A regular contributor to the film and analogue community and always helpful and encouraging to other photographers out there. This week's In Focus interview is with "photographer” Morag Perkins who, "just takes pictures".
Section 1 - Background
Share your favourite image / print shot on ILFORD film and tell us what it means to you?
I’ve chosen this one because it’s represents a process that has been very special to me recently.
Over the last 2 or 3 years I’ve found a way to use photography to help me clear my head and manage anxiety - something that has become increasingly important in a time of a global pandemic! I will take a solo walk with my camera, often listening to a hypnotherapy recording as I go. Working very close up with an SLR-style camera and a macro lens, it’s easy to become totally absorbed in what you are doing - at that distance, even breathing matters. It becomes a meditative experience.
I’m vulnerable to covid so during the pandemic I’ve been almost entirely limited to places I can walk to; this technique has become an absolute lifeline. I’ve become intimately acquainted with the tiniest details of the area - I could tell you exactly when the light will hit a particular patch of moss at a particular time of year, where and when to find the icicles under the bridge, where the best spider webs are, and which cherry tree in the forest will flower first.
This particular frame was from early April, walking in the forest to clear my head after an intense and exhausting couple of days. I had a roll of Delta 400 loaded in my favourite camera and lens combination, one that I use so often it feels like an extension of my body and has become effortless to work with, it feels completely natural. Sometimes that moment just happens - I distinctly remember discovering this tiny cluster of leaves emerging as the light hit it just exactly right. Slow down. Breathe. Less and less in the frame - and everything stabilises again. That magic won’t always happen, but when it does it can be something really special.
Just in case anyone doesn’t know who you are or what you do can you give us the overview?
My name is Morag Perkins, and I’m a photographer based in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m definitely not a professional, and when I’m trying to describe myself I cycle through amateur / serious hobbyist / enthusiast / artist and none of them sit quite right so I always end up back at just "photographer”. It’s quite freeing to be honest, I don’t need to live up to any expectations or any particular style, I can just do my thing and let it evolve over time. I just take pictures. It’s quite interesting to see where things go!
I use both film and digital, but at the moment it’s mostly film. I work with a mix of colour and black and white, slide and negative film, in all sorts of formats from 120 all the way down to 110 and APS. 35mm is my natural home though. I’m all about tiny details and forever trying to get closer in - there’s nothing better than discovering a new alien world in the moss on the top of a wall.
I’m very active in the Twitter film photography community so that’s the place you are most likely to find me!
How and why did you get started shooting film?
It would have been a year or two after I first picked up a digital camera. I raided the attic on a visit to my parents and came back with my Dad’s old Chinon CM-5 that I remembered from childhood family holidays. I took it out during the big freeze of January 2010, loaded with a roll of ancient Jessops colour film found in the camera case - the results were much better than expected and I’ve dabbled in film photography on and off ever since. It’s really been in the last 2-3 years that I’ve got into film in a big way though! In 2019 film gradually began to edge out digital, and during the pandemic I can’t really do a whole lot else so things have really kicked up a gear.
Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?
I draw inspiration from all over the place! When I first took up photography I was influenced by a couple of good friends who are photographers, and luckily for me they are both people who very much do their own thing with photography. I think that got me off to a good start as my mental model of photography was never about “you need to photograph exactly these things in exactly this way” and much more about using it as a creative tool for exploring what you can find.
Stylistically I draw inspiration from all over the place and I’m not sure I could narrow it down to just one or two people!
In terms of attitude though, it has to be Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian pioneer of the fine photographic art of not giving a fig. She went right ahead and invented a whole new genre, and of course the critics hated it: “we must give this lady credit for daring originality, but at the expense of all other photographic qualities” – doesn’t that sound like a challenge?
In the same tradition, I’m inspired by the great women in photography who defied expectations or who might be underestimated because of the way they presented themselves - like Jane Bown, who carried her OM-1 in a wicker basket and photographed the Beatles, or Elsa Dorfman who badgered Polaroid into leasing her one of the only giant 20x24 Polaroid cameras in existence and used it to take naked photographs of Allen Ginsberg. (If you haven’t watched the documentary “The B-Side” on Netflix then it’s well worth your time!)
