If there's one thing about our interview with the creator of Washi Film, Lomig Perrotin, that stuck, it’s that we shouldn't let the recent decline of film options slow us down with our passion for film photography. Right on, Lomig.
We’ve featured one of the latest amazing film discoveries to ever hit our desks here at the Lomography office – the Washi Film. And recently, we got in touch with Lomig Perrotin, the brains and hands behind the manufacture of such promising film alternative.
We talked to him about his take on film photography, the future of analogue and got him talking about his Washi Film in detail. Read on to find out more about Lomig and his passion for analogue photography in this quick chat!
Hi, Lomig! We’d like to thank you for finding the time for this interview! We’re excited to feature you again on the magazine.
Hi, thank you for giving me this nice opportunity to talk about my works.
You may get this question in a lot of interviews but still we’d like to ask: how and when did you start shooting on film?
I never really had a choice when I started shooting on film because during the time when I began to take pictures, film was the only way. My father is an amateur photographer and an enthusiastic collector of popular cameras (especially the Indo-Fex brand which could be considered as the “French Lomo”), so I was lucky to grow up surrounded by all kinds of camera. I remember that as a child, when I was going to summer camps, all my friends were using disposable cameras while I was using strange ones like “Disc Camera” which made me feel like James Bond!
I began to take it more seriously in 2000, after a journey in Northern Ireland with two friends. We were only 18 and tried to make some kind of photo statement about the troubles over there. After that, I began to use my father’s enlarger and that was it: I was hooked for good.
What makes analogue photography special for you? Is there anything specific about shooting on film that makes it particularly stand out?
I really like to be able to act directly with simple lights and photographic material. But in a way, this materiality is already escaping you as soon as you create it. From the moment you shoot until you make the film process, your pictures physically exists but you still can’t look at it to verify their reality, which mean they are real and not real in the same time, like Schrödinger’s cat! Analogue photography is really paradoxical and I like that, because you can touch it physically all along the process, but in the same way it deals with a good part of chance and luck. So every picture you shoot on film is like a small leap of faith.
I also strongly believe in photography as a tool of conservation and transmission. If I shoot today on slide, I am pretty sure that people in the next hundreds of years would be able to see the original picture without requiring any complicated tools or software. For now, analogue photography is the only technology to guarantee such a level of security. Today digital cameras are outstanding in terms of image quality, but the systems changes so fast that there is already a lot of data loss.
Your hand-scratched images offer different visual impact on your works. What got you following that direction?
Since more than ten years ago I was interested to make a photographic work about the worlds of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, an American science fiction writer of the 20th century. But his vision is so powerful and oniric that photography alone would not be enough to represent it. I like to explore the limits of the photographic medium so I used the cliché-verre, a technique of etching the photographic material to create a mixed negative, blending the realistic aspect of photography, with the graphic effects of drawing.
Your hand-etched works have a dark feel to them. Can you talk us through your creative process when you made them?
First I read the text of Lovecraft, looking for a scene or an idea that caught my interest. Then I imagine a picture and make preliminary sketches to decide which elements will be shot on film or drawn on. After processing the film, I make a rough copy of each picture on tracing paper and make my final sketches. And finally I scratch and paint the film to create the final negative that I can print through an enlarger. It’s a very long process and of course, rejects a lot of pictures, even if I had worked for days on them.
Do you have personal rules that you apply to your own work? Please share them with our readers.
Most of the time, you will find that I don’t always have my camera on me. I almost never take any picture if it’s not for a specific project or purpose. Usually when I come across a beautiful scene that I would take a picture of, I prefer to wait and watch than to shoot it. There is a lot of literature in photography about the “decisive moment” when you have to shoot. I must say that I am really not in that trend. I am much more interested in all the moments when you are not shooting. I am like a monk who prefers to observe the silence rather to break it.
What is your take on photography as an art?
For me being a photographer and an artist mean that using visual impressions is the best way for me to communicate my feelings and ideas to others. But it does not mean that all of my feelings and ideas are interesting. I am an everyday normal guy, so most of the time I have nothing to say and I can spend months without taking any pictures. Sometimes I don’t even process my rolls.
For me the act of taking a picture is a kind of magic: a power that we should use carefully. After all, when you are photographing things, you are creating memories, which mean you give to your subject a kind of immortality and in the same way you create an evidence of its future disappearance. As Roland Barthes explained in his book “La Chambre Claire”, photography is always connected with the idea of death and oblivion, maybe that’s why I’m careful with it.
Which artists inspire you in your work? Any artists that we should follow?
The works that inspire me the most were not made by humans… I am very attracted by the pictures taken by deep space probe like Voyagers in the 70s and more recently the photos of Mars rovers like Pathfinder or Opportunity. Those pictures are thrilling and literally beyond everything we know. I also like their purity because, as they are taken automatically by machines, there is absolutely no human ego behind those images which leaves me all the space I need to dream on and make those photos mine.
