It's been over 6 months since we launched our first Lockdown Session and in that time we've spoken to many fantastic photographers and darkroom printers. Continuing in that vein, we're thrilled to share this week's In Focus interview with Nashville based, music and portrait photographer Laura E Partain.
This photograph is now about 5 years old and I’ve shot many, many images on Ilford films since. However, this particular frame of Willie Nelson has always been a favorite.
It was the first time I went out to his ranch to photograph a concert, and he happened to be playing on a small stage to an even smaller crowd on the evening before the actual festival. At the time of releasing the shutter here, I was a fairly new full time photographer. Who was, for all intents and purposes in the throes of a proverbial lucky break so many artists often describe at points in their careers. After shooting countless concerts and working in the music industry intimately since then, I can say that I do not take for granted being able to have once sat at the red headed strangers feet to photograph that show. I consider such a moment to have been truly a rarity, one that I’ll forever regard as special.
My name is Laura E. Partain. I’m a professional music and portrait photographer who lives in Nashville Tennessee. I’ve been photographing for 12 years and started really getting into film photography about ten years ago. A lot of my work revolves around doing press and album art work for musicians, though I also frequent the recording studio and backstages a lot as well.
While attending Southern Illinois University Carbondale, I was lucky enough to have a professor who wasn’t so keen on digital photography, and who happened to be stellar with a Hasselblad and strobe lights.
It only took a few weeks of being around the other photo students and him to realize that film photography seemed to offer something that my digital work at best could only struggle to offer. The film photographers in our program tended to have better work ethics, were more critical, and in general seemed to care more.
Not only was the work being made on film more interesting to me. The community around it seemed to be more driven, more success focused, and less willing to compromise the integrity of their work. I quickly picked up film photography. Over time I began borrowing our school’s Hasselblad medium format and Xpan frequently, and worked with both numerous times before graduation.
Mary Ellen Mark, W Eugene Smith, Richard Avedon, and Arnold Newman are some of my favorite photographers. Its mostly the case that I study work of past photographers and enjoy applying what I consider to be more ‘classical styles’ to the work I actively make for myself. However three contemporary photographers I love are Tom Craig, Jim Herrington, and Bill Steber, the two latter photographers I am fortunate to call dear friends.
This is quite difficult to answer, as I’ve had many profound moments of inspiration that essentially could be boiled down to ‘photography tips’. However since Mary Ellen Mark is one of my favorite photographers, here’s a quote from a Profoto interview she did several years back. This quote always makes me want to get off my butt and work: “But i think if you love it and you really wanna do it, then you must do it. Because you’ll never forgive yourself for not doing something you cared about or you believe in if you don’t do it now.”
A tip that I can personally give, one that I have benefitted from for years, is to know your photo history. Know it well and learn from those who came before you. And when possible, forge authentic relationships with older photographers who you can learn from and work with. The passing down of knowledge in our field is a sacred and special thing, and we disadvantage ourselves if our photo and social bubble is just those who are essentially the same age and skill set. Make learning photo history and learning from older photographer’s a priority when you can.
I am fortunate in that I largely love my career and those I work with. In many cases, my personal work is almost indistinguishable from my work I’m paid for. That being said outside of photographing artists in the studio, or for their album releases and art work, I really do not have any other projects going on. I have over a hundred sheets of film based around an American Legion here in Nashville and it’s surprising story as it relates to country music, however that project is currently under wraps with no known release date or show.
COVID has no doubt changed the world and changed my workload. Right now the projects I do have, I can’t talk about yet since they involve music artists preparing for new albums, and in some cases the albums aren’t announced yet. Such is my life! A lot of shooting and sharing photos months and months later!
Currently, some of my greatest goals as a photographer are to expand my business and work more in the editorial and photojournalism world, make two portfolio books, release a personal book called Honky Tonk Tuesday Nites, and to keep studying inspiring work and to work relentlessly towards becoming a better photographer and person.
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.
Jim Herrington / @jimherrington .- Jim is one of my favorite photographers. He also has an incredible book out called The Climbers ( @theclimbers_book), through which photographs and words tell the stories of the world’s most notable mountaineers. Some of the truest, and best photographs of musicians were and are taken by him.
Bill Steber / @stonesinmypathway. - Bill is another of my favorites. With a background as a professional photojournalist, Bill has with the same care and thoughtfulness created a major body of work spanning decades that covers blues music and culture in the south
Tom Craig / @tomcraig. - While I personally do not know Tom, I love his work and have studied it quite a bit. In contrast to Herrington and Steber who tend to shoot mostly in black and white, Craig shoots a lot of color film. The colors are rich and warm and I’ve no doubt been drawn in to the dreamy hues of his work like so many.
I really enjoy Profoto and Leica’s youtube channels.
I get a lot of stuff from BH Photo, but outside of them I LOVE Photographer’s Formulary. I almost always get my fix and developers from them:
I develop and scan all of my black and white work, and have Boutique Film Lab develop my color. I occasionally have them proof scan my work but I drum scan all of my finals at my home office. You can find more info on Boutique Film Lab at www.boutiquefilmlab.com
My Hasselblad 500cm and my Wista 4x5 wooden field camera are my two favorites!
I always pack my Sekonic light meter. Sometimes I bring my ancient Nikon SB800 flash unit with a silver reflector for the top. However I recently came to own a Profoto B10Plus kit that has been incredibly helpful when needing to light quickly and pack lightly. (Which is often the case on my shoots), but the speed light is nice when I’m assistant-less and/or am going for a more stark ‘on camera flash’ feel for the work. Also - GAFF TAPE. Always. What is life without Gaff Tape?
It's humbling to reflect on this. After college my family helped my buy my first Hasselblad and view camera/tripod kit. There have also been other times where someone has kindly helped me by giving me film or old lighting stands or modifiers. I’m glad this question was asked. It’s a reminder to give back when you can. Getting started in photography is so difficult, especially when considering the upfront costs.
Delta 3200, hands down, is my favorite Ilford Product. Close follow-ups however are definitely Ilford FP4 and Pan F! All images used in this interview were shot on Delta 3200, usually pushed two stops as well.
As a music photographer I am often working in less than desirable lighting conditions. Having a 1000 ISO film that is inherently flat is a big life saver in these environments. I personally have a very odd and non-sensical way of using it. I rate it at 2000 when I’m in dark environments. IE recording studios or concerts, and generally expose for the darker parts of my subjects clothing based on a spot meter reading/stopped down twice (zone system taken into consideration here). However I push it two stops in development. I have found that this gives me a desirable density that I find will print well and scan well. It also gives me really nice tones. I do shoot it at box speed every once in a while as well.
Joseph Patrick - @thephotojojo
Joseph is one of my favorite photographers in Nashville. He’s dedicated to the history of the medium and is always sharpening his technique. Not to mention always thinking of creative shoots and ways to work with the models. He shoots quite a bit of Ilford films as well!
All images © Laura E Partain
Laura E. Partain is a music and portrait photographer based in Nashville Tennessee. With a B.A. in Cinema and Photography and a minor in Journalism, Laura has spent 12 years working with many different kinds of people and subject matter ranging from midwestern farmers to to rockstars, large corporations to small magazines, and more. Her work can be seen in countless magazines and websites and on record covers or other album art. She is also on occasion available for private photo lessons. When Laura’s not on a shoot or working on edits, she may be out hiking the Smoky Mountains, camping the Great Lakes’ coastlines, or hiking a Tennessee trail with her leash trained cats.
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