Nat Segebre on Their Analogue Lifestyle and Love for Medium Format Film

“I’m always excited for any excuse to talk about anything analogue and photography-related. Lomography was also the start of my film journey, so this feels right,” shares Nat, an analogue photographer and visual artist based in New York.

A self-proclaimed avid analogue photographer with a body of work to back it up, Nat is serious about film photography, and seeks out opportunities to dive deeper into creative craft, exploring how its processes can connect with today’s world and remain relevant.

Nat’s style, which they describe as “vibrant, complex, and observant,” has led them to expand what they thought they knew about photography, and create visual stories that hinge on the concept of memories and their importance.

"Anslen Kiefer said “memory is my only homeland,” and I find myself moving through the world always looking for ways to keep, remember and preserve memories, people and experiences. In all of my searching, the most effective way I’ve found so far has been my camera."

Nat is looking forward to creating more art and composing more photographs in 2024, especially after a tough past year. They are keeping occupied and always curious as they work on their first long-term project since graduating from NYU in 2022.

Here, Nat reflects on their journey with film photography and prepares for the year to come.

Credits: Nat Segebre

Hi Nat! Welcome to Lomography Magazine! Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

I’m Nat (they/them), and I’m a 24-year-old Colombian-American photographer, visual artist and writer who grew up in South Florida. I currently live in Brooklyn, NY.

I feel like I’m constantly doing 20 different things at any given point but I’ll do my best to summarize how I occupy my time! During the week I work as a social media manager for my full-time job, and on the weekend I work at Photo-Lab NYC, a color and b&w darkroom in Bushwick.

In between those two jobs, I’m also the creative director in a band called Staircase Spirit, I make my own music, and when I feel up to it, I make a YouTube or TikTok video. I’m trying to get back into that.

What is it like living in New York City? What is the creative and film photography scene like for you?

Once you live in New York City you can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love living here, especially at this age. I remember when I first moved here I was intimidated by the city and couldn’t quite get the angle that others had. I didn’t really understand why people loved it so much—it’s a harsh city to live in. Eventually though, and I think every adopted New Yorker can agree, you start to carve out a place for yourself. You learn the subway system, you get to know your neighborhood, and find your favorite local donut shop and bar. When you least expect it, New York City gets its roots tangled in you and suddenly you can’t remember how you lived anywhere else.

I’ve been able to stay involved in the film photography scene mostly because of my job at Photo-Lab NYC, where I’ve been for the past year and a half. Working there has helped me stay in the scene here and meet new artists. I really enjoy seeing local artists’ work and prints.

Credits: Nat Segebre

When were you first introduced to film photography?

The first camera I was ever given was when I was about eight years old, it was a point-and-shoot film camera from my grandpa. As soon as he handed it to me I asked my mom if we could return it because I wanted one of those cameras that showed you the pictures right away. It’s a funny anecdote considering how I am now!

I was first introduced in 2019 through an intro to B&W photography class at NYU, and I’ve been shooting film since then. My teacher’s name was Nancy Barton, and she taught me how to print in the darkroom. I took photos of my friends mostly, which I think is how a lot of documentary photographers start, and I quickly became entranced by the process of developing the film by hand and then making prints from the negatives that I had brought to life. I started with B&W but quickly moved to color.

I remember that for my final project I really wanted to print my photos in color in the darkroom, but I had no idea how and that was typically reserved for people who had more experience. We were lucky to even have it available to us—our little class for non-majors had a color processor while the Tisch photography program that I eventually transferred into didn’t. Anyway, I’ll never forget that Nancy bought me a giant pack of 20x24 color darkroom paper, the biggest format you could buy for color printing, and basically said “Go crazy kid!” She recognized my eagerness to learn and actively nurtured it. I’ll never forget that.

Then during the lockdown in 2020, I began developing my own color film in my bathroom or garage, and started making videos on TikTok and Youtube about the things I was learning. I’ve been eagerly learning and improving since then.

What film cameras do you currently own?

I have a giant bin of film cameras sitting in my parent’s house in Florida, so I can’t even give you a number of how many I have, but my ride or die is my Mamiya 7ii with an 80mm lens, and I’ve used that for the past 2.5 years. The most recent camera I purchased was a Leica M6 and a 28mm Elmarit lens to replace my Minolta X-700 which was my first film camera. I much prefer the experience of shooting with a Leica, but I have to be honest and say my Minolta lens performs pretty close in comparison.