Closer to us, I really like the films of American director Terrence Malick, and especially his third movie: The Thin Red Line. Every shot of this movie is simply a perfect picture. Every time I am watching it I see new lights or details and it’s always a refreshing inspiration to me.
Given the chance to collaborate with any artist or photographer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
I was very impressed by the last retrospective of German painter Gehrard Richter in Centre Pompidou two years ago in Paris. His work around photography is really rich and I would love to create pictures for him to work on.
Let’s get to your amazing discovery – your Washi Film. To put it shortly, Washi Film is a interesting as it is amazing. What pushed you in creating this film alternative?
On the very beginning it was a kind of spin-off from the cliché-verre technique I used for my H.P. Lovecraft project. I was looking for paper-negative that I could use to draw directly on it, instead of scratching usual film. My first try was made on tracing paper but the result was too rough, especially because that kind of paper doesn’t react very well with water. So I tried traditional Japanese paper, which is used for watercolor.
But when I saw the first results, I instantly decided to not try to paint or scratch my washi films because its aesthetic was already strong and interesting for itself. So it became a new project and as I was communicating about it through the internet, I began to notice a growing interest for my washi films. At some point, friends began asking me to make some rolls for them, and a photo lab in Paris became interested in distributing those products if I decided to make it official. So after a long time of thinking and computing numbers, I finally decided to jump and to officially launch Washi Film.
It was a big step for me, a kind of sacrifice because as an artist I was about to literally sell my “secret tricks” to everybody. But in another way, it was a kind of liberation, because I don’t want my art to be just a technical trick. So, burning my ships and allowing everybody to use Washi Films, I make sure that if I want to continue to make art with it, I need to produce something that really makes sense, something coherent with the medium and not just beautiful pictures on a rare medium.
From the first Film Washi prints we’ve seen, the photos look differently from each previous shot. What makes each print unique from the rest?
I produce mainly two different formats: 120 format rolls and 4×5 inches sheet-films. The sheet-films are bigger so the special texture of the film is less visible than on the medium format rolls. On the other hand, the different Washi pictures I present on the website came from different batch of rolls, including some of the very first which were of course very experimental, I do now have a constant production in terms of results and quality.
Are there any new developments or formats for your film? What are you seeing in the future of Washi Film as an avant-garde photographic tool?
For now Washi Film is a one man business and my production is very small and artisanal, but I hope it will grow up and become a small but constant part of the analogue photographic landscape.
I am always looking for new ideas to improve the quality of my products. Actually I am working to improve my process and upgrade my production rates. The Washi Films tends to curl a lot when drying, by changing the coating process I hope to solve that issue and make my films much easier to handle for users. I already have some good results in that field, I need to run few more tests and the next batch of rolls will have a much better quality.
I also have a lot of demand for bigger sizes of sheet-films. I myself definitely want to make 8×10 inches of Washi sheet-films for a personal project but for now it’s still work in progress so I can’t tell you more about it except that the deadline will be this coming September.
You definitely pushed the medium of film towards a new direction. Is there a specific goal you have in mind for Washi Film?
For me, each Washi Film is like a manifesto, claiming that technology like analogue photography are no celestial gift given by some far away gods but practical tools made by real humans. My workshop is only a 1.5 square meter closet, and my own fingers run over each roll of film. This is real, so if we do love analogue photography we can decide to make it by ourselves and create our own way to look at the world. And I am absolutely no exception. Look around the internet and you will quickly find amazing people who produce their own cameras, films, photo papers, chemicals, wet plate collodion or even Daguerreotypes! So, even if big brands collapse we still can continue to live our passion, there is no fatality in that, just our own choice.
With your development of Washi Film and your ardent love for film in your hand-etched photographs, we take it that you are a staunch believer in the effect of film. Is there anything you wish to say to other film lovers out there?
I was born during the “analogue era” and began to make photographs seriously by the turning of the last century, it was exactly the moment when the digital wave arrived for photography so I have seen products and brands vanish, photo labs closing one after the other and prices of the remaining stuff rise. But I really don’t like to hear people complain endlessly about the “good old time of true photography” or about that discontinued special brand of film they loved so much. I really loved Agfa fiber base paper, does it mean I can’t express myself now because I can’t find it anymore? Of course not, because photography in general is just a medium and not an end. I really love analogue photography because of its materiality and because it’s coherent with how I work and how I want to express myself, but that doesn’t mean I am automatically “against” digital photography. You can’t build strong things just being against something.
Any last words for our readers?
For me, if you want to be a serious photographer, it’s important to study history of arts in general and especially, of course, history of photography. All arts currents are connected together and if you want to understand your own work you have to study what other peoples have done before you. It’s very interesting to see how history repeat itself and I really believe we are actually living, with the digital revolution, the same kind of step when photography took over painting during the 19th century. It makes me very optimistic for analogue photography which, like painting, will not disappear but will be free to explore new horizons. And I’m very glad to be part of this amazing journey.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk with you!