The storied streets of South Korea serves as Andrew Contreras' (@andcon) muse. It's where he chases the elusive "decisive moment" and captures the quiet poetry in the everyday that would've otherwise left unnoticed. In this interview, our Newcomer of the Week dishes out his thoughts about being a film photographer in a fast-paced, digital world.
Name: Andrew Contreras
Location: Seoul, Republic of Korea
Please tell us something about yourself and what you do.
Hey everyone, I’m 32 years old and I teach English to adults in the business district of Seoul, South Korea. I grew up in Southern California. Last year, I bought a Nikon FM and started my film journey here in Seoul.
I like to pick a neighborhood and explore it with my camera. Therefore you’ll find a lot of urban landscape in my work, but I’m actually into a little bit of everything: candid portraits, still life, nature, street people, interior, architecture, etc. This year, I want to learn how to use my flash and gain some studio lighting and darkroom experience.
I shoot black and white and color almost equally…couldn’t imagine sticking to only one. Color gives me that visual stimulus where the color itself is the subject I’m looking for. Black and white is more of an emotional hunt that speaks for itself when done right. Both offer different limitations, I need them both. My favorite photographers are those who could do it all. It’s a passion-hobby and I’d like to become well-rounded.
How did you find the Community and who/what convinced you to join?
I was wondering if I could do long exposures with Lomography CN 800 (my current color film of choice), so I was just looking for information on that when I came across this and signed up. (Can I do long exposures on this film, people?)
I was convinced to join because I had been fed up with ads and bot accounts, and frankly I just don’t care to look at photos that aren’t film. I’m not against digital or anything, but I can’t learn anything from them. There is so little meaning on the bigger platforms these days, it was dragging me down. Finding real people who only shoot film was a utopian dream come true. Everyone is so positive too, it feels like it’s not the internet, because that never happens. I find film shooters to be that way in person as well. Only inspiring.
Have you read 10 Golden Rules of Lomography, what rule do you apply in your life?
#2- Use it anytime-day or night: I love the limitations film presents. I love choosing my film for the time of day/occasion/lighting conditions. Every new environment and shift of the sun requires a certain approach and thought. I love shooting at night because there’s only so much I can do. I need to find other light sources, like a street light, car headlights, or store light from a window, or I need a tripod and a cable release for long exposures. Sometimes I just can’t make the shot so I don’t take it. I shoot differently at night. In the daytime, I love looking for window light or that stray light ray highlighting someone in the street. Shoot anytime: day or night.
#3- It’s a part of my life: I mostly have it anytime I go out. Friends think it’s weird if they see me without it. They’re also used to me making them stop and pose if I see an interesting wall or backdrop. I appreciate it a lot. I’ve learned so much through their patience.
#7- Be fast: Anticipating shots is something I’m trying to get better at. If you’re seeing the moment with your eyes, it’s usually too late, right? Have to stay ready.
#8- Don’t have to know what you captured: I feel like I CAN’T know what I captured until I’m looking at the results later. I’m often surprised at what pops in and out the frame that I didn’t notice while taking it. I’m bummed when I cut people’s feet off at the bottom of the frame, when I was sure they were in there. Sometimes you get a gift though that makes all the failures worth it.
#10- Don’t worry about any rules: I like the rules for the most part. They make my pictures better. Never something to worry about though. Ever see Picasso’s early work? That dude knew the rules before he began to expand them. There’s a lot to learn from “the rules”, but they are not binding.
In this digital age, why still film?
My iPhone is the only digital camera I’ve ever owned. Not a digital hater, but I’ve never been inspired to make photos on a digital camera. There’s little artistic expression in it. The best digital photo looks dead to me. There’s no life in it. Excuse my hot take there. They are suited for commercial stuff so they have their purpose and I get why people have them, especially paid photographers these days. And of course you gotta take pictures of your food with something, right? I know I do. Anything meaningful, however, is for film. Film is more about the photographer and digital is more about the camera. Geez now I sound like a hater. I’m not though. I am just very apathetic toward digital and I’m trying to articulate why.
Shoot whatever makes you want to shoot…on manual mode though…do it for me.
Your favorite analog camera at the moment? Why?
At the moment, my new Nikon F3. What a force that thing is. Shout out to @pmonroe who found me one a couple blocks away with a 1985 serial number to match my year of birth. Would not have bought it if it weren’t a 1985 model. I was totally content with my Nikon FM AKA Nikon FL (First Love). I don’t like having to choose between cameras and I don’t like neglecting cameras. I’m not a collector. The F3 is such a bawse though. I like that it’s metal and has some weight to it. All the features on it are useful and I USE them. No fluff (just like the FM). Again, it makes me want to shoot. That’s the bottom line. 35mm, game over.
For medium format, I love my Mamiya RB67 ProSD, and am looking forward to using it more this Spring.
What is the Lomography product you’d like to try someday?
Whether it’s a Lomo or a Leica…I’m good. Ask me about Lomo film though. I want some turquoise and red scale, please!
Any song, book, or movie you live by?
I live by THE Golden Rule as stated in the bible (Matthew 7:12).
Music: David Bowie, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead, Conor Oberst, the Flaming Lips, Bob Dylan, The Cure, Deathcab for Cutie, Led Zeppelin.
Movies: Stranger than Fiction, Her, The Irrational Man, High Up on a Poppy Hill, The Girl who Leapt Through Time, Napoleon Dynamite, and the first Ninja Turtles movie.
Books: Crime and Punishment, The Plague, Les Miserables, The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante as my contemporary choice.
Photographers: Fan Ho, Gordon Parks, Saul Leiter, Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Einsenteadt, Gjon Mili, Jamal Shabazz, Vivian Maier, Eugene Smith, Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, Vanessa Winship, Elliot Erwitt, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon
Share your current favorite Lomograph, could be yours or a friend’s. Why?
First reason is that this was taken on my very first roll of Lomo film and after seeing the results sparked me to buy more and eventually led me here. Secondly, it represents the magic of film to me, everyone here knows how double-exposures work, and how the results are highly unpredictable. I couldn’t have planned this if I had wanted to. It motivates me to keep trying new things. Magic may strike again.
Any Community member you look up to? If so, why him or her?
Honestly, I look up to anyone who shoots film. I already like you and want to be friends with you. If you’re in Seoul, hit me up. @pmonroe and I hangout now because of this place. I love seeing everyone’s work. Please try to maintain the good vibes, the ad-free, bot-free (and digital-free!) environment. It’s such a unique thing that I am happy to have found. Thank you for what you do at the LomoMothership. Fan for life.
What are you looking forward to in our Community?
The daily inspiration, and to meet as many of you all in person as possible. Let’s make it happen.
Welcome to the Lomography Community, Andrew! We're all looking forward to seeing your future work.