I look for a camera that is light and has a small form factor. I need something that I won’t dread taking out of the house and that will be quick for me to use. That’s why the Mamiya has been my favorite camera to make work with—it’s light, unobtrusive, quiet, and quick. And it has beautiful glass of course. Plus the fact that it’s a rangefinder? Game over.

When did you first learn about Lomography? Can you recall any of your early experiences with our analogue products?

It’s really fitting that my first serious long-form interview is with you guys because the Lomography Simple Use was the first film camera I ever used! I forget how I found out about it, I think it was from a YouTube video. For my first year of college I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, and when I was there I bought it so that I could capture my year abroad on film. I still love the images I captured with that camera—it performs surprisingly well for a camera with a disposable-esque shell! It’ll always hold a very special place in my heart. I shared my review of the camera back in 2020, and that was my first viral video ever! It was the 5th TikTok I ever made, and it got 1.6M views. For a first-time creator, especially back in 2020 when TikTok was just blowing up, that was a LOT!

I’m always keeping up with you guys and watching what new films, lenses, and cameras you guys make. I’ve been meaning to shoot with Fantome Kino 8 again, I love how it performed when I tested it for you guys. I’ve always meant to try Lomochrome Purple too and your other black and white films like Orca and Berlin. As for cameras, I honestly want to try all of your cameras. I love the Sardina, Fisheye and Diana. I wish the Diana F+ had a shutter release socket—if it did I’d try making long exposures with it!

Credits: Nat Segebre

How do you find a good balance between managing the technical aspects of photography and allowing yourself to be more “free” with it?

Even when I was in school I don’t think I ever saw the technical aspects of photography as something that was constricting—I still don’t. For me, nurturing and expanding my technical vocabulary is something that makes me feel more confident and free when I shoot. I can look at a scene that I know will only last a moment and be able to pre-calculate the light and exposure in my head before it’s gone. There was this game I used to play, where I’d ask my friend to point at an object, give me an ISO and then they’d ask what aperture and shutter speed I would use to expose it correctly. I’d give my answer, and they’d check with a light meter. I was usually either spot on, or only a stop or two under or above.

I just love learning and testing the results of my accumulated knowledge—and it was fun for me to see how well I really understood light after being so intimately acquainted with it for the past 5 years. I rarely have to worry about if I got a shot or not, and when I don’t get the shot, I know right away before I even develop the film. Knowing analogue photography intimately like that makes anyone a better photographer, I think. You can’t rely on auto focus or any auto mode to determine what it thinks is right for the scene. You have to look, understand and act—quickly.

Beyond photography, you also create short films, edit videos, work with motion graphics, and write. How do you see all these disciplines converge and inform the kind of visual work you set out to do?

I find that whenever I make videos, I’m drawn to analogue/physical processes and how they can interact with a digital space. I’ve always been interested in mixed media animation for example, and I often incorporate physical things into my videos. I made my first music video for a song called The Bronze Jade by Staircase Spirit, and to make it I shot a couple hours on mini DV tapes and then overlaid and collaged them together to create the video. I think the gravitation towards that type of process is informed by my love for everything analogue.

Credits: Nat Segebre

When studying photographs and composing those of your own, what is the first thing you find yourself drawn to? What is it about certain images that pulls you in right away?

I’m always first drawn to deep contrast and vivid/complex color, whether that be in images that I enjoy or things I pursue in my own work. Besides that, I’m always looking for photographs that capture an ordinary moment or routine in a transformative way. Photographs that, by the shutter being pressed, cement a moment that others would not give a second glance to, but once they’re developed, everyone looks at them in awe.

I remember once I was in the airport with my family in the late hours of the night, and I shot a photograph of some people sleeping on the ground, and I was contemplating photographing the cleaner who was mopping the floors. As I brought my camera up, my brother laughed and called out behind me: “What are you even taking a picture of?”

I think the best photographs are made in moments like that—where the photographer notices and recognizes something that others do not. That’s why the best documentary photographs are so striking to the everyday viewer, I think. People look at it and wonder how life can be captured in such a way, and they’ll ask, “How do you come across these moments and capture them so beautifully?”

A great photographer is always on the lookout, not just for the moments that anyone else would notice as beautiful, but for moments that they know by capturing with their lens, will transform them into something new.

Credits: Nat Segebre

Speaking of color, you mentioned that you’re initially drawn to “deep contrast and vivid colors,” and it’s evident in the darkroom scans and prints you’ve rolled out over the years. Can you share more about your process on how you achieve those specific colors?

