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Explorations in Film with Photographer Robert O'Donnell

He dreamt of being a war photographer, slowly worked his way into it, and eventually took a change of heart by wanting to become something bigger. For he wanted to see the world, to become an explorer. Someone who wants the see the enormous circle and with that, capture them in photographs.

He’s working on that now and as time passes, he is able to produce gorgeous results. But his results are not just outputs you’d look at. These are results with stories telling various happenings from the soul, embedded into someone’s life for maybe forever.

We’re glad that we were able to find this young man who, with film photography and his weapon of choice — the Lomography CN 400 film — has marked stories into film photographs. We are pleased to introduce photographer Robert O’Donnell. Read our interview with him and be inspired of his explorations! Enjoy!

Name: Robert O’Donnell
Location: Sarajevo, Bosna I Hercegovina
Website/Portfolio: http://absoluteelsewhere.tumblr.com, http://www.behance.net/robertodonnell
Current camera shelf: Yashica FX-3 Super (with 50mm 2.0), Yashica Copal MXV, Polaroid Impulse, Canon 5D Mark I

Hello Robert! Thank you again for having this interview with us! For starters, please tell us something about yourself… What do you do for a living? What are your interests?

My name is Robert, I am 23 years old and I am a photographer currently based in Sarajevo, Bosnia. I got a degree at the Italian Institute of Photography, in Milan, last year. After that I worked for a press agency for a while and it was awesome because I published on some of the major newspapers in Italy. Great experience! Anyway, I was not satisfied because my dream was to travel and to become a war/documentary photographer, so I packed everything important and I just left, with ideas in my head. And now, here I am! When I am not shooting I really enjoy cinematography, video art, experimental music, literature, plus I love to watch the roofs of the cities.

We stumbled upon your amazing Tumblr page, http://absoluteelsewhere.tumblr.com and was instantly amazed with your film photographs! They have this random feel and look we just adore. Can you tell us
more about this?

One of my heroes is a woman, a Swiss explorer named Isabelle Eberhard. I started my Tumblr [page] the day I left Italy because I wanted to confront with my favourite Eberhard statement: “For those who know the value of and exquisite taste of solitary freedom (for one is only free when alone), the act of leaving is the bravest and most beautiful of all.” When I read it I was totally blown away… I loved this idea. I’ve always traveled alone and I considered leaving Italy as a way to learn a lot of stuff about myself, the world, and also to live like in my childhood dream: as an explorer! The photos I post on my Tumblr are actually most of the photos I take from different projects, different feelings. I like to think that if you scroll from the first photo to the last you can see the different stages of being a stranger, a foreigner.

How long have you been doing film photography? Do you work with digital photography, too?

I started thinking of being a war photographer when I was younger, but I never had a camera and I never took photos. I started five years ago, with a digital reflex and I was focused on it. But I was not satisfied, I didn’t feel the passion, you know, the fire. There was something wrong, lacking. At first I thought it was my fault (and it surely was) and [it made me] really sad. But then I found film photography and I started testing different kind of films, different formats, different ways, slowly, taking my time. Now I feel like that one was the most beautiful choice I’ve ever made.

One of my first impressions of Bosnia.
Hussein is a man I met randomly in Sarajevo. I loved his aspect immediately, then I spent time with him until I could shoot.
IFOR: What remains?
Study shoot from a project about a mall.This mall is situated underground and it is very representative of the Bosnian culture nowadays.
From the series “Sarajevo Derives From Saraj." Buildings and numbers. Living in a totalitarism. After years.

We saw that you have also held various exhibitions in Italy, can you tell us more about them? How about the last one you had?

Yep! I managed to exhibit several of my earlier projects. Living in Milan, I was obsessed with urban concepts, settings and feelings, and most of all with black and white photography. “Have You Passed Through This Night” for instance, is the result of endless nights I spent driving alone in my car, in silence. “Static” was the consequence of living in a suburban neighborhood of Milan. I felt quite alone, and I felt night as a companion, somewhere I could hide in. Every night I left my flat for a walk, then I started to bring my camera with me. My last one was my starting line into video making: I made a series of experimental videos named “Continuum” and I really enjoyed it! This experience brought me to collaborate with my friend and sound designer Marco Monti and we released and published a dvd/ep under the name Horses Die Standing. We’re still working hard and probably next fall we are going to release the second one!

Continuum. No Station Here.

As we’ve discussed, you have this project in which you used the Lomography CN400 film, right? Please tell us more about this project.

Since [I arrived here] in Sarajevo, I’ve never shot with my digital camera. This is because I feel a great distance between what I did before leaving, and what I’m doing now. I’m only shooting in analogue and working on two “main” projects: the first one is “Nigdje” that in Bosnian language means “Nowhere” in which I am dealing with [some] young expat people here, trying to represent how does it feels to expatriate, to leave everything behind, to build another comfort zone, to leave everything behind and just to go away. I’m really involved in this, and I can’t wait to finish it!

The other one is about young Bosnian artists based in Sarajevo. Once, Sarajevo was considered the cultural city of the Balkans, but nowadays it doesn’t seem to be it anymore. I’m trying to investigate and to take photos of young painters, sculptors, writers.. i’m meeting tons of beautiful people with beautiful stories. I want to focus on young people because that’s the world I belong to, I love to talk with them, to share moments, to know them.

Why did you choose the said Lomography film? How was your experience with it?

I was totally new to color: I shot digital until I left. But even if I never shot projects, I started testing films way before. After a lot of testing I chose the Lomography CN 400 because it is a really versatile and comfortable film for what I do. ISO 400 gives me the opportunity to shoot quite in every light situation and that’s a big deal becauseoften I don’t know where I will be shooting and this gives me the tranquillity to focus on the subject. In addiction, I think that this kind of film has really beautiful tones on the skin. Love it!

Film photographs from Robert’s “Nigdje” series. All shot using the Lomography CN 400 film.

Alan.
At Ela’s.
Maire.
At the supermarket.
Yana.

What are your future plans? Any upcoming projects, exhibitions? What should we look out for?

Woah, the future is complicated. I’m thinking about publishing Nigdje as a book and I will try to send the projects I’m working on to several agencies. I would really like to join one and continue to do what I love. When Sarajevo will finish with me I would really like to move somewhere else, still focusing on young people. There are several names in my mind: Azerbaijan, Transnistria, South Ossetia, Georgia.. Still don’t know because the money I earned before leaving are covering my costs down here in Bosnia.. But I’m determined, and a dreamer. At least dreams are free. Probably in a couple of months I will be documenting Ajvatovica, the biggest islamic pilgrimage in Europe. Can’t wait!

Any tips you can share to our fellow film photographers?

Wow, I was really not ready for this, because I am still learning every day and every day. But I found out a thing that helped me a lot. Photography is not just about what you see, it is also about what you are, what you feel in relation with the things you see. Just find your fire, your very very passion and go for it! If you really need to take photographs, you will find a way! And most of all, have fun doing it!

Lastly, please share a song you live by. A favorite song, maybe. Why?

Drove Through Ghosts To Get Here by 65daysofstatic. They are my favourite band and I really really love the song title because it means a lot to me. My interpretation is that you have strong motivations to get wherever you are because nothing actually has sense in the world, unless the sense you give to it.

Thank you, Robert! Follow Robert’s Tumblr page and get a dose of his brilliant film photographs!

written by mayeemayee

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