Rachel Rebibo, more popularly known as, I Still Shoot Film, shares with us how she started with film photography, what her favourite subjects and themes are, and why she prefers analogue over digital.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m a photographer. I love dogs. Actually I love animals in general. I also love grammar, baking and Chinese action movies.
How/When did you begin taking pictures? What was your first camera?
I started taking and making photographs when I was 10 years old; I took a darkroom photography class at summer camp and fell in love. My first camera ever was a Nikon FG with a 1.8 50mm lens, given to me by my brother on my 10th birthday. It was replaced the following year with the FM2 body that I still use today.
Describe your style in photography. What are your usual subjects and themes?
Ooooh, this is hard. I feel like I have multiple styles. I shoot a lot of fashion and commercial photography professionally, but I also love street shooting and alternative processing. I think all of my photographs have one thing in common, which is a whitest white and blackest black always present in the image. I like to always have a full tonal range and a certain degree of contrast. I also really like softness that comes from using older lenses – that quality is present in a lot of my portraits and photographs of people.
Fashion & Portraiture
I shoot mostly fashion and lifestyle portraiture for work and I would definitely say a big recurring trend in my professional photographs is natural light. If the situation permits it, I always prefer to use natural light for on-location shoots. Ironically in the studio it’s quite the opposite – I frequently use strobes without umbrellas or soft boxes for extra contrast. I am kind of a contrast nut and flat photos make me sad. I can’t always shoot film on professional shoots, but when I do it’s always medium format and it’s always slide film.
When I do street and documentary work, I always have this weird possessiveness with my subjects afterward. It’s like the people in my photos somehow belong to me… which is funny because most of them don’t even know I exist. I get really attached to specific people that I have photographed on the street. I have a relationship with them, even if it’s only one way.
I always loved alternative processing techniques and I took a lot of alternative processing classes in college. I use to be a toning nut. I toned everything, it was out of control. Luckily I channeled that energy into collecting weird, obscure and vintage cameras… although I am maybe a little addicted to cross processing right now.
Amongst your numerous film photographs, which is your favourite?
I’m sorry, but I really can’t answer this question…. nor can I specify which is my favorite camera. It’s like asking a mother which is her favorite child. I go through periods where I get really attached to a specific shot and then I move on to another one.
What is the soundtrack for your series of photographs?
I think each of my portfolios would have their own soundtrack…. my professional book would have Edith Piaf or Charles Asnavour. I love the naturally and effortlessly chic ambiance of Paris and try to have that translate in my fashion shoots. My documentary book would probably be all American classic rock, particularly because I’ve spent quite a long time working on my Americana series. I’m not sure what soundtrack my low-fi book would have…. maybe Desmond Dekker or Alton Ellis.
We all have our idols, which photographers do you look up to?
Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Diane Arbus, Joel Peter Witkin, Spencer Tunick
If you could take anyone’s portrait using film, can be living or dead, who (would it be), which (camera would you use), and why?
I would really love to photograph Joel Peter Witkin. I am so fascinated by his work… and him as a person in general. I think it’s amazing how he manages to convince people to participate in his photographs and have come to the personal conclusion that he must be incredibly charismatic. I would shoot him with a studio background setup outside, with my 1913 Voigtlander Compur (it’s an antique large format field camera) and Ilford Pan F 50.
Analogue vs. Digital. What makes analogue/film photography more special than digital?
I could probably write a book on this subject to be perfectly honest. I think what’s most important is that people need to realize that both digital and film have their place in photography. Obviously, if you’re shooting low-fi it’s much easier to just shoot film in the first place than to attempt to recreate the same effect in Photoshop. However, if you love photography and don’t have $30,000 to spend on a digital camera, you get more bang for your buck with film. Scanning a 120 negative at 10,000 DPI or higher gives you a resolution that is not even comparable to consumer-grade DSLRs. Also, film has a better range for highlights and shadows and you get more detail in both with less effort than if you shoot digital. On top of all that, real photographs that have been washed for archiving have a much longer lifespan that even the most expensive fancy-pants digital prints.
Personally, I love working in the darkroom (although I rarely get the chance anymore) and I genuinely feel that it helps you to understand the principles of light and shadow. That can also be beneficial for your digital photography. For me there’s something magical about the chemical reaction that takes place to make a photograph and the way film absorbs a moment in time, literally. It would be a horrible shame to lose that chemical process and the technique that goes a long with it.
Do you own Lomography cameras? Which is your favourite?
Yes, I have the original black Lomo. I got it in the late 90s. I also got my Smena Symbol from Lomography.com when the website was brand new. As I mentioned before, I don’t pick favorite cameras.
A lot of people are into photography today, what would you say to them to inspire them more?
Do your own thing. I see so many photographers who want to imitate someone else’s style and that’s not a solution for making good work or being a successful photographer. If you have a vision, stick to it and you will eventually find people who appreciate what you have to say.
Do you have any ongoing/future projects?
Yes! I am currently doing a worldwide film swap with 14 other photographers in the US, Germany, Northern Ireland, England, Venezuela, Romania, Slovenia, Singapore, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand. Each photographer shoots a roll of film, sends it to me, I shoot on top and we make fabulous double exposures from vastly different locations. I am in the midst of the film swap right now and intend on posting results in June. If the results turn out as well as I am hoping, I may turn it into an annual event.