Bellamy Hunt of JapanCameraHunter.com was recently in Manila and we had the pleasure of meeting him one picturesque afternoon. We visited a local photo shop and caught the sunset while asking some analogue questions in between. Find out more about the Tokyo-based film aficionado in this Lomography exclusive!
When Leica collector and film aficionado Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter tweeted that he was going to be in the Philippines, we here at the Lomography Magazine office in Manila immediately got in touch with him for an interview. We thought it would be a great chance to meet and learn from an international analogue photography figure and share the info with the community.
So in late November, Bellamy arrived for his quick business trip and he took the time to chat with us a bit. We had to multitask since we didn’t have a lot of time, but asking him film-related questions while window shopping at Wells and watching the Manila Bay sunset was a pretty good way to spend an afternoon.
Hi, Bellamy! Tell us a bit about Japan Camera Hunter.
Most people think I’m just about the gear but photography is the main thing and gear is secondary. The reason I started this job is so I could spend more time taking pictures. I didn’t expect to be this busy, like, I need a break to take some photos! But the great thing is I get to travel around, meet people, and take photos which is so much fun and gives me so much perspective. If you see the same things every day, it gets hard to be inspired by them. Getting out of Japan, I feel refreshed and inspired again.
Make no mistake, gear is important. I mean, I sell it. But these are tools that we use to make an image. You have good quality tools, it helps. But the focus should be on creating a great image: taking pictures using the things I have. Photography is my driving passion. It’s the one thing I’ve remained steadfastly interested in from the age of 14. Cameras have always been there, photography’s always been there.
Which cameras do you usually shoot with? Do you own Lomography cameras?
Right now, I have the Ricoh GR1 with some 400 black & white film in it. I’ve also got a Leica M9 I’m trying out—borrowed from Mijonju —but I don’t enjoy digital as much.
I do have Lomography cameras but I often shoot with Leicas. My choice camera is the Leica MP (“mechanical perfection”) and it’s got every feature that I’ve ever wanted in a camera so it’s perfect. I always aspired to own one since I was a teenager.
I had an LC-A+ but I broke it. But now I’m looking at your new folding camera, the Belair, which might be quite rad but I wanna see more lenses for it. What I also wanna see is if people do hackjobs and put on other lenses like Rodenstock or a Copal shutter. I think the Lomography crowd are very creative with that so I think there’s a lot of scope for that camera to do great stuff which might make me get one.
People are saying film is dying. What do you think?
I believe Lomography revived film. I read the article in the BBC and I think it brought film photography into the public eye and showed people that there is a community actively reviving it. This is still a valid medium and this is still something we can work with.
That’s what I wanted to do with my film cases, for example. Fujifilm stopped making them but just because big companies are giving up, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. If they’re not doing it, then I will. So I researched how to make the cases, tried out different kinds of plastic, made the mold and all that, and here they are! The first time I made a batch of the cases, I came out negative. But that wasn’t the point of it. It was great to create something for the film community—and have my name on it and have people around the world use it!
(Ed’s note: Check out this article recently published on JCH, “Film photography is not dead!”)
You’re asked this question a lot but what are the top reasons you still shoot in analogue?
Let’s see. It’s because of color, quality, and feel.
Color – I find color in digital to be flat. It’s very precise but quite dull. You always know what you’re gonna get. I like the fact that with film, it can surprise you sometimes. You do know what you’re gonna get with the right films but then again you can still be thrown. And the colors are rich and each emotion has every cast and I love that.
Quality – Doesn’t matter how good a censor is. Film is still better, I think. Sure, people with 27 megapixel cameras will argue but to me it’s boring, flat, and clinical. It has no resonance or soul. I like the mistakes, variation, and latitude of film. You do a high-quality scan of 35mm film and that’s over 30 megapixels so it can still be precise. It’s tactile. You have an image in your hand that you created.
Feel – Like I said, that feeling of creating something, knowing that it’s been imprinted on negatives and it’s there. I have photos that I took when I was 14 and I still have them. I had digital camera photos backed up on CDs and they ended up getting wiped after a few years of degradation. But all of my film images are still there.
Who/what are your usual subjects? When do you feel most inspired?
My favourite subjects are the people that I see when I’m walking down the street. I enjoy the bond or connection from taking portraits by being able to communicate with whoever I’m taking a photo of. I feel inspired by people who are a bit disconnected from society. If it’s a candid shot, I’m inspired by the moment. It energizes me. I still take landscapes, but having a subject in the photo that I can have some sort of interaction with, just by being in the same scene, that’s quite enjoyable and calming for me.
My mind races a million miles an hour, constantly, and the only time I feel truly calm is when the camera is in front of my eye. I’m totally inspired by that, the decisive moment, whatever you call it. It’s just that moment of solitude.
(Over some coffee and crêpes, we talk a bit about his other hobbies and Bellamy reveals his love for cooking, which he still manages to relate to camera geekery!)
