Interview: Emma Jay
Our interview series continues with Emma Jay.
how long have you been shooting film?
Since my late teens, twenty odd years ago, I’ve always had a film camera. Usually some dinky 35mm. About nine years ago I was given a minty AE-1 and it has rarely left my side since, although it’s now finally due for a service. In 2005 I started experimenting with polaroid emulsions while I was living overseas, but didn’t really get the polaroid bug for another two years.
My grandma & aunt have been avid film shooters for decades, so there was definitely a photography-seed planted early in life. I’ve survived hundreds of slide nights and have lost count of the number of photo albums in our family. My 88 year old Gran has been shooting film for more than 60 years and I’m proud to say she still totes a camera (an Olympus Mju) in her handbag every day. She inspires me to never give up film.
do you prefer colour or black & white? do you have a favourite film, camera or technique you like to work with?
There’s something undefinably beautiful about black and white. It has this ethereal quality that draws you into an image. Of course any great image can be powerful, regardless of being colour or not, but sometimes a great black and white can steal the show! I love Kodak’s BW400CN. Minimal grain and low contrast C-41. It has a creaminess that reminds me of the Hollywood starlet portraits from the 30s and 40s. You can overexpose it by a couple of stops without having to adjust during dev, to make it even softer looking. Smooth and creamy: like a good milkshake should be.
Shooting with polaroids gives me joy – especially the process of peel-apart film. Shoot, pull your shot through the rollers, dev & then peel. You become part of the processing, even though it’s instant film. I also love alternative developing with polaroids. A ‘transfer’ is the art of embedding an underdeveloped peel-apart negative onto paper until the image appears. Inverted negatives, affectionally known as ‘goops’, are another favourite technique. They have an old-world feel to them and look similar to a wet plate image. A pack of expired polaroid film can be magical . . . the developing chemicals break down and morph into a world of their own to create watery streaks, light shows and crazy patterns. Fabulous!
show us one of your favourite shots and tell us a bit about it – how did you take it? is there a story behind it?
I met Danny about 5 minutes before I took this. I’d wandered down to an abandoned lot near my house, to take a few shots of an old brewery, and there were these two guys finishing off a big piece/mural. I snuck a few shots of them, then asked if I could take some close-ups – this was the first and the result has taught me how to shoot differently.
Happy accident and a valuable lesson: this shot has shown me something about exposure thanks to miscalculating my light reading. I usually expose for the shadows, or an area darker than the subjects face – in this case it would’ve been Danny’s cap or t-shirt. But the meter read off the background wall, completely underexposing him. So, planning for some stronger contrast now and again, even silhouetting my subject, isn’t such a bad idea. Shouldn’t have milkshakes all the time, I guess.
show us a favourite shot from the MSM pool. what do you enjoy in other peoples’ photos?
My favourite has been posted in this interview series already, so I’ve struggled to pick just one out of the sea of great work in the MSM pool.
I love the sweeping movement in this photograph and the ghostly figure that walks the deck of the sunken boat. Do you see a drowned sailor visiting the wreckage that claimed his life? Regardless of how the image is interpreted, it is both eerie and beautiful. There are many elements of a photograph that I’m drawn to. An image like this stimulates your imagination because it doesn’t reveal everything with just one glance – it invites you to study it. You have to really look ‘into’ the image which, as the viewer, you can then interpret in so many different ways. Even more beautiful for me is that this photograph was taken in one shot – analogue magic-realism without the photoshop.
question from the previous interviewee Liam White:
If you could choose right now to take one of two paths in your life – between making a living from photography but shooting subjects you’re not interested in, or shooting as a hobby for the rest of your life but never making money from your pictures, which one would you choose? Why?
Great question from Mr White. Definitely love over money. If you get paid to photograph things you have no connection too, on an emotional or heart-felt level, then you’ve sold part of your soul. With that said, if you’re a shrewd business person whose goal in life is to build wealth regardless of being emotionally plugged into what you create, then that’s going to work for you. I’m not driven by money in this way so I could never sell-out my creativity, or be paid to approach a shoot in a generically controlled way, for the sake of a buck. To veer off onto a third path… I’d like to create income from my photography by creating beautiful images for people. Prospective clients should be attracted to your work by the images you create, and the style in which you shoot. Liam’s question brings to mind a quote I heard recently: ‘Do what you love and you never have to work another day in your life’.
please give us a question to ask the next person.
Who or what first inspired you to begin photography and what continues to inspire you to this day?
Thank you so much Emma! You can find more of Emma’s work here on the internet:
a polaroid related postscript by Emma:
If you’re interested in researching anything polaroid-related, check out The Land List: http://www.rwhirled.com/landlist/landhome.htm. It’s the personal project of Marty Kuhn cataloguing everything that the Polaroid Corporation produced. It hasn’t been updated in about four years, but it’s a great resource for all polaroid cameras and film types