We recently had the pleasure of turning the tables on one of the stalwarts of the film photography community when we asked Em if he'd be the first of our interviews in the 'Lockdown Sessions'.  We're so glad that he agreed.

What made you set up Emulsive.org and what were your initial plans for it?



EMULSIVE started as an idea in early 2015. I thought I should put up a blog where I could post a few photos and blog about stuff that I'd learned over the few years that had followed my return to film photography.

It’s fair to say that a big part of setting up EMULSIVE was to push back at online photography forums. I'd spent quite a bit of time on them up to that point and if I'm being completely honest, I'd had a pretty crappy time of it. They were full of loud, arrogant and largely unhelpful people - 95% of whom were men more interested in pissing contests about gear and one-upping each other, than helping out someone with genuine questions. That's my perception, at least. Don’t get me wrong, there were some lovely folks out there but the overall tone of those places was toxic. It’s a sentiment I’ve echoed numerous times over the years and while some forums have gotten better, others have not. Quite the opposite in fact.

I’m very proud of the fact that the comments on EMULSIVE need little or no way in the form of moderation. There are occasional incidents, naturally but 99% of them are helpful and in the spirit of what I’m trying to do.

The original content plan - for want of a better word - was pretty much blown out of the water when the site launched and I jumped into the film photography community for the first time. I realised three things:

  • There was a HUGE, mature and engaged community out there.
  • I wasn't alone in some of my more extreme experiments out there (phew!).
  • With all the noise, it was hard to hear the individual voice of "normal", everyday film/traditional process photographers.

It might sound trite and perhaps I was a little naive but those three things were pretty much all that was going through my head for the first few weeks. I'd already thought about getting photographers on for interviews before I went live - not famous people, mind you - and had a template of sorts that I started sharing via emails and DMs literally a week after the website went live.

It was hard. I was a literal nobody but I persevered. The website had just over 7.5k visits that first month. Nearly five years later and it’s had over 5 million, with more people coming back or discovering it each month. It’s pretty humbling but when you get down to it, it just started with me wedging myself into discussions, writing things people found interesting, making a few friends and having fun with. 

Building, nurturing community, helping make connections between photographers, people in the industry and generally trying to raise the volume of film/traditional photography is all I do. I’m out there trying to connect photographers with knowledge, each other and the industry and I love it.

Did you envisage it would be the success it is today and how do you see it evolving?

Not really/kind of. Hah! 

The aspect of the original plan that involved sharing what I’d learned was focused more on the medium than the gear. It was all about the film for me and what could be done in-camera. Gear came second in that respect. I had a notion about wanting to grow the blog into something beyond those three points but no specific plan on day one.

This might sound a little silly but a lot of how the website and everything around it has developed has been as a result of noticing and then filling gaps I see in the community. Some of those gaps were obvious, some not so much. Obviously I knew about Hamish's 35mmc and Bellamy's Japan Camera Hunter - both of whom were directly responsible for certain camera purchases over the years - but I didn't seek to emulate them in any respect. They were doing their thing and I was doing mine.

Probably the best example of filling a gap is my Secret Santa. 2019 was its fifth year and marked somewhere in the region of 3,500 gifts sent since 2015. You know what? Being responsible for that feels amazing and I can't understand why something like it wasn't already a decade-old fixture for the community.

In terms of evolution, there are loads of things I have planned for the next couple of years. One of the most important for me is growing the educational content on the website. Things like "best practice" documentation aimed at helping newcomers to film photography. I’m always on the lookout for stories that help, inform and inspire and I’ve been blessed to have had articles contributed by nearly 500 members of the global community. It’s actually pretty mad when I sit down and think about it.

One of the most important aspects of EMULSIVE is knowledge transfer: getting information and knowledge out of the heads and hands of one set of people and distributing it to those in need. 

We've lost so much about process and technique over the past two decades and there's so much still locked away in people's heads. I understand that each generation goes through its own process of discovery and learning but I'd love to be able to leave a legacy of truly useful stuff out there for photographers and artists of all levels of experience to use, enjoy and in turn, disseminate.

On a purely selfish level, I’d love for EMULSIVE to become “the day job”. It’s a little way off yet, maybe a few years but I can see it happening one day.

Who really came up with ‘5 Frames With’ you or Hamish?

As a regular reader of EMULSIVE, I know that's a trick question, as you already know the answer...right? To recap for those not as well informed as you, back in 2017, Hamish floated an idea that he called "5 photos taken with my..." I'm sure you'll agree it was a terrible name.

I stole the idea had a chat with him about it and we decided to alternately post articles with him focusing on telling stories about the gear and me on the film stocks.

