So young and yet so old. Hip with a bit of an edge, Harry Brafman has quite a unique temperament when it comes to different things. He treats his photography seriously and at the same time with a playfulness that comes with curiosity. Whatever eccentric mix he has going on, Lonely Dad manages to bring all of these good traits together for wildly entertaining and at times sobering concoction. Read on to find out more about Harry and the history behind his unusual moniker.
Hello, Harry! Welcome to the Lomography Online Magazine. Please introduce yourself to our readers!
I’m Harry but my mates call me “Brafman”. Some people also refer to me as “Lonely Dad”, it’s to the point where I even have that patched onto a shirt now.
I live in London but I’m in Farnham a lot for uni and because a lot of my mates live there. Even during term time though I still just commute down from London because Farnham sucks.
Well I’m about to go into my 3rd year of film production at uni, I’m 20 and my current source of income is moving bricks, as in I work retail at a Lego Store… Outside of photography I’m pretty obsessed with cinema plus I listen to a lot of music and read quite a bit too. Besides that though just the normal stuff really: going to gigs, hanging with mates, eating large amounts of food, getting off my face, externally validating myself through others. Same old, same old.
Do you shoot exclusively with film or do you also shoot digital?
Oh no not at all. Like a lot of film photographers my age I started with an iPhone and then with a cheap DSLR body and one prime lens and that eventually snowballed into me shooting film. I’d say these days though I definitely lean way more towards shooting on film. My ratio is pretty much 85% film and 15% digital (maybe a bit more if you count the candids taken on my phone and put onto my Instagram story.)
What is your go-to camera and film?
Used to shoot on an Olympus OM-10 but at the moment I’m shooting on a Canon AE-1 Program (which I adore.) I also sometimes shoot on an Olympus XA-2 but the more I shoot on that the more I realize I’m not a point-and-shoot kind of guy. For the longest time I’d exclusively shoot on Fuji Superia X-tra 400 film but recently I’ve adopted Lomography 800 as my go-to film.
How did you get started in photography?
It started out of a place of frustration and dissatisfaction really. I was almost two terms into my first year of uni and hated everything I made thus far. The project briefs they’d give us were so un-engaging to me and wrought with all these contrived parameters that would just limit me. Even worse the roles given to me on these projects were never ones that gave me any form of creative control and as a dirty stinking narcissist this really got to me. It felt like I was paying £9000 a year just to help some hack make their “vision” for some bullshit project I wasn’t even passionate about. I needed something that was mine. I needed something that was artistically fulfilling. One thing I have learnt through uni is that making a professional looking narrative film takes a lot of resources, people, time and money. All of which I didn’t have. I needed something I could do with a friend or better yet a complete stranger on the street. Something visual. Something that would also help me practice composition and camera set up. So photography was the obvious choice. It was the only choice.
How would you describe your photographic style?
Derivative mainly. All art is imitation but the difference is that I don’t even try to hide it. If you’ve seen a Wong-Kar Wai film or a Wim Wenders film or a Harmony Korine film then you’ve seen all of my photos. Hell you don’t even need to see my photos if you’ve seen any of that since I just kinda do worse versions really. Nah but on the real my style is very much film influenced. For ages my only goal for my photos was to create images that could be mistaken as screen caps from some unknown indie-feature. One of my mates often jokes by calling my style “London-Noir”. That’s a title I fully embrace and take on though. Lots of neon lights, seedy/grimy overtones, greenish tint, slightly surreal elements, pretty people looking unkept and uncomfortable. Those are the staples I’d say.
I’m no one trick pony though as in I do often breakout of those parameters. As my interest in photography grows though I’ve started seeing it as it’s own beast entirely, especially within the recent 8 or so months. Like now I especially gravitate towards portraits much more than I used to. I think the thing that has remained though is that I’ve always thought of my compositions in the context of people. I rarely ever take a landscape shot or a lone building against the skyline or nature-porn. There's always a person in it for the most part. So far my current oeuvre has merely been exercises in aesthetics, which is something I deeply enjoy doing and will still do but with a few of my upcoming projects I’m trying to put more effort into exploring certain themes and making statements.
You started with digital photography and now prefer shooting film. What is it about this medium that you like and dislike?
In terms of likes I don’t have anything all that idiosyncratic to say really. The main reason is 100% the look of it. I live, breathe, eat, shit, inject, snort and rectally insert aesthetic. It is my life essence. There's a certain gritty/vintage look I get from film that I just adore. In the past, I’ve taken the exact same composition on film and digital and still end up preferring the film version, even after adding grain to the digital. It’s trading convenience for look and I’m completely okay with that! I just love the way film transcends time. I could take something today that looks like a shot from 30 years ago and vice versa. Anything that clues us in on the decade of the photo is all in mise en scène of an image and not given away in the format itself unlike digital (but that will change as time goes on). That’s partly why I like artifacts in my scans and have a distaste for overly clean/crisp photos taken on film (but I still do respect those who can get those type of results from the format.) Also when you’re broke like me I feel like film just trains you to be a much stricter photographer. Like sure, I see a lot of rich kids at my uni take random crap on expensive film stock but they’re an exception to the rule. A lot of film photographers tend to put much more time, thought and effort into their shots given that they’re paying to take those photos.