What is the best piece of photography tip or advice you have ever received?
I’m not sure anybody ever told me this in so many words – it’s more just something I’ve absorbed – but it’s definitely about doing your own thing. Don’t do the photography that you think you ‘ought’ to do, or the photography that everybody else is doing; do what interests you. Keep at it, keep exploring what catches your eye and see what develops. By far the most interesting photographers and artists are always the ones doing their own thing.
Another favourite of mine is “don’t shoot straight into the light” – a piece of advice that I enjoy ignoring on an almost weekly basis!
What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?
Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve been working towards a zine documenting my local walks through the changing seasons. One problem right now is that I don’t know quite how or when it’s going to end! So I’m still walking and still collecting rolls of film and it will come to a close when the moment feels right. I still don’t know what the final page is going to look like. It’s really been an exercise in discovering that when you start a project you can never quite tell how it’s going to play out.
What / where is your next shoot and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?
Exactly what I choose will depend on the weather, as well as my mood on that specific day – it might be colour or it might be black and white, but my next roll will almost certainly be a walk in the forest, searching for those tiny details and special moments when the light is just right.
Since winter is fast approaching with long dark nights, I’m also about to load a roll of HP5 into one of my smaller pocketable point and shoot cameras to take out in the streets in the rain. I want to see what happens if I just let the camera do its thing and then push the film a stop or two on processing. I tried this to great effect with Cinestill 800T last winter, so it’s time to try black and white, see what comes out!
So much of my work starts out as “I wonder what would happen if I tried this…?”
What are your photographic goals going forward?
I plan to keep exploring, and keep learning!
One of the things I’m working on at the moment is getting less and less in the frame, making better use of negative space – especially in black & white. I don’t know if the perfect minimal shot can ever really exist but I’m always trying to keep moving one more step towards it.
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.
There are so many fantastic photographers to choose from in film photography Twitter that there’s no way I can narrow it down to just three favourites!
Instead, here are 3 people you may not have come across who are making work that deserves to be seen:
- Meredith Wilson (Twitter: @MerriMayhem / Insta: @merrimayhem) works with all sorts of analogue techniques, but in particular she has some really beautiful dreamlike Polaroid work
- Andrew Keedle (Twitter: @apkeedle / Insta: @apkeedle) has produced 7x17” ultra large format trichomes that have to be seen to be believed. FP4 like you have never seen it before!
- Lina Forrester (Twitter: @LinaForrester / Insta: @victorianharephoto for photography & @victorianhare for illustration) is a multi-talented illustrator and photographer who produces the most wonderfully ghostly, ethereal photographs that could come from another world and another era. She’s also the artist behind all those hand-drawn bunny avatars you might have spotted all over film photography Twitter!
Give a shout out to your favourite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one).
I don’t really watch YouTube much, video isn’t my thing!
Can I give a shout out to EMULSIVE for blog posts instead? Em has been behind so many great things in the film photography community, and as soon as I’ve finished this interview the next thing to think about is putting together my Emulsive Secret Santa gift!
Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers.
My first stop for fresh film is always Analogue Wonderland – they’ve been huge supporters of the UK film community, and they’ve even just launched a brand new lab!
I’ve also bought a few things from Soper Photographic / https://soperfectimages.co.uk in Plymouth - Ashley and Russell are always helpful, and turned out to be an unexpectedly good source of expired APS film.
Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one.
I’ve been using Photo Hippo in Burnley for a while now - very reliable, and they will process and scan almost anything! 20 years expired film, APS, XPro, wild experiments with pre-exposed colour film, all no problem. They didn’t even bat an eyelid when I asked them to push a roll of black & white 110 two stops.
Section 3 - Favourite kit
What film cameras do you own and which is your favourite?
