Finnish photographer Ari Jaaksi likes to photograph spaces. Or, more importantly, the conscious use of spaces to elevate subjects and tell a story. His images exude minimalism, humility and thoughtfulness, and the man behind the camera radiates the same.
Ari’s Youtube channel Shoot on Film, which he started in 2019, has become a haven for many film photographers to share their ideas and learn. In his monochromatic videos you usually see Ari directly in front of the camera, sharing his theories and opinions about film photography as well as neat photography tricks, discussing film equipment, and more. Also a pianist, his videos are often accompanied by his music as background.
We got to ask Ari a couple of questions about his art, and much like his video essays, he answered with wit and thought-provoking ideas and advice.
I remember you saying in an interview that you first got into film photography after seeing a film camera at a shop and that caught your interest. What made you decide to stick to film photography as a form of creative self-expression, and what urges you to still shoot film now?
Yeah. My first film camera in 2017, a Rolleicord, was just an impulse buy. I then realized that I like the process and the results. With a film camera, especially medium format and larger, I can create something that is different and feels my own. I feel my pictures look fundamentally different when I shoot on film.
The art of painting did not end when photography was invented. Instead, painting and drawing were liberated from daily commonplace tasks, like newspaper illustrations, documentation and such. Photographers replaced painters in war zones and crime scenes. But painters, they continued to push painting more into art, expression and beauty. And that's why we still shoot film – today more than in many many years!
Digital liberated film photography from boring everyday tasks – and film can now go to places it didn't have the time and freedom to go before! And for us artists, film provides unparalleled freedom, creativity and a set of tools to express our inner soul!
Why do you prefer shooting in medium format and black and white? (You’ve touched on this topic in your video about why you don’t shoot in 35 mm! Do you still hold the same opinions?)
To me, photography is a means to artistic self expression more than capturing memories or moments. That’s just me. And, I have this theory: I believe we see a black and white photograph instinctively as an artifact, a man-made artistic representation of the thing/landscape/person it illustrates. And, we see a color picture more directly as the actual thing it illustrates. Not as an artifact.
So, because I’m interested in photographs as artifacts, pieces of art, man-made creations, that draws me to black and white. And, in addition, I like minimalist and simple expressions where black and white is spot on! (I made a video about this, too.)
Medium format and bigger allows me to naturally veer further away from the mainstream photographic expression everybody else is doing. A typical digital camera, a DSLR or mirrorless, is a copy of a standard 35 mm film camera. Same dimensions, same way of operating, same size of sensor/film, etc.
That’s because a high end SLR film camera was the target for digital camera designers from the get go. That means that digital cameras easily produce similar look and feel as 35 mm cameras. Same dimensions, same physics, same usage. So, just to create my own style and not to be just like everybody else, I shoot practically no 35 mm. Also, 36 pictures in a roll is simply too many!
What’s your go-to film photography gear, current favorite cameras and film stocks?
My go-to camera is definitely my Rolleiflex 2.8F. It is simply awesome. I like TLR dual-lens cameras for several reasons: they are discreet in street photography situations, they are perfect to compose and aim for somebody like me who wears eye-glasses, and they are simple with very little to go wrong. And a Rolleiflex 2.8F is probably the best TLR camera you can get.
Another my current favorite – and I don’t say it just because it’s you interviewing me – is my Lomo LC-A 120. In addition to these two, I shoot regularly with my Holga, my 4x5” Lerouge 45 pinhole camera and my many Graflexes. Graflex cameras make all photography sessions special!
I have two favorite films: Ilford HP5+ and Ilford FP4+. HP5+ is extremely versatile, and I push it all the way up to ASA 6400. FP4+, on the other hand, is a beautiful old fashioned summer film that renders all shades and nuances, but has a small visible grain. Grain is good!
You mentioned the Lomo LC-A 120. Are there specific situations where you enjoy using it? And what can you say about the camera in general? Which type of film photographers do you think would fit the camera?
I love the camera. It is an absolutely perfect all-arounder, a tourist and “take-it-wherever-you-go” camera. I first was put off by the lack of manual settings, but I’ve since learned to cherish it as it is. It has a very very nice wide angle lens – same aspect ratio as my Hasselblad Super Wide – it is fast to operate, it is small and light. It simply is a perfect combination of ease-of use and quality. And it has just the right amount of vignetting from the get go!
I shoot landscapes, streets and friends and family with it. It’s not really your portrait camera. Also, I typically shoot fast film because you cannot manually set aperture and manage the depth of field. That makes slow film and large aperture bokeh images impossible for Lomo LC-A 120. But, almost anything else goes!
I think it is an excellent camera for somebody who wants to get into medium format. As the first medium format camera. Or then, even better, everybody who takes film photography seriously should have one Lomo LC-A 120 always with them.
See, it is very small and light, so even if I go out to shoot with my ten-piece Hasselblad set or with my heavy 4x5” gear I almost always have a Lomo LC-A 120 with me. It weighs nothing, and if everything else fails, I can still rely on it. And, pretty often, when I then look at my pictures from such a session, I realize that my Lomo pictures were the best of the session.
Why did you decide to start the Shoot on Film Youtube channel and what are your motivations for continuing it?
I wanted to reach out and meet with other similar-minded photographers. And boy, has YouTube helped me in that – much more than any other channel. My channel is modest and small but people who subscribe to it are extremely active.
I received prints as Christmas presents from my viewers, films, exotic equipment, advice, money, you name it. People reach out to me and ask for my advice and interact. It is so rewarding. Also, the way I do it currently – me just talking in our dining room – is not that much work, really. It’s really a positive experience with fairly little effort!
As someone who does film photography and also composes music you're familiar with working across many mediums. Are there similarities between the way you approach music and photography?
This is such an interesting topic, and I could go on forever. But let me just take one point as an example: the concept of space. When playing in a band, a good musician leaves a lot of empty space around him. Like one of the worlds greatest drummers Bernard "Pretty" Purdie said when interviewed by Rick Beato: “stay out of the way”. Leave space around things, don’t fill them up.
The same works in photography: empty space is often more important than the subject you are photographing. A space around your subject can elevate the subject, tell a story, give a context and guide viewers eyes to the right spots. The same way, an empty space around a piano solo elevates the solo and makes it stand out! Thus, I often pay more attention to the space in my pictures than to the actual subject.
Do you have photographers you look up to, or source inspiration from, for your own work?
Pioneers who created an entire sub-genre are always worth studying – whether music or photography. I'm also drawn to Japanese photographers like Yamamoto Masao. There is something so soulful there. Finally, when I'm out there in a cold winter in minus 25 degrees photographing nature, I always remember the work by Sir Frank Hurley. His images from Antarctica well over 100 years ago are still some of the most powerful images I've ever seen.
You usually take photos of Finnish landscapes, especially scenes from Tampere. Are there other subjects you’d like to explore in the future, or photography projects you want to work on?
Oh, yeah. Here is my bucket list:
- Portraits. Interesting and different-looking people. Preferably not classically beautiful.
- Landscape. US fly-over states and Scotland. My long time dream was Murmansk in Russia, but as long as Russian aggression continues, that’s a no-go.
- Punk bands in action.
- To take a 6-month break from taking any new photos and just lock myself into my darkroom and print. Just print. 12 hours a day. 7 days a week. Silver gelatin.
Thank you very much Ari for your images and insights! The rest of the Lomography community wishes you luck on your future endeavors!