Earlier this year in our interview with Walter Rothwell, he nominated Kris to take part in this series. We're so glad that he did. Enjoy!
Section 1 - Background
Share your favourite image / print shot on ILFORD film and tell us what it means to you?
One of my recent favourite images is this portrait of 3 young men taken on the streets of Birmingham UK. It was one of the first outings in the city post-lockdown and I wanted to really get back into a stride with my personal photography on the streets. With plenty of time to consider my practice over the past year, I knew that I wanted to start incorporating more of my portrait work into my street photography. It seems that a Sunday afternoon with a flicker of sunshine & good company was all that was needed to get me going again. Following this photograph Iʼve now started to create more portraits of people on the street which has boosted my motivation and creativity. I guess you could also say this kind of exercise is a great excuse to chat to people after a year of everyone being socially distant.
Just in case anyone doesnʼt know who you are or what you do can you give us the overview?
My name is Kris Askey and iʼm a full-time photographer from Birmingham in the UK. My photography is primarily centred around people, who they are, what they do and how they interact with the world around them. Iʼve always gravitated towards portraiture and documentary photography and I enjoy the fleeting & organic nature of what most other people miss or take for granted on a daily basis. For me I think thatʼs where a lot of interesting subject matters can be found. I spend most of my time balancing my personal projects and client commissions, which is often a delicate challenge, but itʼs the best way of being the photographer I want to be. Self-initiated projects and a strong desire to learn have been the catalyst for my best work, which in-turn helps me work with other people and clients along the way.
I really just love everything about photography and being a photographer, I feel like itʼs what Iʼm here to do. Before photography was in my life I used to be a Graphic Designer and spent 8 years in design studios & the broadcast industry. Over time I grew tired of being in front of a computer screen every waking minute of the day, and every time I had my camera it took me to different places photographing different people. This just felt like more of a life for me. I did everything I could to make it work and thatʼs still the case today. Itʼs quite rare that Iʼm not doing something to do with photography, but if that happens, iʼm either renovating the house with my fianceé Laura, being very average at basketball or indoor football, or wondering when Iʼll next be able to go snowboarding up a mountain.
How and why did you get started shooting film?
In 2011, I picked up a digital camera for the first time and it wasnʼt until 2018 when my friend Clifford Darby introduced me to film photography. It blew my world wide open. “People still shoot this?” “Is film still available to buy?” “Thereʼs only 36 photos per roll?”, Iʼll save the huge list of embarrassing questions (and the very underexposed images on my first rolls) and just say that the more questions I asked, the more interested I became. The most important thing that came from it all was everything I would learn in the coming months.
After the first 12-18 months, I found I had learned more about photography than I did in the whole 7 years prior. The principles of film photography seemed to join up many dots for me as iʼm completely self taught. Everything I had struggled with previously now all made sense and it felt like a perfect light-bulb moment. I think when people are given too many options it can really hold them back. Introducing a few disciplines or constraints into a creative workflow can just let people get on with creating things & avoid worrying about things that no one else will care about. As I experimented more with the film medium, lighting & developing, I felt I slowly improved my skills & was more confident in what I wanted to say with my work.
Fast forward a few years and Iʼm still using film for all of my personal photography & most projects. It has opened up parts of my photography that allows me to be more hands-on and involved (at least thatʼs how it feels) rather than my whole workflow being done via a screen, which at times is helpful, but it can feel very disconnected a lot of the time.
I find myself at the point where Iʼm shooting, developing and scanning all of my film from home, which is nice. I particularly love black & white film, the grain and any imperfections that can sometimes come with a negative as I feel it can really add something to an image. Thatʼs just my taste really. I imagine to some people the idea of using black and white film often puts them in a position where they might ask “I wonder what this will look like in colour?” where as Iʼve always been the opposite, often seeing colour photos and being curious about it being a black and white image. Itʼs probably worth mentioning that I am also colourblind ‘neutral deutanʼ, so I have trouble identifying certain shades or matching colours up with each other. This has probably been a factor in pushing me towards black and white photography in the past as it has never felt unfamiliar to me. I do very much feel that Iʼve always instinctively seen the world in tones & light more prominently than working to match colours in my photography.
Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?
This is a tough question really as Iʼve taken a lot of inspiration from books, experiences and people iʼve met over the last 10 years being a photographer. I generally get drawn towards a blend of portraiture/documentary/street driven-work which seems to be what interests me, and however much I get introduced to, thereʼs always a handful of photographersʼ work I always go back to. Off the top of my head I continually enjoy the work of Diane Arbus, Leonard Freed, Sally Mann, Helen Levitt, Bruce Davidson, Gordon Parks & Vivian Maier. These names are obviously very celebrated in the world of photography and picking one would be really tough. However, I do remember flicking through Bruce Davidsonʼs East 100th Street and it had a real effect on me.
What is the best photography tip or piece of advice you have ever received?
“Meter for the shadows, develop for the highlights, and you will have a negative rich in information.”
