From disposable cameras, our very own Lomography fisheye camera, and her father's Pentax and SLRs, photographer Katie Small always had an affinity with the art of capturing light. Before creating her own magical shots and recipes, she worked as a photojournalist and wedding photographer, which trained her eye and sharpened her skills. Beyond the shutter, her magic happens when she soaks her film in unique film soups that she creates out of household items. With some Lomography Color Negative 400, Katie created some homemade film soups with ingredients straight from her sunny native California!
Hello Katie! It’s great to have you here at Lomography! First off can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Thank you for having me! I’m very independent and love to explore and document the world around me. I’m intensely curious and I love to learn new things – no subject is off-limits. I’m happiest in nature, and I care deeply about the planet and social justice issues. Besides photography, I love writing and filmmaking.
Why do you still shoot film?
Film forces me to slow down and make each image count, and aesthetically, I still prefer film to digital. There’s something about film that feels more real to me. Something about the way film captures light... it feels truer to the human eye, which is where digital always falls short for me. Digital lacks the mystery and subtlety that you get with film, it’s hyper-realistic and reveals more detail than an actual human eye could ever capture. It just doesn’t excite me.
How did you get into film souping?
I initially got into film soup by accident - a few years ago I was surfing with a friend and we were playing around with her disposable water-proof camera but a bit of saltwater got in the casing, which yielded surreal color shifts and spots. Shortly after that, I discovered the work of Polina Washington; her film soup experiments are incredible and I was immediately inspired. I tried my first batch in 2017 but couldn’t find any film labs that were willing to process a roll that had been soaked... That ended up being a blessing in disguise because it forced me to learn how to develop color film on my own. So I’d been occasionally soaking film here and there over the last few years, but during the pandemic, I started souping every roll I shot. Like a lot of people, I was struggling with the anxiety of not knowing what to expect, not being able to make any kind of life plans, and just feeling an extreme loss of control. In the summer months, I really began to lose inspiration and felt like I’d stalled, so that’s when I leaned hard into souping.
With film soup, there’s always a chance that you could lose your images completely. Ironically, the risk introduced more control back into my life, because it was a risk on my terms. It restored agency in a way, to be able to say, “I’m going to go shoot a roll of film and then intentionally destroy it with the contents of my fridge.” I have definitely lost a few rolls by doing this. But going out and taking photos knowing that I
may never even see the results has been liberating. It’s teaching me to accept loss and failure, to not be so precious with my photography.
Can you tell us more about the soup you did for this film?
Every time I film soup, I try to introduce at least one new ingredient. For this batch, I used ingredients native to where I’m currently living in California. This was my first time soaking with Sonoma white wine and citrus straight from a friend's lemon tree!
Can you walk us through it with you, step by step ?
For the first batch, I soaked the film in the juice of 4 lemons (about 2/3 cup) for 1 hour, then added a little liquid dish soap and soaked for another 11 hours. This ended up being maybe a bit too long because while I was left with crazy galaxy colors and amoeba-like shapes, only a few frames came out. This recipe produced an interesting cross-hatch pattern that I’ve never seen before, so I play to experiment with it again.
For the second batch, I soaked in white wine and liquid laundry detergent for 1 hour.
This resulted in a more subtle ghosting effect with pastel coloring. I try to remember to stir the film periodically while it soaks. After soaking, I always run the film canister under the faucet for at least 30 seconds to rinse out any of the remaining soup. Then I place the canister in rice to let it dry. This time around I let the film dry for two weeks instead of my usual four. On a few frames you can see where the negative started to peel and flake off; this can be avoided with a longer drying time. Once the film is dry it’s time to develop! I skip the optional pre-soak when developing film soup.
Can you tell us more about the pictures?
These were all taken in Arcata, California. A few self-portraits in the redwood forest, along with one by the blossoming cherry tree in my front yard. Beach photos, and a few landscape shots, and an abandoned house along Highway 101.
From the pictures you sent, do you have a favorite one?
I’m loving the vivid colors and vortex patterns in the forest self-portraits – they feel witchy and ethereal, like the veil between this world and the supernatural is being lifted. I’d live there if I could.
What’s your next soup?
I’m excited to play with temperature variance and different types of alcohol, as well as more citrus fruits!