The first steps into film photography are always an exciting time. Happy highlights such as purchasing your first camera and receiving your first film roll, to disappointing moments such as accidentally exposing your roll to sunlight or not being able to get the shot you want are all part of one's journey into film.
João Oliveira (@SHOAO) started his film journey last year taking wonderful photos of his friends and city. He even started taking part in experimental film soups and bringing his camera on his travels to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Today we talk to him about his first year in film photography.
Hello João, please tell us about yourself and describe your photography journey. How did you start shooting film?
To make this short, last year photography saved me. It helped me through a difficult time, during those days when we all started to recover some normality from the pandemic and, on a more personal level, right after I lost someone important to me. That’s when I bought my first SLR, a Yashica FX-3. In addition to that, my work in advertising has grown on me the need to express my creativity without the professional limitations, the pressure, the briefings, and the feedback. The need to go out there by myself and do my own thing. Looking back one year later, shooting film quietly became an artistic escape and a persistent desire like a love story.
How would you describe your style of photography?
It's just like walking without directions in a city you don’t know, you start to find meaning along the way. You walk because it’s good for your body, and you photograph because it’s good for your mind. Both things take you somewhere different. I don’t think too much about it, but at the same time, I’m always unconsciously trying to compose with less.
Have you ever tried using the Lomo LC-A+? It could be something for you to try because of your style of photography.
I was reading about Lomography’s history the other day, and how iconic the LC-A is, not only to the brand but to film photography in general. And I’ve also been seeing a lot of amazing LC-A shots by the community, so it sits very high on the list of cameras I want to play with, alongside the Diana.
So what gear do you use most?
I’m still a toddler when it comes to gear. I’m currently leaning towards my Olympus OM-1 and its sharp 50 mm f1.8 Zuiko lens. That’s a piece of perfection right there. Here's the thing, I’m obsessed with analogue cameras, from old TLRs to Soviet Leica rip-offs. I can see myself as a collector in the future, but I’m currently trying to keep it simple. A 35 mm mechanical reflex and a roll of Kodak Vision 250D are all I need.
We encountered your work because of your travels to Ushuaia. Can you tell us the story behind your trip there?
Ushuaia, in Argentina, is the southernmost city on the planet. It’s also very picturesque and remote, surrounded by mountains and glaciers, on the shores of the Beagle Channel. When I was there, I bought a book simply called Postcards, a collection of beautiful and rare black and white photographs from its first inhabitants. Back home, after receiving my pics from the lab, I kept feeling nostalgic about that place. It’s not an original concept, to create postcards with landscape photos you find beautiful, however, I like to imagine people sending them to someone they care about, from the end of the world.
Do you have any memorable moments from your trip to Ushuaia?
Many. And I’m always going back to my photos to remember them. For example, one of my favorite pics comes from our second attempt to climb the Martial Glacier. On the first attempt, it got dark halfway to the top, it started drizzling, and the temperature dropped. Since we were not equipped, we decided to try again another day. A few days later, we returned. You have two ways up, one through the ski slope, which during the fall has no snow, and becomes a trekking trail, and another through a forest. We went up through the forest. At the point where the two paths cross, we met this man, who was about 70 years old, taking short steps with the help of a walking stick, his blue jacket contrasting with the orange of the trees. When he saw us coming out of the forest he asked: "Which is the way to the glacier?" Up, we told him. "And which way is the exit?" Down. We had a laugh, very impressed by his willingness to try the ascent. He continued at his own pace, walking up very slowly, probably never making it to the top, but still very inspiring.
Besides your trip to Ushuaia, we also really enjoyed the other albums you have on your LomoHome. Can you tell us the story behind the series han/dapdapada?
The series was born from a broken heart and a photograph exercise. During a workshop, I was challenged to shoot a whole film based on words. It could be poetry, music, some random quotes from random people, or anything based on words. So I opened this book about Korean words without translation and selected han and dapdapada, the ones that best represented what I was feeling at the time. The book was a gift from the person who had broken my heart, just to add a little bit more drama on top of it. The project turned out to be part of my healing process. I decided to portray the people that were there for me every time I needed them, even when I was not capable of putting into words the things that I was going through.