Iʼm quite lucky and received a lot of advice over the years. My friend Ash Carr (Instagram: @acarrphoto) really helped me understand the process of shooting and developing film back when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. This piece of advice he gave me is a classic, but I only ever understood it when he explained it in detail to me. Heʼs actually been quite instrumental really in me understanding a lot to do with film photography in general.
“Unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.”
This quote above is by Sally Mann and has stuck with me since I came across it. It made me realise why I perhaps gravitate to photographing home life and family. It also does make quite a lot of sense to me personally.
Last but not least, it wouldn't be right if I didn't mention Matt Stuart (Instagram: @mattu1), who really has a wealth of knowledge, experience and been very kind to me in the past with my random questions. Whilst I couldn't just pick out one bit of advice from him, I will go ahead and recommend a book he has recently published called ʼThink Like A Street Photographerʼ, which is a very good read, filled with wonderful advice for any photographer to take on board.
What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?
I have a few projects going on at the moment but in the event of some of them not going anywhere, iʼll focus on a couple of things I know iʼve make progress with. I have done a lot of street photography around Birmingham City Centre since 2014 and Iʼm certain thereʼs a collection of images there Iʼm ready to put together. I originally wanted to do a 2015-2020 collection of images Iʼd created in the city, and then low and behold, the Pandemic put a natural stop to my regular visits there in 2020. I havenʼt worked out yet whether I should take it as a sign the project stops at 2020, or whether it evolves. Whilst a lot of my earlier work was around candid street photography, I have slowly gravitated towards approaching people for street portraits and exploring a new area of my work.
Unsurprisingly, away from my usual stomping grounds, Iʼve been working on a collection of images from the Pandemic that will hopefully be a photographic representation of this weird time in my life. About a month before everything went a bit south in March 2020, I took the plunge into developing all of my film at home, which gave me something to focus on and lean right into. Pretty much all of my output was on Ilford HP5 developed with Ilfotec HC. The project is about 50% done but I donʼt want to rush releasing anything. Iʼm hoping that the further away we get from March 2020 it will give me fresh perspective on what happens with these images. Itʼs mostly all home/local life since March 2020 and I feel itʼs really played a part in me exploring more local places close to home.
What / where is your next shoot and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?
Thereʼs a strong chance my next shoot will either be a portrait session in a studio/location. If it isnʼt, then whenever I have a free pocket of time (and if the weather is decent) Iʼll dedicate a bit of time to walking the streets. In terms of choosing kit, I generally donʼt agonise over this as I only really walk the streets with a rangefinder or TLR. If iʼm doing a portrait session on film, it will be the TLR or the Large Format camera. For portrait work, if it suits the situation, Iʼll most likely link the cameras up to my strobes to give me full control of the light.
Film choices for me will be either Ilford HP5 (35mm or 120) or Ilford FP4 (120 or 4x5 Sheet). This combination has been my go-to for quite a while now and I feel I get everything I need from both of these films. The situation and scene will really determine what film speed I settle with for what/who Iʼm photographing. As an example, Iʼd say my street/documentary photography is mostly shot on HP5 at 800 or 1600. For portraits with a sitter (or tripod scene) I will go for either FP4 or HP5.
What are your photographic goals going forward? (Can be business or personal).
My goals at the moment are really to just stay on track with being motivated & dedicated to what Iʼve already been doing. As mentioned above, iʼll be trying to merge the portrait area of my work with my street photography in some way. This seems like a very obvious and logical step for me and Iʼm excited to dive into it more.
I also think Iʼd like to spend more time on my ‘visualisationʼ for my large format work. I have no problem in picking up a camera and being ready to take photos of things that catch my eye. However, for anyone thatʼs used a large format camera before, you canʼt exactly just set it up and have a ‘run & gunʼ mentality with it. Itʼs about the looking, planning, working out your composition and only then do you set up your camera. I feel like this will be a great learning curve.
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 toʼ 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.
Rashod is a photographer from Bloomington, Illinois (US) and creates some wonderful work with Ilford film. His currently series ‘Little Black Boyʼ is something I enjoy seeing updates of on my newsfeed and also his recent wet plate work with Net Geo is a must see.
You are probably familiar with Simon King as he has been interviewed on here before and written a few articles. Simon is a great guy with an even greater work ethic. He has a wealth of knowledge that makes for great conversations over a pizza in London. I think this man loves film photography more than me, and would definitely bleed in black and white tones.
A person I have got to know personally over the last 18 months is Matt Peers. A film photographer from Birmingham that loves using film to photograph people and the areas he wanders through. Heʼs also a fellow Rolleiflex user that has some really interesting work to look at. Heʼs a wonderful man.
Give a shout out to your favo urite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one).
I have to be honest Iʼm not really a YouTube person. I subscribed to a few channels in the past but I canʼt say Iʼm truly dedicated to keeping up with whatʼs going on in the YouTube world. I always thought ForrestFilmLabs was a good channel. Also Iʼve watched Nick Carverʼs channel a more bit recently too, and Iʼm finding that quite informative and really well done.
Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers.
I think Analogue Wonderland has to be near the top of my list. They are really doing great things and coming up with innovative ideas to not just be an online store front but a big contributor and supporter of the film community that exists, itʼs really great to see. They also have a very handy app! Everyone should go buy some film from them.