The only thing worse than taking a bad photo is having to pay to take that photo in the first place and then paying even more just to see the end result. The limit of photos I can take in a day really ups my standards as an artist which is always a good thing. In terms of negatives it sends my anxiety through the roof and gives me a certain feeling of powerlessness. As in I can put time and effort into a roll, plan all 36 exposures, do everything I can to make sure the lighting and framing is perfect, meter correctly and then still have that roll turn out unusable due to a lab messing up the processing (which has happened before cough never go to Snappy Snaps cough) or a light leak in the camera or that roll acting up etc… It’s especially worse if you get candids that are near impossible to recreate or are shooting with people who are too busy to do re-shoots in a timely manner. That uncertainty is part of the fun I guess but also part of what makes me not sleep at nights. Also I feel like there's some shots (like super contrasty neon stuff) that are really hard to get right on film unless you got a really high-speed stock and an external light meter (which I don’t) so in a sense, I do sometimes feel limited in what photos I can take on it which is always a bummer. Plus also how pricey it all isn’t all that rad either but hey that just means fewer pints a week I guess.
It's refreshing that you openly admit to a 'derivative' style. When you're shooting, are you conscious of the particular look that you're going for or do you shoot instinctively?
Thanks! The more rolls I go through and the more I buy pricier rolls the more I realize that candid just isn’t for me. For my past couple rolls and for my upcoming projects, I’m pretty much planning every single detail for the most part. Even with no written plan, I tend to still have shots and looks in mind. The most loose I’ll get these days is going to a location with a mate/model and shooting whatever comes to mind while we’re out which happens more often than not. I’ve shot some of my best rolls like this but I’ve shot some of my worst rolls by doing this. If it’s my first time ever going somewhere then I’ll do an instinctive shoot but on repeated visits, I plan more and more as I learn the area better. Even when going to a planned shoot I still bring an extra roll with me in case I get inspired. I always do have particular look in mind but I do go off on instinct sometimes as well. To use a cliche, a mixed bag.
What do you think sets your body of work apart from others - something you'd call distinctly yours?
I’d say it’s definitely in my approach and background. I started out as a filmmaker and not a photographer, hell I’d even say that still rings true. I view my models as character actors and direct them as such. Instead of saying “look pouty” I’ll give them some context “you’re looking at your crush being dropped off by her date” (that’s trite but is just an example). Stuff like this tends to help me draw out more natural looking emotions and really adds to the “film” style I’m going for. Plus it turns shoots into a collaborative process and gives my models a lot of artistic freedom instead of just me pontificating upon them. I think a photo belongs to the model in it just as much as the person who took it. I even write mini character bios at this point and base my shoots around that. I’d say my stuff doesn’t look like a photographer's look book but more so a filmmakers retrospective for better and for worse. Well, that and the neon tends to be a pretty big tell if it's a Brafman original or not but less so these days.
Do you ever get creative block? How do you deal with it?
All the time, man. If I don’t put out a photo for a long time it’s either due to creative block or a model flaking on me, these days it’s normally the latter luckily. I tend to just try and experience more art so I can find new stuff to rip off really. Another big thing that helps me get over it is life experience. What am I feeling? What do I want to portray? Can I express that in photo form? How can I? Just asking myself questions like that. That’s pretty rare though and most of the time inspiration just kinda randomly hits me but alas, that means that a lot of the time it doesn’t and I’m left with months with no new photos to show for it. Luckily those months are becoming rare recently. I do legit believe that one day though I’ll make all the art that I want to make and be all out of ideas/have nothing more to say. When that day comes I’ll be pretty comfortable with dying since honestly, this stuff is the only thing that keeps me about really.
Anything else you'd like to say?
Finally I'd like to give some proper GREASY shoutouts to the following dank people. My three favourite models to work with and three of my favourite people: Affrica, Alex, and Jessica. Fellow photographers and artists, frequent collaborators, constant inspirations to me and most importantly, my mates (god that was cheesy) -- Josh, Jack, Yushi, Billy, Jerkcurb (Jacob) and Toby Harvard.
For these photographs, Harry used a Canon AE-1 and Olympus OM-10 cameras, loaded with Lomography Color Negative 800 and Fuji Superia X-tra 400.