For long-time friends Toby Mason and Hodaka Yamamoto, not even the lockdown can stop them from creative collaboration. These two iconic lomographers (you probably know them as @fotobes and @hodachrome) have been doing film swaps since 2012. This year proved to be the most challenging, but they continued the tradition and agreed to prioritize safety above all. Read about their process and learn some tips from these masters, should you want to try film swaps with a friend.
First of all, hello to both of you! How is the situation in your respective countries?
Toby (@fotobes): I live in Brighton, in the UK. The lockdown has been eased, and pubs and restaurants are now open – some normality has returned. But there are also localized lockdowns, and there is unhappiness with how the government is dealing with the pandemic - the number of cases and deaths has been high. Plus unemployment is rising. There is the possibility of more travel quarantines too. So, whilst there is a slightly more relaxed atmosphere, there are a lot of concerned people here.
Hodaka (@hodachrome): Hello! I live in Gifu in the central part of Japan. In my country, the lockdown without legal enforcement has been lifted nationwide, and economic activities are now gradually resuming. But the second wave of COVID-19 is rapidly coming and we are facing big challenges between economic activities and prevention of infection. About my photo activities such as photo workshops or exhibition activities, I have just recently restarted but they are carried out with various restrictions.
How did you plan this film swap?
Toby: Hodaka and I speak quite a lot online - we have known each other for over 8 years and have worked on different film swap projects over that time. As the pandemic took hold, we spoke with each other to see how things were in our respective countries. We shared stories of what lockdown was like (and what drinks we were enjoying!). As we were both unable to get out much or travel at all, we thought that it would be interesting to work on film swaps that documented our close environments, and lockdown experiences. In some respects it allowed us some of the fun of travel, whilst confined to our hometowns.
Hodaka: My friend Toby and I talked about this filmswap during the lockdown. It was clear that the situation around us is not an easy, and that there will be many limitations (location, time, methods and etc.) for shooting. However, we decided to go ahead with this project because we felt that there must be something we could do even in such kind of situation. There was no detailed discussion between us as usual on how to shoot but we only confirmed that compliance and safety are the top priorities. Since 2012, Toby and I have tried filmswaps many times, with changing films, techniques, and method of developments each time for getting something new. And the results have always been fresh and meaningful. But this lockdown filmswaps might be the most challenging for us.
Were these photos taken during the lockdown?
Toby: Yes – we started shooting early in lockdown (March/April) and finished as lockdown began to ease, in June.
Hodaka: Most of photos were taken during the lockdown, but some photos (which I took of a kimono woman in Japan) were taken before lockdown.
What camera and film did you use for this photo set?
Toby: Each time we have done film swaps with each other in the past, we have challenged ourselves to do things differently. With the 3 films that we shot, I used an LC-A+ or my Olympus OM10, whilst Hodaka used an LC-A and a Canon EOS. Using different cameras created challenges for alignment and exposure, but on the whole it worked well and helped to create images with some pleasing depth of field, tone and detail.
Hodaka: I used Lomo LC-A+ for two films, and Canon EOS series for one film. Lenses of EOS are 24-75mm zoom lens and 100mm macro lens. I heard Toby would use Olympus OM10 so I expected an interesting fusion with different cameras. The films we used were Lomography CN100, Fuji Superia100, and Kodak E100VS (for cross processing).
Do you have any interesting stories or trivia behind these photos, or during your shoot?
Toby: The first film that I shot was in Brighton, when we were in the middle of the very tight lockdown. We were allowed out only for a short time each day for exercise. It was really interesting, but eerie to shoot the empty streets of Brighton, and I took some shots of my wife Jess, and younger son Felix walking on, and sitting in the roads which would usually be filled with life. There are also some shots from my side of early morning bike rides that we did to watch the sunrise. Whilst we had so much freedom taken away from us, occasionally we would set our alarms for 5am, and cycle to the seafront to watch the sun come up. It gave us a real feeling of adventure! We loved seeing the images from the Japan layers coming through, and the project gave us a real sense of togetherness.
Hodaka: I got some discoveries through this project. The most impressive thing is the re-realizing of the natural beauty just around my home. The subjects I shot were mainly flowers and other nature near my home, and there were no artifacts or snaps. I couldn't capture cool, striking and attractive subjects because of under such severe situation. I expected the results to be a bit plain and ordinary. However, the small spring flowers that I shot in a park where I visited during a walk for exercise and in a quiet and safe place where I stopped by while shopping for daily necessities were very common and familiar ones, I shot them carefully and patiently the result came out dynamic and attractive. This was a small and big discovery for me. This reminds me of getting back to the basic of my photo policy "facing nature", and it was meaningful that I was able to have that feeling again in this period.
Film swap can be very tricky for beginners. Sometimes, they’re over- or under-exposed, or the images become too messy that you can no longer see the details. Do you have any tips for newbies?
Toby: We are careful about marking up on the films with pens to show exactly how a film should be loaded, to ensure that the frames are lined up. Sometimes it's tricky and fiddly to do, but it's really worthwhile taking time and care over this. Exposure can be difficult, especially when using different cameras, and also not knowing the conditions for the other layer of images. So my advice would be not to expect a roll of perfect results, but keep shooting and enjoy the ones that do turn out well. Sometimes the nicest film swap swap images are those that don't contain the best individual images, but when combined some sort of alchemy occurs!
Hodaka: There are several points to a successful filmswap. Not only about filmswaps with other users but also about self-filmswaps, the most important thing I think is the balance of exposure. Basically, each shot should be a bit under-exposed (minus 0.5 to 1) from the proper exposure. If you missed the result might be over-exposed. But if you use negative film you don't have to worry too much about it because of its wide latitude. In addition, make sure to mark up on the tip position with pens when loading the film to align the frames, and make sure that the film is not bent but well tensed. Swap partner can refer to this position to load film, and the frames can be aligned as much as possible.
Furthermore, what I keep in mind when trying filmswaps is the proportion of shadow areas. Whether it's the first layer or the second layer, I always try to keep some dark areas in the frame, hoping bright image of the swap partner will be well overlapped on the dark area. The success rate of filmswaps is not very high because the result depends on lucks. In my experience I think it's important to do it for getting as higher success rate as possible. Except for the technical side, for better results, I think it's better not to put all your energy into the frame but to take relaxed shots without too much stuff. If you put too much the result may be messy.
There are so many things going on in the world, do you have some encouraging words for Lomographers during these challenging times?
Toby: It has felt at times in the past few months that the world has become smaller, as we have been confined to our homes and towns. But the film photography community is generally such a friendly and welcoming one. We are all in this together, and there are lots of lomographers who can offer support, or would be happy to try a film swap. So, keep sharing stories and photographs on the Lomography site, or ask some of your contacts on there if they would like to try a film swap with you. It could be the start of your own adventure!
Hodaka: It is not easy to enjoy photography to the fullest now. We are limited to what we can do as photo enthusiasts under this harsh situation. But I believe there is still so much we can do. Toby and I had many new discoveries through this lockdown filmswaps. We were not able to take photos anywhere and whenever we wanted, but we were able to use our ideas and use a variety of cameras and films to create interesting results. I hope you Lomographers will enjoy photography as much as you can in the situation you are in now. There must be new discoveries there. And let's share the story about your photos with us. And please be careful when shooting. Make safety first and enjoy photography!
Thank you, Toby and Hodaka for sharing your quarantine project. To see more of their photos, visit their LomoHomes: @fotobes and @hodachrome, or their websites https://fotobes.com and https://www.hodachrome.net/.