University student Benjamin McPherson Ficklin is busy exhibiting, interviewing, and spreading his love for analogue photography by virtue of his own determination. As you’ll read and discover, from his lengthy responses in our interview, he’s all about exploring the full potential of this, as well as a list of other, forms of expression.
Why do you bleed and preach film?
I use film for three main reasons, the process, the aesthetic, and the implication. The actual shooting and developing of film is a meditation for me. Every roll of film only holds so many shots, like a gun, so shoot to kill and don’t miss. If I used a digital camera I wouldn’t savor the sensation of my finger clicking open the shutter, and I wouldn’t get the rush of looking at my photos post development. Film makes shooting each picture precious. The aesthetic in combination with the implication of film photography can be transpirational. If I were to take a picture of a castle on a digital camera it would look real, somebody might see it and think, “Oh thats a pretty castle, I bet it is in Europe somewhere.” The aesthetic of film photography can make something seem impossible, through multiple exposures, light leaks, grainy textures, and blurred colors, and yet, knowing the photograph was shot on film we know that the image is absolutely possible because it was taken from realty. This creates a trust that digital photography will never have. If I shoot a picture of a castle, I want people to think “That castle does not look of this world, it looks magical,” while knowing that it was taken from realty. Shitty film cameras twists on the world turns typical photography on its head. I love it.
Which cameras do you own?
The epic Valiant 620, three different Holgas, my precious Split-Cam, a cheap plastic fisheye, my parents half-broken cameras from the eighties.
What’s the story with your cameras, how did you come to acquire each of them?
I got my Lomography fisheye in Amsterdam. I had been backpacking through Europe for several weeks, and all that I had used so far were disposable cameras. I thought my first rolls from my fisheye were terrible. Cameras which are this unique take getting used to. You have to learn how to hold it, how much light it needs, and how to frame a shot. It wasn’t until I got back to Portland, and started looking through my photos, that I began to learn utilizing the fisheye. Nothing but black and white film lives in my fisheye, and it has become the camera I always carry with me.
I discovered my Valiant 620, a medium format camera built in the 1950s, in a vintage clothing store. The proprietor thought it was broke, and its only use would be as a decoration in her store. The shutter was broken, but the camera is so simple it was an easy fix. The old women could not believe I wanted to take pictures with it.
I ordered the split camera from the Lomography website. When I read about the capabilities of the camera, I had an epiphany, and it lived up to the hype. I believe some of my best shots were taken from the split-cam.
What are some of your favorite techniques to administer on any given Lomography camera?
Long exposures at night. I recently captured several rolls worth of Christmas lights, all taken after dark. Upon finding the perfect lights, I held the shutter open and wandered around the multicolored bulbs. Light poured onto my film like paint onto a canvas. Not only is the process fun, but the bright, blurry photos are some of my favorite abstract photos I have ever taken. I adore techniques, such as that, which let me break away from the stereotypes of photography. Taking a picture becomes something more than just clicking a button and capturing a moment. I spend excited minutes letting the world onto my film.
What do you think about your being categorized as young and hipsterish? Having not taken any professional photography classes yourself, would you like to? Do you think it necessary?
I think me being called “young” is relative to do the dude who wrote the article about me, and being called “hipsterish” is funny. If being a hipster means I am an individual who likes to explore counter culture art, fashion, and lifestyles, then I’ll take it as a compliment, but if being called hipsters means I am trying to be cool for cool’s sake, then I would claim I am being judged too quickly. Regardless, it’s just a label, maybe I am.
Having not taken any photography classes, I approach picture taking in a unique way. While I do not want to slight what can be learned from classes, I believe learning independently has helped me develop confidence in my style. If I drop off a roll of film at a photo-development studio, I often get calls back telling me that my roll didn’t turn out. It isn’t because the roll is blank or overexposed, but people oftentimes misinterpret the intentionality of my photos. Photography is generally approached in one way, and I am glad I have had the opportunity to develop a method that works for me. I am sure many people have gained a lot from photography classes, I’m not sure if I would, but I’m happy with my work right now.
You also paint and write – are these all, including your photography, releases for you or all attempts to “add to the world around you”?
My creativity is a release for me because it adds to the world around me. I am inspired every day by the everything I see. Sometimes, what I see is awful, and I resent that it has entered my consciousness, for example advertisements. Bill boards, TV and radio commercials, and logos on the back of cars are all the garbage of the mind. They give me nothing, and try to force me into a capitalist system which I find no value in. I would much rather live in a world of magicians and self-reliance.
I try to use my photography, painting, and writing, to positively contribute to the world around me. Art is one of the most tangible and direct ways to engage people, but there are so many different vessels for good inspiration. Waterfalls, genuine interactions, train stations, oolong tea, songs by Tom Waits, hugs, girls I’m in love with, these are some of the things that I find positive influence myself. I try to take these inspirations and give something back, in this case art, which I think positively influences other people’s realty.
What’s next on your list of things to accomplish?
I am always trying to accomplish new things. Recently I founded an art collective in Eugene and Portland, Oregon. We are in the process of putting on a surreal art show out in the woods of Eugene, and I am in the early stages of making a bizarre short film with some of the other collective members.
Personally I want to finish writing my novel. My goal is to have the rough draft done by the end of this year. In regards to my photography I want to keep spreading my work through shows, magazines, graffiti, any means. I want to see how people engage it.
What advice can you give Lomographers, particularly the younger crowd?
Do not hesitate to take a picture that would not normally be considered a good photograph. There are no parameters for what makes a good photo. Challenge the medium, and push yourself to do something new. Also, always have a loaded camera on you, because perfect moments do not wait for you to go get your camera. Lastly, I recommend a regular diet of spicy peppers.
Were you searching for recognition, or did it just happen to come along? You say you’ve received enough local attention to make you want to push your work further. Have your feelings towards photography changed a lot since your recognition?
My views on photography have absolutely changed since I have been lucky enough to get some attention. I never considered many of my really abstract photographs to be widely appealing. I am not referencing my multiple exposures, but my long-exposed shots where you can’t tell what the fuck you’re looking at. I always loved the genuine abstraction of the visual world that those photographs create. It never occurred to me that other people might find those photos as engaging as I do. Knowing that people engage my bizarre photographs motivates me immensely.
Lastly, what film do you like using?
Any of the old expired film that the ladies who work at the local photography store want to give me. I rarely have money for anything else.