I achieve all of my colors traditionally using analogue methods. Whether it's from the film stock I choose, the way I process the film or how I print in the darkroom, every choice is specific for a desired effect. I like using slide film because of its deep contrast and vivid color, especially Velvia and Ektachrome. Some of my photos have heightened contrast and color because I pushed the film, meaning I purposefully underexposed while shooting and compensated during development. Exposing film for minutes at a time, which I often do for my night work, also produces deeper contrast. In general, I stay away from digitally post-processing my images, and I don’t really need to—I make so many conscious choices in the analog process that it leaves little need to adjust a lot in post. The most I do is balancing the contrast and fixing minor color shifts to make the scene white-balanced. A lot of the vibrant colors in my images also come from just being a detailed observer—I’m always looking for how color can play into my compositions.

Documentation and visual storytelling are imbued in your personal and professional work. Through your YouTube channel and website blog, you share and breakdown the concepts, processes, and results of your experimentations and creative works. Why is this way of documentation important to you?

I’ve just always been someone who documents everything. You should see my walls—every available surface is covered in photographs, letters, receipts, etc. I have a crate of notebooks that I keep full of memories and notes, and many digital folders / hard drives of my work and everything else. My iPhone photo library has 175,000 images, and my notes app has 5,000 notes. I’m not joking around when I say that I keep, preserve and cherish everything. I think it’s only natural that I would be drawn to documenting the process and results of the thing that I love most. I think my thesis project, There Is Something To Be Said About The Night, is a good example of that—the book I created documents the entire journey of the project and walks the viewer through my notes and thoughts and things I learned.

Credits: Nat Segebre

You also shared that your Thesis was the first long-term photography project you embarked on. Now that you are currently working on your second long-term project which places Coney Island at the center and forefront of it all, how are you doing things differently? Can you share more about the origins of this project and where it’s headed?

My thesis was very centered on my experiences and process, and I’m trying to move in the other direction with this project. I’m trying to do more outward research and discover new things from the people and places I’m documenting. The project is still in its early stages, but I’m working towards a years-long portrait of Coney Island. The working title is “Signals At The End of Summer,” a nod to the park’s role as a herald of the seasons. So far, the images are more observational, engaging with people and place from a distance. The final product, however, aims to blend research of the park’s history with firsthand image profiles to provide an intimate look into the experiences of long-time attendees, residents, and employees of Coney Island in book format. My goal is to document Coney Island with the time and research it deserves—I think it has an incredibly interesting place in New York’s history and remains as a staple of New York. You can look at Coney Island at any point and tell exactly what time of year it is—it’s sort of like the watchman that signals to us what’s in the air. I think places like that are worth looking into. It’s also just a visually beautiful place to make images.

You shoot on 35 mm, 120, and large format photography, but have leaned more towards the 120 format film. What made you choose this over other formats to regularly photograph with?

First off, I just have to say thank you to you guys at Lomography for actively trying to keep alive the beautiful format of 120 film—it’s my favorite to shoot! I love 120 because it’s small enough that it’s still practical to shoot quickly and on the go, but it’s big enough that it captures a huge amount of detail. It holds such a wonderful place between 35mm and large format. I also love 35mm and large format, don’t get me wrong. I shoot 35mm for more personal work or when I don’t feel like carrying the Mamiya, and I’ll always love the format. One of my favorite images from last year was this photo I made in Fort Worth, Texas, at the rodeo.

Credits: Nat Segebre

You also have experience working with large format and even developing Direct Positive Reversal Prints. Can you share more about your initial experience with it?

That was an experience I’ll always cherish. For those who don’t know, Ethan Moses is a photographer, inventor, YouTuber, creator, and all-around genius who in 2021, created his own 20x24 camera. The camera was made to recreate the infamous 20x24 Polaroid camera that produced 20x24 inch Polaroids. I still remember when Brooklyn Film Camera announced that they would be partnering with Ethan to host workshops for photographers to come try the camera or to be photographed by Ethan. I remember wanting so badly to go but I couldn’t justify spending the money. A couple of days later, I got a direct message from Ethan saying that a buddy of his had shown him my TikTok and YouTube videos, and he loved everything I made. He gave me a call and asked if I would want to come and use the camera for a whole day and shoot whatever I wanted, as long as I made a video about it. I was so honored he asked me and it was a dream come true.