We tried to be organised and number them as we went along but it was a massive headache. I think we got to number 60 before the idea collapsed, so we ditched them and just went hell for leather. I've published around 300 since that first one back in September 2017. Right now I have another 40-50 scheduled and will be publishing one per day for the foreseeable future.

What has been your favourite interview on the site? I’m guessing number 184!

UGH. That's a REALLY difficult question, mostly because I've been lucky enough to have interviewed some truly fascinating people over the last 5 years. In terms of massive FU energy, I have to give a nod to Jonathan Canlas. We started speaking about it one day and the next thing I knew he'd emailed me War and Peace. It was amazing to boot. One take, done.

If I'm truly being backed into a corner then yeah, #184 was interesting 😉 Specifically because it was from the perspective of someone who's self-taught and makes photographs for fun, not money. It's those perspectives - from everyday film shooters - that I wanted to share when I first started doing them.

However, If I’m allowed to stop massaging your ego for a minute, then I’d have to pick #185 as my favourite interview. It was Tony Vacarro back in 2018.

IMAGE: Tony Vaccaro holding a print of himself in his studio - https://emulsive.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Tony-holding-Tony.jpg

Tony Vaccaro holding a print of himself in his studio

I get to speak with less than a fifth of my interviewees and Tony was one of them. He was 95 years old at the time and talk about a truly fascinating life story. Tony had photographed World War Two in France and Germany over the course of 272 days between 1944 and 1945. He wasn't an official war photographer, he was just a young man in his early 20s with a gun and an Argus C3 that he'd bought when he was 18. 

We spent a couple of hours on the phone and it was one of the most humbling and satisfying conversations of my life.

Tony came back from WWI saying he "wanted to photograph them all" and he did. He went on to photograph the great artists, business moguls, celebrities and public figures in the US and Europe over the mid 20th century, John F Kennedy, Leonard Cohen, Marlene Dietrich, Pablo Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sophia Loren, Enzo Ferrari, Jackson Pollock, Hubert de Givenchy, the list goes on and on.

His post-WWII life was interesting to me but it was his life as a Private in the US army that had me hooked. He was (apparently) too young and inexperienced to be given a post as an official photographer at 22-ish years old, so he took it upon himself to photograph his experiences. Put it another way: the US Army would rather give him a gun than a camera. 

He'd buy/procure film as he travelled through Europe and would develop it where he could. In one instance, he borrowed the helmets of his squad to develop film at night in the ruins of a bombed-out town. He hung the film up on tree branches overnight. That's bloody insane in anyone's book. Not being an official photographer, he had no official channels for pick-up/drop-off, so his negatives went everywhere with him for those 272 days and beyond as he hung out in Europe after peace was declared..

What struck me about Tony were his thoughts on truth in photography. He knew of and encountered a few famous/infamous war photographers during his time in WWII. I won’t name names but he had a lot to say on the subject of the questionable truths some of the photography coming out of Europe's war zones was depicting, especially those photographers who were staging scenes to sell the war effort back home.

Tony was obsessed with documenting truth - both in wartime and his career beyond. I respect that.

If we only read one piece of content on the site what should it be?

Probably the page where I ask people to support my Patreon, HAHAHA! 😉 

Joking aside, that's another hard question. If I was choosing purely from the perspective of conceit, it'd probably be my Hasselblad guide but only if I'd be given the time to complete it - there are still at least a dozen parts left for me to write.

If I'm being more reasonable, I'd probably choose from either my "every single film stock still made" series or given the situation as I write this, a recent article where I pulled to get a list of 65 photography-related things/projects people can do to keep sane under lockdown.

People reading this might think I’m indecisive but I blame the question 😉

What has been your proudest moment / biggest achievement running the site?

Building one of the worlds largest and most widely read film photography resources and doing my part to strengthen and inspire the community is probably too broad right? 

Truth be told, I joke around a fair bit to deflect attention when asked questions like this but building the website and being so deeply involved in the community - even just a small part it - is probably one of my proudest/biggest achievements, period.

Looking within that, there are a few moments that stand out as particularly fun or rewarding but I'll have to go with convincing over 100 people to send gifts to people they'd never met, then nearly 500 the year after, 800, 1000 and finally 1100 every Christmas for the past five Christmases 🙂 On top of that, having convinced over 40 companies like yours, Kodak, CineStill, Foma Bohemia and so many others to down arms and come together in support of the community.

Emulsive secret Santa Logo by Aislinn Chuahiock

EMULSIVE secret Santa Logo by Aislinn Chuahiock

I’m conscious of all that sounding like I’m giving it “the big I am”. I’m trying very hard not to, promise.

I have a love/hate relationship with EMULSIVE Secret Santa. I love doing it but I hate the stress it brings. People tell me that I should relax and not let it bother me but that’s not really my personality type.