My hands-down favourite is the humble Canon EOS 300 - I love it so much I bought three & use them like a 35mm version of interchangeable film backs! It’s not unheard of for me to have one loaded with black and white film, one with colour negative, and one with colour slide. Those late model plastic SLRs are often overlooked since they’re modern and unglamorous, but they can be really great cameras and the fact you can still easily pick one up for less than £20 on eBay is always a bonus! That specific model suits me really well, great ergonomics, fits my hand perfectly, reliable metering, plays nicely with my EF mount lenses but also works well with a range of adapted M42 lenses. It’s a camera will stay out the way and just work, letting me trust it and concentrate on composition – it is the one I will use when I want to get lost in the moment and forget about the camera.
Cameras tend to come to me from all sorts of places so I have built up a pretty eclectic collection over the years!
As well as the plastic EOS 300s (and it’s APS cousin, the EOX IX Lite), I have a selection of older manual 35mm SLRs: an Olympus OM-1n, a couple of Zenits that are broken in various unpredictable ways, and my Dad’s old Praktica which sat in a box for about a decade before I realised it came with a really great lens. When I want something that will just drop in a pocket, there’s a Konica C35V that came down through the family and has a surprisingly good little lens on it. Even the old Canon point and shoot that I got for my 18th birthday occasionally gets a look in. Probably the cutest and strangest camera I own is the tiny Pentax Auto 110, the smallest interchangeable-lens SLR ever made. Pretty much all of them are in use, and I will try anything once. The only thing I’ve never really taken to is rangefinders, they don’t seem to suit my shooting style.
Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?
I try not to carry masses of ‘stuff’ around so there isn’t much in there. Most of the time just a lens cloth, spare batteries and a small lightweight Black Rapid strap that is just right for the cameras I carry. A friend made me a padded camera insert years ago that can drop into any bag and that still comes out with me nearly every time.
The one photography accessory I could never be without is my phone! It can be a notebook, light meter, map, weather forecast, blood glucose meter, even on occasion a photographic ‘sketchbook’ – and with a bit of searching it contains all the knowledge I could ever possibly want and then some.
What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?
A black Olympus OM-1n that was gifted to me by a dear friend’s husband shortly before he passed away. He took really good care of his camera gear so it’s in impeccable condition and runs beautifully. It’s my go to when I want an all-mechanical camera and something a little bit classy!
I also had a brief loan of a travelling Yashica Mat 124G, that was entirely unlike anything I have ever used before and a lot of fun to work with! I was really impressed with the results, even from my very first roll.
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?
Good daylight can be in short supply here, especially in winter, so my favourite film stocks are almost all ISO 400! Anything less than that and you find there are days where what you can do is very limited indeed.
HP5+ has been my go to black & white film for a while now, and with good reason - it’s always reliable, and very forgiving! I really like it exposed at ISO 200, but it also pushes well to 1600 for really dark conditions. It’s still the one I reach for when I need it to just work, in any weather.
I have recently discovered Delta 400 though, and that has put the cat among the pigeons! I really like the extra-sharp smoothness of it, a completely different feel to HP5. It’s less forgiving so the light needs to be right, but if you nail the exposure it will reward you. And, it really shines for those very minimal shots that I am trying to perfect.
Due to health limitations I’ve been concentrating my energies on the shooting stage for now, and most of the time I use a lab for processing. Every once in a while I want to process a roll or two at home though, and ILFORD's Simplicity range of single use sachets are perfect for this. It’s great to be free to home process once in a blue moon without worrying about the rest of the chemistry going to waste.
Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them
I’d love to hear from Allysse Riordan - she always has something interesting to say!
All Images © Morag Perkins
About The Author
Morag Perkins is a Glasgow-based photographer with a weakness for late-90s plastic film cameras. Her work has been exhibited in venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as online.
Headshot taken on HP5+ / Olympus OM-1n / Zukio Auto-S 50mm f1.8 / Home processed with Simplicity Kit & DSLR scanned / April 2020