I think shooting film and working in the kitchen have similarities. For both,you have to be prepared. You have to have your tools, your pots and pans, cameras and lenses. You have to have your ingredients, that’s the film and your subjects. These different kinds of film are the different flavours. There’s a recipe you have to follow, just like the steps in taking or processing photos. The chemical changes in cooking are similar to the developing process in photography. But at the same time, you have to have heart. It’s not all numbers and measures. You need to be able to sense things too so that’s why I think I like cooking and shooting film.
Describe your first memory as if it were a still photograph.
Imagine a forest with beautiful old trees, sort of like from Disney, and it’s autumn so the light is very golden and rich. There are leaves under your feet and you’ve got these golds and browns and yellows of dying leaves. It’s fall in the UK and there’s a crispness in the air, you can see your breath. You’ve got beautiful colors and this light shining through. I remember being on my father’s shoulders, being carried from the woods. What I could see was this high point view of these interlocking branches and shapes which some people might find a bit creepy but I found utterly mesmerizing. The way the mottled light went through each leaf and branch and came down on the forest floor and scattered light and shadows so seductively. I was three, I guess.
If you could hang around as a camera on anyone’s neck, who would that person be and what kind of camera are you?
That’s a horrible question, because there’s so many! Well, my favourite photographer is Josef Koudelka —I would’ve loved to been his Leica, seeing what he saw. Or Sebastião Salgado —the places that he’s been defy belief. Or Bruce Gilden ’s M6, nearly getting smashed, nearly getting punched on the streets of New York and Siberia. Or Vivian Maier ’s Rolleiflex. There’s too many, that’s not fair!
If you could no longer see, what’s one image you would like burned in your mind?
I shoot in black and white mainly but I think to do that you have to have an understanding of colours. Monet’s Water Lilies is quite simply one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life. I’ve seen it in real life, stepped back, stepped closer… The range of colors, the movement, the action… If you have that image burned in your mind, you won’t have to see color again. Every shade would be in your mind, so my permanent image would have to be Water Lilies.
Share a tip of yours that always results in a great photo.
Lens cap off. Really, so many people make that mistake! My biggest tip is to be prepared. Know your camera. Make sure it’s on, the batteries are in there, the film’s there. You’ll be kicking yourself if you miss a shot because, oh, I’m out of film. Or, oh, the lens cap was on! Make sure everything’s working, the aperture’s right, the exposure’s right, everything’s on point. That will result in something.
What’s the strangest, funniest, hands-down greatest, or most “unusual” photographic/Lomographic encounter that you have ever had?
I’ve had scary moments. In Tokyo last year, at the anti-nuclear demos, there was a cop who tried to smash my Leica M6. Fortunately, I had the strap around my neck so he couldn’t grab it. We pretty much weren’t allowed to shoot but they were baiting people so they could be arrested. I just shouted at him for being rude, then he was going at me, and I ran away as fast as I could!
Then there are things like the best roll of your life then you open the back of your camera before you get to rewind it. Sh*t. That’s why you should always be prepared. But there’s been moments when I really, really, really wish I had a camera but didn’t. But, oh well. They’re in mind and at least I’ve still got them somewhere.
What’s coming up on the horizon? New projects? What’s in the works and what’s on your mind?
It’s been my dream for a very long time, way before JCH, to have a gallery and it sort of evolved into an idea of a gallery/shop/space/place where people can meet, hangout and talk about photography, read photography books, work, buy cameras, sell cameras, the whole thing. It’s not an easy thing to do. I might have to hire staff soon because I can’t do everything myself. But it will happen, maybe next year.
Any parting words for our readers?
JCH isn’t just about gear—it’s also a community. We all share a common passion for analogue photography. We don’t need to fight about it. It’s not about who’s better or who’s worse. We just appreciate what people can do and appreciate each other’s work. As for my photography, JCH isn’t really a venue for my work, I’m not that vain. If people want to see my photos, they can go to my Flickr page.
To wrap up the interview, here’s a round of Bellamy’s favourites!
I’ve had many, many, many cameras, each one unique, each one interesting, some rubbish. But I have a camera which I’ve worked really, really hard to get and that’s my Leica MP. I think it’s perfect. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted and needed in a camera. I want it to grow old with me. I don’t need anything more.
If I could buy only one kind of film for the rest of my life, it would be Fujifilm Neopan 400. I like the black and white tones and grain. Plus, it’s versatile—I can push it to 800.
My Leica 35mm f/2.0 Summicron M Aspherical Manual Focus lens. It’s perfect for street. It’s very sharp, well-balanced, not too big, you don’t need to focus forever, easy, simple, perfect design. But it’s not for portraits. For that, I’d use a 50mm Summicron. But there are so many beautiful lenses, like those giant Rodenstock lenses on large-format lenses, those are cool. Even the one on your little Lomo LC-A+ is fantastic and contrasty. I can’t pick, I like all of them!
Probably my hand cloth. I can dry my hands, clean my camera a bit, etc. I always have one on me. And in Japan, you kind of need one. Oh, and a camera bag. It holds my cameras, my film, George (stuffed animal)… It’s my lucky charm. Yeah, it’s a pig!
Thanks for your time, Bellamy!
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