I’m hugely invested in it and every single lost/unsent gift feels like a needle pressed into the flesh - does that even make sense? You might say that these things happen and to be fair, the number of what I call "Bad Santas" is only around 2% of the total but it's still frustrating.

Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of help over the past couple of years in the form of Aislinn Chuahiock who I was introduced to by Dan K a few years back. Aislinn is a film community force in and of herself and I’m glad to have the support of someone who “gets it.”

What is your real name? ?

My given name is Emmet Cornelius Horatio Oakenson...and now you know why I go by Em.


What is the day job and how do you find time to run the blog and have a life?

You've caught me in the middle of a career break. Not the best time to find a new job what with you-know-what having locked down half the world but it is what it is. 

I've worn a lot of hats over the years but the clear thread is technology; I've been involved in tech in one form or another for the past 20+ years. I started in network architecture and eventually moved to consultancy (helping people figure out how to apply and implement technology to their business to get the most out of it). 

Throughout all that, I spent a fair bit of time doing design work focused on user interaction/experience, basically making stuff that looked nice and worked intuitively both on the small and large scale. Up until recently, I've been working for a global online publisher managing a team of software engineers responsible for the upkeep/improvement of our platform.

I guess you could say that I count EMULSIVE as a job of sorts - I've spent pretty much a full-time job's hours working on the site, building the brand, voice, community, content and connections for nearly five years now. Given my current work situation, that's only increased.

I’ve no idea what the future will hold but I’m open to job offers 😉

What photography related projects (if any) are you planning to do while in lockdown? (processing, scanning, printing, business planning etc) / Do you have any photography tips / ideas / projects for people to try?



I’ve got a bucket of film to develop, a box of film to scan and cabinets of gear to check, clean and document. The latter is something I started mid last year and need to get a grip on. I used nearly every single camera and lens I own but still feel like getting it all documented is something I have to do.

Aside from that I’ll be continuing to write more and more for EMULSIVE. There’s so much going on in my head, I need to get it down and finish pulling together the threads of probably a dozen half-written articles.

I try not to have too much in the way of downtime in one big chunk and portion it out during the day, half an hour here and there, maybe an hour or two in the evening. That mostly because I know what I’m like: it’s easy for me to get sucked into to something like watching a movie or three back-to-back, binge watching a TV show or firing up the PlayStation.

I’ve digressed, sorry.

Can I make a plug? I recently wrote an article about photo projects during lockdown and have pretty much been using that as a checklist. For specific advice, I’d suggest trying to photograph things around the house that you might consider boring or mundane. I’m lucky in that I’m a huge fan of texture and my house it filled with interesting objects and materials that cry out for close-focus and macro photographs.

One thing I’ll be doing this weekend is dropping/mixing coloured oils in a Pyrex baking dish full of water. I’ll be lighting the dish from below using a cheap USB lightpad made for tracing drawings and honestly, I can’t wait!

What key piece of advice would give others to see them through / staying motivated with their photography during the lockdown?

Stop counting the days and keep to a routine. Wake up, get washed and dressed make breakfast and do stuff. It doesn’t matter if it’s different to what you’d normally do, the main point is to keep to a routine, even if it’s a bit fluid.

Different things motivate different people and I’d encourage everyone to think about all the things they’ve been putting off. You know the kinds of stuff, “If I had the chance I’d learn X or do Y”. If you can do it from home, there’s nothing stopping you right now.

I mean, we literally have the world at our fingertips. Learn a language, draw, write a book, write an article for EMULSIVE, learn how to style hair (if you have a willing victim!) 

The one thing I’d encourage people not to do is get bogged down in feeling that they absolutely must be productive. Life is hard and if anything, this lockdown is a chance for some people to take a minute and catch their breath.

Where is the first place that you will be shooting once this is over and what kit will you take with you?

Um. So. I’m not under lockdown.

Things are pretty ok in my part of the world. We still have cases but the number is tiny in comparison to other countries (and the population). The government here had a swift and decisive reaction to the news coming out of China and the WHO in late 2019. That helped. A LOT. Much of the reaction and subsequent efforts were borne out of SARS epidemic in 2003. Once bitten, twice shy.

Life has changed, though. I still leave the house once or twice a day but I don’t eat out as much, if at all. I think my last meal in a restaurant was a week ago (tables spaced widely apart, and temp checks performed and disinfectant gel provided on entry).

People generally keep more physical distance from one another and wearing a medical face mask when out and about has been pretty much standard practice by everyone since early February 2020. 

I wash my hands religiously when given the opportunity and - true story - have a coat rack set up near my front door where my jacket/hoodie/jeans/whatever get hung when I enter the house. It started out a couple of weeks ago as a bit of me messing around with Mrs EM telling her that I was setting up a hygiene firewall. It kind of stuck! I’ll tell you what though, I’ve got my prep time to leave the house down to mere seconds. Next step: set up a fireman’s pole by the window. 

