Leeds-based photographer and vintage camera enthusiast mandyleft gave herself the challenge of shooting the Diana Instant Square camera in lots of different lighting conditions, from studio set up to dark foggy nights in the UK. She talked to us about the idea behind the project and how she found the results from this versatile instant camera.
Hello and welcome to Lomography Magazine! Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m mandyleft, a photography artist passionate about shooting film. My focus is on fashion and editorial, but I also enjoy shooting personal projects in which I try to capture traditions and the beauty of artisan work. Another passion of mine is to explore and experiment with different analogue photographic techniques: wet plate collodion, darkroom printing, instant photography. I find it all so fascinating.
How would you describe your photography style?
People have described me as a reflective practitioner. I enjoy visualizing and planning what I’m going to photograph. For me the planning and the visualizing are one of the biggest parts of the action of taking a photo. I’m also a pleasure seeker, and I enjoy triggering the release of dopamine that I get when I handle and shoot a film camera.
That in itself is extremely satisfying. But going back to my photography style. . . I like composing a fantasy, and bringing into existence something that didn’t exist. I mostly enjoy photographing something that I have created and brought together. However, it’s true that occasionally I find relief in simply documenting what’s around me.
How did you get into shooting with film?
I had always been into photography. For me, it was an alternative to writing, which I used to do a lot more in the past. I had a strong interest in film, but I never had the chance to try it. Until one day I was given a medium format camera, a TLR. Shooting that camera felt like an epiphany. I loved handling that camera and the images that I could take with it. Then, I was already overflowing with passion for film photography when I joined my first analogue photowalk, one organised by Emma Lloyd as part of her initiative #sheheartsfilm. Meeting so many extremely interesting photographers on one single day really changed me. After that experience, I started to meet more and more inspiring people through film, and my passion simply grew and grew. I am very much in love with the amazing analogue community that we have. I feel I owe them so much.
Tell us about shooting with the Diana Instant Square. How did you come up with your ideas and prepare your shoots?
At the beginning I thought, “what the hell am I going to do with this camera?” I analyzed its settings and thought about what I could do for a while. I thought, ok, so there are two speeds, 1/125s and Bulb mode, and 4 apertures: f11, f32, f64 and f150. And also there is the option of multiple exposures. So I figured I could test it in different settings. In fact, I thought, “I’m going to set myself the challenge of testing it in different environments and I will try various types of photography”. Because once I had this camera in my hands, I became very curious about what results I could get with it. Would I be able to use it effectively in my fashion shoots? And would I manage to take some interesting landscape photos? How about night photography? I wanted to push the camera to its limits to see what it was really capable of!
First, I took it to a studio shoot that I had organized. I wanted to see how it would work with an external flash. I was very skeptical. But even the first shot was a banger. So I shot a few more with the model, Basmala, in front of the mirror, and I really liked what they looked like. Next, I decided to do some night photography and take a few shots in Leeds, where I live. So I called my friends Mike Medlock and Sander Van Heyden for support and inspiration, and we spent hours taking photos around the University of Leeds. We finished at about 1am. I had such a good time with them doing light painting and double exposures. I have a beautiful memory of that night, I will treasure those moments forever.
After that, I took the Diana Instant to the studio again. This time, I was shooting two models, Emily and Abigael. I was using a couple of Arri tungsten lights. I adjusted them and simply took a shot at f11, 1/125 (basically, the one speed available apart from bulb mode). And it worked great! So, I played with double exposures and they also worked well. I was so happy! And the models were so interested in the camera, they loved it! Because we have to admit, it’s a very quirky and fun looking camera, isn’t it?
For the last shoot, I wanted to take some landscape photos. My idea was to photograph a beautiful view near Leeds, in Otley Chevin Forest Park. I had a day off, and my friend Mike also had a day off, so we headed towards Otley Chevin, to take that photo that I wanted of the so-called “Surprise View”. But to our “surprise”, when we got there it was completely foggy. You could not see a thing. I could not stop laughing. And then it started to rain heavily. But we had an umbrella, and lots of will to make it happen, so we went into the woods and started to experiment with long exposures. They came out so well! We were quite impressed with what we got. So, after falling in the mud a few times (me), we went to a pub nearby and celebrated our success with a pint in front of the fire.
But there was just one more thing that I wanted to try, and that was the pinhole mode. At this point, I took it with me to the Rapid Eye darkroom where I make my prints when I’m in London, and I played with the pinhole mode and a lucky cat they have there. My friend Ash (Big Bad Ash) helped me with lighting, and I love the photo that we got. You can see the movement of the cat’s paw, it’s great!
How did you find the results?
Overall, I was impressed with the potential of this camera. Even though I didn’t think so at the beginning. Once I started to play with it properly I realized it opens up many possibilities. It’s not only a fun camera to experiment with, it’s also a camera that allows you to produce good images. I don’t know of many other cameras that allow you to shoot Instax with manual settings in an easy way. And this is a very good option to do so.
Any tips for people wanting to try out this camera?
From my experience, I would explore the possibilities of long exposures using the bulb mode and playing with the aperture depending on how much light there is. For the length of the exposures, you only need to calculate reciprocity failure. It’s not too hard. Once you get the gist of it, you kind of “feel” the length of the exposure that you need.
Whats coming up next for you?
A lot of big events on the horizon! I’m writing this on my way to Paris. I’m attending Photo Paris with my collective, OnlyFilms. We are going to be shooting film and meeting other photographers, so it should be a very inspiring trip. I’m also planning some fashion shoots, some of the biggest that I have planned so far. I’m working on building a strong team so we can create projects together and make things happen.
Thank you to mandyleft for sharing her wonderful Diana Instant Square shots with us. To see more of her work check out her Instagram.