes and the creativity.
And yes, as the film photography cliche goes - to slow down.
Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?
I don’t think I'm inspired by specific photographers, I’m certainly more inspired by the lives of individuals/groups to make photos of what they do and of course my own experiences as I attempt to navigate life. Visually, the cinematography of movies and TV seep constantly into my subconscious and I’m sure they have an influence on the images I create.
What is the best piece of photography tip or advice you have ever received?
There are many ways of saying it and it’s such an important point, as Stuart Freedman recently summarised “Always try and be a decent human being”.
What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?
I’ve got a few on the boil at the moment, I’ve been experimenting with camera obscuras, turning spaces into darkrooms and creating massive prints.
2021 is Coventry City of Culture and along with documenting the changes that have been taking place in the city over the last couple of years, I fully intend to photograph as much of it as possible on film!
And i’m desperate to go travelling again, hopefully this will be an option again soon Covid-19, finances and family permitting!
And finally I’m just about to launch a patron/zine subscription on my website so please come and check that out.
What / where is your next shoot and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?
I’m just about to head out and do some handheld, large format photography using the Camerdactly OG so I’ve got 4 sheets of 4x5 HP5 loaded (it’s a fairly overcast day) and a lightmeter. Keeping it simple!
What are your photographic goals going forward?
To get more done in less time.
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.
Favourite is a very difficult thing to nail down, there are incredible photographers across all genres and it really depends on my mood what I am looking at and how deeply I am looking in their work. What I would say though is don’t just follow people on social platforms. Visit their websites, buy their prints and books, visit their exhibitions and contact them. These interactions are so much more valuable to a photographer than social media likes.
However, since you asked, here are a couple that are currently on my inspire list:
David Collyer - https://www.instagram.com/david_collyer_photographer/
I first came across David through his excellent documentation of the impact of the Coronavirus at a hospital in Abergavenny. Check out the book he produced of this series, ‘All in a day’s work’.
Wonderful photographer, amazing person and according to his twitter feed is setting up a darkroom as I type this. Definitely worth following and spending time with the stories he is telling.
Give a shout out to your favourite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one).
Bizarrely I don't really watch much YouTube, although I probably should, given I've got my own channel! Videos are a bit tricky to watch while in the darkroom so I generally listen to music or podcasts - including ‘A Photographic Life’ https://unitednationsofphotography.com/ by Grant Scott and ‘A Small Voice’ https://bensmithphoto.com/asmallvoice by Ben Smith
Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers (name, location and website).
My 3 most used retailers are:
Ag Photographic - Birmingham, UK - https://www.ag-photographic.co.uk/
Analogue Wonderland - Wonderville, UK - https://analoguewonderland.co.uk/
Imaging Warehouse - Stratford Upon Avon, UK - https://www.theimagingwarehouse.com/
Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one, (name, location, website).
Oooh tricky as I haven’t sent anything to a lab in years but I’d like to give a shout out to Silver Pan Film Lab in Bristol, UK - because Duncan is ace.
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’m not a big camera collector and have pretty much got it down to 1 camera per format. My go-to camera is Nikon F6. I’ve still got the FM3a that I ‘upgraded’ from which I still occasionally use as it’s such a lovely camera.
Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?
2 x Bananas, a fruit+nut bar and a bottle of water. Oh you mean photography related?! A notepad + pen if i’m shooting large format.
What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?
It has to be my De Vere 504 enlarger, which was being stored in a barn on a farm when I picked it up. It’s an absolute beast of a machine, is rock steady and will probably outlive most of us.
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?
Currently I'm a little obsessed with pushed FP4 printed on MG Art 300. Pushed FP4 feels raw, the highlights can blow easily (I’m developing in ID-11) and the grain is pronounced. Print that on the lovely texture of MGArt and it’s an aesthetic that I’m particularly drawn to at the moment.
Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them
I’d like to nominate Toby Vandevelde - a freelance photographer that doesn’t stop at the end of his digital days, constantly producing wonderful analogue images too.
All images © John Whitmore