Was there a question? Ah, right. When this is all over I think the first thing I’ll be doing is going out to take stranger portraits. I’ll take either my Nikon F6 and 70-200 (if I’m still paranoid) or Hasselblad 2000FCW and 80mm Planar F.

This pandemic has given many people the opportunity to reassess goals and ambitions. When the world returns to normal what are your photographic goals going forward? (Can be business or personal).



For me, it’ll definitely be making more of my large format cameras and using them for street portraits. Even though I’ve not been hit as hard as some people reading this, like many others, I’ve come to clearly identify and fully appreciate the people who are crucial to the basic functioning of our society. I want to take their portraits, make prints and pass those prints back to them.

I’m talking about the Uber Eats riders, cabbies, bus drivers, people in food service, the people I give my recycling to, the ladies who sweep the paved areas and kids playsets at the park near my house, supermarket workers, fishermen, farmers, carers... Yes of course, there are doctors, nurses, police, etc., but I’ll be starting with the people who keep streets clean and food moving. That’s the plan at least.

On a non-photography question - This is a bit more deep and meaningful but post coronavirus, what would you like the world to do differently (what lessons could we all take from this)?

To the governments: don’t underfund basic public services. Don’t lie. Don’t spin. Have a plan, have a contingency plan for that and a contingency for the contingency. 

Expand the definition of “key worker” or the equivalent in your country and actually support them. Use this lesson to fix or undo policy that has resulted in a lack of international cooperation and reduced your nation’s ability to get the job done.

This is going to sound incredibly harsh because it is: the primary reason this situation has got as far out of hand as it has is because people across the world and the people who are supposed to govern nations thought that COVID-19 wouldn’t escape China. 

Bluntly, it was perceived as “an Eastern problem”.

Given a whole bunch of glaringly obvious factors, the spread outside of China could have been curbed, especially in Europe and the US.

If there’s one thing I would like the world to do differently it would be to elect competent leadership that will provide or work to providing transparency, honesty and support for societies most vulnerable. Start with competence and work on the rest.

Give a shout out to your 3 favourite photography YouTube channels (apart from the @ilfordphoto one)?

I’ll put my hands up and say that I’m not a huge user of YouTube beyond cat videos and trailers. That said, there are two channels I tune into regularly ish when I want to unwind: Ted Viera and Ben Horne.

Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailer (name, location and website)

For me it’s got to be Camera Film Photo. Getting film in the Far East is actually pretty easy but access to consistent supply can be tough. CFP does a lot for the local community in HK and the wider Far East, supporting dealers all over the region. It also helps that the owner Vishal is a stand-up guy and part of the Film Community Fund along with Dan K and myself.

Give a shout out to your favourite lab service, if you have one, (name, location, website)

There are a few truly excellent labs out there but my heart goes to Old School Photo Lab in New Hampshire. It’s not just that they’re a great lab but the people behind it are film photography superstars in their own right. Poppers, Rachel, Laz and everyone else behind the scenes need some kind of award for their tireless efforts and sense of humour.

Aside from your camera, lenses and film what accessories make it into your camera bag?



Is chewing gum an accessory?

100% of the time I’ll have a fine marker pen, at least one JCH film case plus one or two close up filters/a short macro ring. Depending on my kit, I might have a spare battery or two and a hotshoe mounted spirit level too.

What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?

Leica M3. I couldn’t believe it. I was in a park sitting on a bench with an older gentleman to might right. He bent over the side and I found an M3 just sitting next to him. I felt so lucky that I grabbed it and ran straight home!




It’s my Manfrotto CarbonOne 441 tripod. My friends and family don’t really give me kit as gifts but what they’re occasionally great at is asking me what I want and then buying/paying for it. That tripod came from one of those questions.

As this is an ILFORD interview it would be remiss of us not to ask about your favourite ILFORD products. Tell us your favourite ILFORD film, paper and chems and why?

Ilfotec DD-X and push processed HP5 PLUS is a combination to die for. Then again, FP4 PLUS at 800 is great for shooting chrome and Pan F PLUS at 800 is obscenely beautiful.



I’ll come back to you when I have just one.



Unfortunately, we’ve seen pictures from around the world of people stockpiling products such as toilet rolls, pasta, hand sanitiser and so on. If you could stockpile one ILFORD product what would it be?

Ilfotec DD-X or 35mm PAN F. It’s such a crazy film and although it should not be able to push 5 stops it does and I LOVE IT.



And finally… Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them.

Aislinn Chuahiock. She does fantastic work in PH and beyond with her lab, retail store and the work she does in her local community.