As part of the Film Photography Day celebrations in April we decided to try and seek out something completely unique and 100% analogue-based to give our readers a burst of inspiration. We found the perfect project from UK-based photographer Tony Kemplen, who has been creating some masterful mixed double photos using three Lomography cameras and one roll of film. We talked to Tony about his work, how attitutes towards film photography are rapidly shifting and what his dream film would be.
Hello Tony, thanks for coming back to the magazine. We're celebrating Film Photography Day this month (April 12th) so tell us in two sentences what film photography means to you?
Film photography has been part of my life for over 50 years, it's one of the ways that I channel my creativity. The self imposed annual challenges that I started in 2010 have helped give a framework to get me through the ups and downs that life throws at you.
Tell us about these amazing photos and the process you went through to create them?
I've been playing with the technique that I call Mixed Doubles for several years now. It involves putting the same film through two or more cameras, so that there are double or triple exposures. I use the simple novelty cameras that have three or more lenses, and tape coloured filters over the lenses. In addition to the Lomography Supersampler, Actionsampler and Pop 9, I've got a Trilogy 3D camera, which has three lenses and I've even got one with 16 lenses, the Kalimar Actionshot. None of these cameras have any kind of exposure control, they all have fixed apertures and shutter speeds, so they need good daylight. I use a relatively slow ISO 100 film, as there's a danger of overexposure if you double or triple expose, but this is largely cancelled out by the light lost with the coloured filters, probably 2-3 stops, so it actually all balances out quite nicely. Even so, I leave a few frames blank on each camera (by covering the lenses while firing the shutter) so that on the finished film there's a mix of double and triple exposures.
With all the frames overlapping, there are no individual negatives as such. After scanning a strip on a flatbed scanner (I've included an example below of what a whole strip might look like before cropping), I make various crops to select bits that I like. With three or four variations on each subject, depending on what is superimposed on them, there are plenty of options to choose from. An awful lot is left to chance, which I like, and it's always quite exciting to see just what superimpositions have occurred. Some parts of the film are more successful than others, and I'm happy to get half a dozen interesting images out of a roll. Even if you only have one multi-lens camera, you could still use this technique by simply putting the film through the camera again, perhaps changing or covering some of the filters.
Any particular favorites amongst the bunch?
I find the the more successful images are those where there are some simple large subjects with more detailed images superimposed, so I generally try to make around half of my exposures quite simple. Traffic lights and other street furniture shot against the sky make good silhouettes, as do large branches of trees. Shooting the occasional exposure into the sun can add a burst of colour as well. I quite like the self portrait with me wearing a bowler hat, the composition looks as though it might have been planned, but of course it was just down to chance.
You must've seen some huge changes in attitudes towards film photography over the years, have any of these changes had an impact on your work?
When photography basically meant film, most people were probably aiming to take “straight” photos, though it has always been a medium to experiment with. Once digital overtook film in terms of resolution, film was freed from the imperative for accuracy, much as the invention of photography freed painters to move away from lifelike pictures and into abstraction. That's an oversimplification of course, but for me it means using film is a recreational activity rather than a chore. I know it's a bit of a cliché, but not being able to see the results immediately does make me slow down and think more about how the image might look, and there's definitely a thrill in waiting to see how it turns out, with plenty of scope for disappointment along the way.
If you were told you couldn't shoot with film again what do you think you would do as an alternative?
Well I suppose I would try using photographic paper, but that would only really be practical with larger cameras, like the many simple box cameras that are still around. I might try experimenting with the various home-brew plant based photosensitive techniques, though these are mainly used in camera-less photography. I guess if the worst came to the worst, I could always convert my cameras into table lamps!
If you were to invent your dream film what would it be and what would it do?
In the 1970s there was a technical film called Agfacontour, this had both negative and positive components, and produced what were called equidensities. These were like contour maps showing light, dark or intermediate tones depending on how much exposure you gave the film. These could then be recombined with the addition of coloured filters to create psychedelic effects. As a teenager I had lots of fun with this film, and it would be good to see a modern version of it available. Of course all that can be done in Photoshop, but where's the fun in that!?
Thanks to Tony for taking part in this interview, you can see more of his film experiments via his Instagram page.