Another photographic retailer Iʼve come across recently is Chroma Camera which is “The home of the most unique large and medium format cameras”. I am looking into getting myself some of their Dry Plate Holders soon but their website has got some interesting bits of film kit Iʼve never seen before. Well worth checking out.
Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one.
Iʼd have to say AG Photographic in Birmingham. Iʼve sent a lot of film to them. Whenever Iʼd drop it off, Iʼd also glance at their film fridges that were always cleverly positioned right near the front desk. They have always offered a professional service and I always recommend them to anyone who is looking for a lab.
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
For 35mm work a Leica M3 & Leica M4 combination cover it. I use a 28mm lens on the M4 and a 50mm on the M3. I only shoot B+W on 35mm film really and 99% of the time theyʼve got a roll of HP5 in them.
For medium format work a Rolleiflex 2.8F is the only medium format camera Iʼve ever really liked. The 6x6 format and the small/portable nature of the Rollei is a big benefit for me. The particular model I have was previously owned by a retired officer in the Merchant Navy. The officer, who has now unfortunately passed away, purchased it brand new in Hong Kong a very, very long time ago. I was informed that the camera was his pride and joy, accompanying him around the world. He used it right up until his retirement around the late ʼ90s, which was when he put it away for the last time in his photographic hold all. Iʼve made some adjustments to the camera itself with a custom Hasselblad viewfinder installed on it and Iʼve removed the light meter which I never seemed to use, but Iʼm happy to be giving the camera a new lease of life after itʼs previous owner.
A more recent purchase is a Chamonix 45N-2 for 4x5 large format photography, which iʼm quite enjoying. I purchased this from Robert John Watson who is a Fine Art photographer from the UK and was kind enough to do me a deal on it seeing that it was going to a good home (thank you, Robert!). Iʼm still very new to everything 4x5 but like my other film work, HP5 and FP4 were my go-to in getting things going.
I love all of these cameras, but the Rolleiflex has always felt like a seamless extension to my arm when iʼm using it. I also like the bit of history that comes with it too.
Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?
A pocketable light meter is always in there, and a lens cloth/wipes are also very useful. If Iʼm going with 35mm, a spare film spool for the M3 is handy, and a 28mm external viewfinder for the M4. If I have the Rolleiflex on me, I would most likely just have that on itʼs own, sometimes the close-up lenses
(Rolleinars) come in handy, but I rarely use these. If iʼm going with the 4x5 camera, I always make sure Iʼve got a 8x loupe, dark cloth and shutter cable. I also think a ziplock bag is useful for film holders to eliminate inevitable dust.
Lastly, I often carry a small notepad but Iʼm not generally someone who writes down all my settings or incremental details. I just take quick notes of useful info and I like to sketch out potential ideas for a shoot that I can then refer back to.
What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?
I donʼt think i've been fortunate enough to have found or been gifted anything significant like cameras or lenses, Iʼm usually the one losing shutter cables or leaving cameras on trains accidentally (That is a story for another day). I was recently given 2 very clean large pieces of glass by my friend David Babaian which were specifically cut for making a custom scanning rig. Iʼve now implemented these into my rig so that I can scan my 4x5 negatives fast and easy. Thank you, David!
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. I started my black and white journey on a specific non-Ilford film but I soon realised it just wasn't my cup of tea at all. HP5 is perfect and is always nearby inside one of my film cameras. Itʼs my go-to film because the tones are consistent whether Iʼm shooting at box speed or higher. A lot of what I have photographed in the past has depended on having a fast film, so I generally shoot HP5 at 800 or 1600 (sometimes 3200) to give me flexibility in speed, but also I know the resulting negative will be what Iʼm after. When I am not too dependant on a fast film, I enjoy using FP4. With these films I generally have it all covered from 100-3200+ and they are available in 35mm, 120 & 4x5, which is excellent. I havenʼt tried all of the films that Ilford offer, but Iʼd like to test a few more to see what sticks or surprises me. Maybe some Pan F for portraits, who knows.
Ilfotec HC is my main developer. In January 2020 I started to develop my own film at home, and I got some smart advice from a friend who convinced me to shoot with one film and use one developer to create a reliable and repeatable process for film developing. I chose Ilfotec HC early on and Iʼve been using it for 18 months now. I particularly like the small quantity of developer per session, and I prefer using it compared to a stock solution.
Iʼm yet to really dive into printing my black and white film at home, however I am currently looking into this as itʼs the final step in my whole process. I guess my list of favourite Ilford products will increase with a preferred paper once I start experimenting. I will have to keep you updated, but Iʼm quite excited about what the future holds.
Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them.
Matt Peers - https://www.mattpeers.photography
Images ©Kris Askey
About The Author
Kris Askey is photographer from Birmingham UK. Interested in people and everyday life, he specialises in portrait and documentary work that explores themes such as identity, place and the human condition to try & show a lived experience in his images. Having been a photographer for 10+ years, Kris experiments with both digital & analogue processes and has worked with the clients such as the NHS, Apple and Coca Cola.