Our 57th In Focus interview is with Simon Smars from Stockholm who is a professional fine art photographer. Simon works exclusively with limited edition handmade black and white silver gelatin fiber prints, using traditional darkroom techniques. He creates a mixture of minimalistic scapes paired with a melancholic somber, with scenes often stripped to its bare essence.
SECTION 1 - BACKGROUND
Share your favourite image / print shot on ILFORD Film and tell us what it means to you?
My favourite image is the one I haven't taken yet. I can't think of anything more exciting than stocking up on film, packing my camera and going out to shoot - knowing that I might return with the image. But, here is an image from my latest developed roll on a exceptionally crisp winter evening in Stockholm. I'd been wanting to capture the smoke coming out of that chimney for a long time, and on this day the conditions were perfect.
Just in case anyone doesn't know how you or what you do can you please give us an overview?
My name is Simon and I’m a black and white photographer from Dalarna in Sweden. I shoot exclusively on medium format film and I do limited edition silver gelatine fibre prints in the darkroom. Since a few years back, my focus has mainly been on landscapes, but I’m also very drawn to simple architectural compositions with clean line.
How and why did you get started shooting film?
I found that the digital workflow often left me with too many choices and a bunch of nearly identical images, which had a negative impact on my personal connection to the image itself. This robbed me of the feeling that the images were really mine and unique. The analog process slows me down and I’ve come to absolutely love it. I’m pushed to really think and compose before I press the shutter because I know the time and money invested in every shot. It’s a completely different shooting experience and I feel I’m creating something tangible with every frame.
Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?
As cliché as it sounds, I have to say Ansel Adams. When you’re pulling your hair trying to get the tones just right in the darkroom it’s impossible not to marvel (and slight envy) at the quality of the prints and tonality that Adams achieved almost a century ago. With that said I also do love the moody and minimalistic work of Michael Kenna, and I have a real soft spot for Nick Brandt’s images and his work for the African wildlife conservation.
What is the best piece of photography tip or advice you have ever received?
My friend Love (a common Swedish name actually) once said: “Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good." This has stayed with me as I easily fall into the trap of perfectionism and tend to think that if it's not perfect it's not worth anything. It's so easy to focus on the technical side of photography instead of working on what really matters - what you want to say with your images. Also, take notes. Notes are the key to getting better at what you do, especially when dealing with silver and chemicals.
What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?
Even though I’ve been living in Stockholm for the last 10 years I have never really experienced the network of islands that make up the great archipelago just outside of the city (there are around 24.000!). You can reach it by public transport and it’s accessible to everyone, which I think is really lovely. During the pandemic I started to explore these islands and the extraordinary beauty they hold, and I plan to make a bigger project out of it.
I’m also currently exploring some architectural themes with strong and simple lines with the mindset ‘less is more’.
What / where is your next and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?
I just moved to Bilbao, situated in the Basque Country in northern Spain. My goal here is to capture the beautiful mountains around the region and try to get a feel for this very special place with it's unique history and customs. I'll be using my trusty Rolleiflex 2.8 GX and a lot of my favourite film FP4.
What are your photographic goals going forward?
To finalize the Archipelago project with all fibre prints and put it together to my very first book. Also, I'm hoping for some new and interesting collaborations this year.
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.
- Justin Piercy @fistfulofpowder - Abandoned houses and old cars. Medium format with the softest tones. Just great work.
-Gianfranco Lunardo @gianfrancolunardo - Moody, grungy and dark black and white medium format pinhole images like nothing else. Very consistent and awesome work.
-Brendan Devlin @beedevlin - lovely seascapes and consistently great images. Medium format black and white images.
Give a shout out to your favourite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one).
-Nick Carver - Nick is honest, funny, and I find his on-location videos to be a great inspiration to get out there and shoot. https://www.youtube.com/c/nickcarverphoto
-The naked Photographer - Everything darkroom related with a lot of in-depth tests of papers, developers and films. Great advice on everything from framing your prints to aligning your enlarger.
Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers (name, location and website).
I buy most of my supplies from Macodirect in Germany. https://www.macodirect.de/en/
Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one.
I rarely shoot colour but when I do I use Team Framkallning in Stockholm.
R O C K S (Rögrund, Rolleiflex 2.8 GX, Ilford FP4 · Perceptol) T O F T A (Gotland, Rolleiflex 2.8 E2, FP4+, Perceptol)
SECTION 3 - FAVOURITE KIT
What film cameras do you own and which is your favourite?
I’ve tried most formats and camera brands out there, but for me nothing has come close to the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX regarding speed and quality. The biggest benefit with the TLR-system is not just the small form factor, but the possibility to use the viewfinder to compose as usual even with filters attached. I mainly shoot with a 10-15 stops ND filter on it. My Hasselblad-kit rarely gets to go with me anymore since it is so much slower having to attach and reattach the filters every time I want to adjust the framing or refocus.
Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?
I got the Billingham Hadley Small and in that marvellous little camera bag I’m able to fit my Rolleiflex, ND- and contrast filters, close-up Rolleinars, air blower, lens paper, right angle cable release, Gossen Digiflash light meter, film and a small pocketknife. My trusted Sirius carbon tripod with the Rolleifix is attached under the bag, making the whole package a small and discrete shoulder bag that I bring with me everywhere I go.
What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?
As a TLR user, the Bay3-43mm filter adapter is an absolute must! It lets you use new modern filters, with great coatings on your Rolleiflex, they fit with all the other original accessories, and they're even stackable.
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've experimented with a lot of films and developers from a lot of different brands before I finally landed in what I think gives me the absolute best tonal separation and quality: FP4 in Perceptol stock solution. This combo gives me outstanding results and the tonality I'm after with small and compact grain without too much contrast.
E Q U A B L E (Stockholm, Rolleiflex 2.8 E2, FP4+, Perceptol) J A G G E D S H O R E L I N E (Rolleiflex 2.8 C, FP4+, Perceptol)
Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them.
I nominate Eva Karlsson @evakarlsson for her outstanding wet plate collodion work. I would love to know more about her process and how she make these wonderful images.
Images © Simon Smårs