If you’re familiar with how a large format camera works, the 20x24 camera is essentially a 8x10 camera but 1300 pounds heavier. What makes Ethan’s giant camera so special, besides its large size, is that he created self-developing film backs that you can develop the film in. Instead of having to take the film or paper out of the back and develop it in trays, his backs make it possible for you to pour chemicals into them and process the photo by agitating the paper holder itself. Instead of shooting on film, we shot on 20x24 RA4 paper, which is the type of paper used to make darkroom prints. (You can also shoot on darkroom paper with any film camera. Paper and film emulsion are both light sensitive, paper is just less sensitive than emulsion, so exposures typically take longer. Making a darkroom print is actually very similar to taking a photograph, but that’s a whole other tangent.)

The most interesting part of that whole experience was seeing the subjects reflected on the 20x24 in ground glass—their heads were as big as my torso! It was crazy going under that dark cloth and seeing someone’s eye as big as my forehead. It was also so special to use the direct positive reversal process to create them—you watch a black-and-white negative transform into a color positive right in front of your eyes! I had never done anything like that before, and it was an incredible experience I’ll never forget. I know one day soon I’ll be telling people I was one of the few people that used that camera before Ethan and his camera became famous.

Credits: Nat Segebre

You have a growing collection of curated prints and photobooks. Do you have a personal favorite one?

Wow, that's a hard question. I’d say my favorite photobook I currently own is La Calle by Alex Webb. I love how it’s designed, from the book cover material to the colorful paper used to divide sections and interject writing. And the photographs are gorgeous of course.

Why opt to print photographs in the digital age?

Given that we live in a hyper-digital age, I think that’s reason enough to pursue any physical process. Darkroom printing specifically though? I think that process lends itself to bettering any photographer. You become not only more well acquainted with your images, but it makes you a better editor and viewer of your work. When you spend 30-45 min with each image, you learn how to look and discover the best images to work with. I think every photographer, working in the analogue medium or not, should try it at least once.

Credits: Nat Segebre

You’ve shared these two photos as inspired by the works of Moriyama and Rebecca Norris Webb, etc. Are there any photographers, poets, writers, artists, and/or bodies of work that have greatly influenced your overall sensibilities as an artist?

My dad taught me to dream before any writer or artist ever did. He’s the one who introduced me to notable writers, artists, figureheads, etc.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, my dad’s favorite author, taught me how to view the world through the lens of magical realism, and if I were to conceptualize my visual work in a genre, I’d say it’s that.

Some artists and bodies of work that have inspired and influenced my own work also include: (1) Alex Webb's early color work, specifically in Mexico and Florida; (2) Greg Girard’s early color work in East Asia; (3) Todd Hido’s House Hunting (his suburban work at night is what inspired me to start making my own); (4) Joel Meyerowitz’s early color work.

Some other contemporary artists, bodies of work, and friends that I think people should look into:
(1) Carlos Beltran, Se Me Ocurrió De Repente. A beautiful book with photographs of Venezuela paired with the writings of Yadira Silva.
(2) Ken Light’s book Midnight La Frontera. This book strikes me both positively and negatively, but it's hard to deny the beauty of the portraits in this body of work, and it inspires me nonetheless.
(3) Sam Youkilis, Somewhere. The first time I’d seen iPhone photography done so beautifully and the serendipity in human experience captured so well.
(4) Willem Verbeek. Most analogue photographers know him already, but his work always impresses me and his bag company is stellar. Walking Svalbard remains as one of my favorite photographic projects.

If you were a camera, what would you be?

I think I’d be a Diana F+ CMYK camera. I used to dress really colorfully and now I dress in mostly black or basic colors, but I think my aura and personhood is still connected deeply to color.

I think I see the world as Diana sees it—nostalgic, idealized, dream-like—a bit more colorful than others but still realistic.

Credits: Nat Segebre

Anything you’d like to share with the Lomography community?

Five years ago I didn’t know anything about film. Every year since, I’ve dedicated a lot of my time to learning new things and finding ways to improve and expand my knowledge. I hope that by reading this, people see that anyone can learn and become a pro at film, all you have to do is love it enough to want to keep learning and having fun! I’m still learning new things every day.

I’m going to be working on my Coney Island project for the next couple of years with the goal of publishing my first book, so people can keep up with the project on my website and Instagram. If anyone is interested in owning my work, I have 1/1 darkroom prints on my website. Lastly, Staircase Spirit is releasing new music this year and I’m excited about the music and visual media we’ve been creating. You can keep up with the band on our website, which I just re-designed, and our Instagram.

If you made it to the end of this interview, thank you for reading. Now go shoot some film and make a darkroom print!

Thank you to Nat for speaking with us and sharing their film journey thus far! See more of their work on their website, Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok.

written by macasaett on 2024-03-20 #people #medium-format #interview #color #new-york

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