UK-based photographer Anil Mistry is an integral part of the ever-growing Brighton-based analogue community. He runs Unusual Eye, where he hosts photo-walks around the sunny beaches and eclectic arcades of the Brighton coast. Earlier in the year, we send him the Neptune Convertible Art lens System to test out on these photo-walks. We talked to him about his experiences shooting with this versatile lens and the challenges he has faced in 2020.
Hello Anil, tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a creative director and photographer. I live on the south coast of the UK, near Brighton. By day I develop ideas for live experiences, films, events, creative campaigns, and other stuff for all sorts of brands- from sneakers to beer to computers to cars to crunchy oat bars. In my spare time, I’m always out walking the streets with various film and digital cameras to see what I can capture.
I love street photography and street portraiture. I also love film cameras and have been tinkering with all shapes and sizes of cameras much to my wallet’s discontent. Over the past five years, my photography has become more than a hobby and has become a part of my professional offering. I’ve undertaken portrait and reportage projects in the UK, India, Italy, and Hong Kong, and I’m working towards making photography a bigger part of my work with each year that passes.
You've been running Unusual Eye for a while now, what made you want to start these photowalks?
I’m always walking around with a camera because I love the social aspect as much as I love the picture taking, so starting photowalks was a natural evolution. It’s been a great way to meet people and build my photography network. I’ve made many good friends through photowalks and hope to do many more.
How did you get on shooting with the Neptune art lens and what did you choose to shoot?
Well for a start they certainly look strange, and got quite a few looks stuck on my Nikon D850! Shooting with them was certainly a new and interesting experience. Because the lenses are fully manual and transfer no information back to the camera, it slowed me right down, creating more of a considered film-like experience with my digital camera. I’m used to AF or zone focusing but with new lenses, I tend to take my time so I want a much more considered approach, focusing my efforts on primarily static subjects. The lenses have an old- fashioned feel, reminding me of the output I get when mounting some of my Russian M42 lenses to my Nikon D850.
They are also very compact, and I liked that I could carry a whole range of lenses around without adding a load of weight to my bag. They can all fit into my pockets if I want to travel light. I could see and feel that they very well made and have a smooth focusing motion, and swapping the lenses out on the mount was straightforward. I found them all to be very sharp in the center when I nailed focus. Flare could be quite prominent in the 35mm, which I liked- it was something to embrace in the look of the shots. They all had very pleasing bokeh, not getting too weird and bubbly. I wish I could have tried out more portraits, but with a lockdown taking place I was deliberately avoiding stopping strangers in the street and taking their pictures.
My favourite lens out of the three was the 80mm, it just gave me really clean shots and I loved the sharpness- it was sharp without being clinical, in the way that my AF lenses can get. I’m not a pixel peeper, so I think the best way I can describe the look I get from these lenses is “classic” – they are reliable, have really pleasing out of focus areas, and in my experience, they have the character of a non-modern lens… in a good way. If you are after a set of manual primes to play with they represent good value. I’m hoping you’ll let me hold onto them for a while, as I’d really like to do more portrait tests with them, as I think the results should be really pleasing.
How are your local photography community dealing with these lockdowns? Has it impacted the photography community?
Lockdown hasn’t been great for the photography community. A lot of people I know pretty much gave up shooting. I found myself shooting more digital because of the cost implications of shooting film combined with the fact that my paid work had dried up for a couple of months. I ended up having to cancel walks and ended up just putting a hold on others planned for the future. Many people just didn’t want to (or weren’t allowed to) travel and get out on a walk.
I recently did a small local walk with five others, keeping to our local “Rule of 6” – and that actually worked really well. Usually, my walks involve around 20 people and I feel like a tour guide, but a smaller group was more intimate and free-roaming. I’m certainly going to do more of them. With a smaller group, it’s also easier to get into a pub / café without any hassle, and you don’t look as conspicuous on the street. As I write this, the UK is preparing for another 1-month lockdown, but as far as I can see, the rules in my area still allow us to go out, so small/tiny photo-walks may become a thing. Getting outside and feeling fresh air is as important as taking pictures so I’d like to help people in the community to do this where possible.
Do you have any plans for the next 6 months?
My main priority over the next 6 months is to continue to find as much paid work as possible through my creative director output and photography commissions. Things have started to pick up recently, and I have some cool photography jobs in the pipeline and am hoping to get more. Paying the bills always come first! I recently had a couple of my pictures featured in a TV show hosted by Rankin, and I believe they’re going to be in the book of the series that comes out in the next couple of months so that’s been a really positive lockdown moment. I’ve been spending a lot of time building my profile as a professional photographer and getting my work out there so that exposure will certainly help. The pandemic has naturally given me periods without any work so I plan to make as much of this time as possible. More impromptu mini-photowalks, more creative exploration through my work, more printing (I bought a professional printer and have started to sell archival quality prints of my work), and more portraits. I love shooting portraits and want to really push myself and build my skills with lighting and composition. I wish I had a studio but the living room works really well. I always end up getting loads of lights up and fiddling for ages, then realizing that the natural light from the windows is much better. I’ve got a couple of photobooks I’ve been working on too- one is complete and the other is a work in progress, so when time allows I’ll get those into print. And finally, I am slowly beginning to shoot more with film again. I’m taking my time though, and not blasting through rolls the way I used to, so that will certainly help to keep the costs down and ensure that my film cameras get to see some action.