What's the process behind your film soups?
My experimentation with film soup is a direct result of my trip to Ushuaia. During my last days there, I started to collect vegetation and rocks as souvenirs. Back in Buenos Aires, my kitchen table was stacked with small bags and bottles filled with wild fruits, plants, leaves, and even water from the bay. That was the starting point, then I got myself four color films ( Ferrania Solaris 100, Fuji 200, Kodak Gold, and Lomo 400 ), sorted the ingredients in four jars in a way that made sense, boiled the water, and threw the canisters in there. Since the film rolls were fresh when I soup them, I let them dry for 30 days in rice before using them. I was looking for mild results. I can say that I wasn’t a huge fan of heavily damaged films at the time, so I stuck with natural ingredients, not adding anything too much acid or disrupting the film's chemicals excessively. After developing three of the four rolls, and getting similar results with each one of them, I’m now in the mood to try stronger recipes. That’s the beauty of film soup, you never know what you’re getting until you make it.
When I started shooting film, I decided to try every roll I could lay my hands on, before finding a favorite and settling down. I’m having so much fun with this that I’m not in a hurry to stick with a single stock yet. When I saw the Fantôme Kino 8 I had to try it. It’s so appealing. It was a challenge though, I’ve never had such a low iso to work with, so I was overly concerned about the lighting conditions. Later on, I tried Babylon Kino 13 and I enjoyed the whole experience a bit more, getting better results from it. Both have the finest grain I ever got from a film roll, and I’m very interested to keep testing the Babylon 13.
Who would you say are your photography influences?
The best thing about the internet is how easy it is to discover amazing talent. I can spend hours jumping from one LomoHome to another, just hitting like on pictures that I’m amazed by. Shout out to my good friend @juanmarinoarg who insisted I should join the community and share my work, and who is also a very talented photographer. On top of that, when it comes to influences, you can’t avoid looking back to the monumental work of the greats like Saul Leiter, Diane Arbus, Sebastião Salgado, and Martin Parr, just to name a few.
It's amazing how tight-knit the Lomo community is. We interviewed @juanmarinoarg a while back about his film soups. How did you two meet?
Juan was somewhat my guide to analogue photography. We both live in the same city and eventually worked at the same ad agency. Ever since I bought a film camera, every now and then I ask him questions and he is always very generous in sharing what he knows. He shared his film soup recipe, for example, from which I got the idea to try my own thing. Then we started doing some workshops together, developing films, but mostly just talking about photography. He likes to experiment a lot and that motivates me to do the same, even though we have quite different styles. For me, taking pictures will always be a very personal exercise, an expression that has to come out of yourself, but it's much more enjoyable when you can share it with friends. Part of the fun is having an analogue community that backs you up and shares the same passion.
What's in store for you in terms of photography?
Keep doing it and see what happens next. For such an ancient art form, it's impressive how much you can still get from it. I’m still in my honeymoon phase with analogue photography, so it's quite enough for me right now, just thinking about new projects, editing, conceptualizing, experimenting with different techniques, and learning how to develop my films and enlarge my photos in the darkroom, trying weird things such as lumen prints and photograms/rayographs. I hope I can share something cool very soon.
Do you have any advice or anything you want to share with the Lomography Community?
If you’re like me, you will not like most of the things you do, especially when you're just starting out. The pictures you take, the drawings you make, the poems you write, even when you start to see some progress, there will always be days when you hate what you do. However, instead of comparing yourself with the artists you admire, just keep doing it. Try new things, a new film, a new lens, a new camera, a new technique, a new book or go to somewhere new like a gallery to get inspired. Do something you don't like on purpose. Have fun with it. The activity itself is much more than what you can show when you finish it. That’s something that I have to say to myself once in a while.