Portrait photography is an artistic two-way street, as film photographer and community member Xavier Williams (@oldmanzay) underscores. Great portraits convey a subject's individuality and make us viewers feel a certain connection. It starts with the subject, who consciously decides which layer of themselves to present, and the photographer, who creates the mood and atmosphere to bring out their subject's personality.
Aside from that is the whole practical team effort of making a photoshoot work. We asked Xavier about his experience shooting with the Lomography Redscale for a portrait session with friends, and he gave us insights on the film photography community around him, and what it takes to bring out intimacy and connection through portraits.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, how and when you got into film photography and what keeps you interested in it until now?
To begin, I am a Panamanian Jamaican born in Inglewood, California and have resided in Orange county and the Inland Empire. So basically I'm Cali to the bone! My name is Xavier Williams and I am 27.
With the help of Urge Palette in Riverside, my friend Ugo and I are able to sell film cameras and polaroids through them. I got into film photography in 2016 when I officially started shooting. One of my best friends Ugo sold me his Canon Rebel XT as my very first camera. He showed me the ropes but ultimately told me to go out in the field and get it in.
The only way to get better is to keep shooting. So, through one of my jobs at the community center in Eastvale CA I began to learn more about cameras, etc. Yet that same year I was on the bus to Riverside CA and I left my camera on the jawn! I was devastated. Then Ugo, who had already begun shooting film, told me, “aye if you really wanna be a shooter and level up and shoot at the best quality with THE most risk, shoot film”.
He showed me prices and what was needed. Saw his first roll of film and it was MAGNIFICENT. After that I was sold. We went on eBay. He was shooting with a Nikon FE at the time so I was like, “yeah”. Nikon has interchangeable lenses and the quality was superb. But I wasn’t trying to get the same camera as him, so I went with the Nikon FA. My most loyal 35 mm. I will never not shoot with it. That's how much it means to me (P.S. I’ve gone through three FA bodies since I began shooting film).
What truly has kept my interest in film is the thrill of getting a roll back and experiencing shooting new stocks of film I have never heard of or haven’t had the chance to shoot yet. So many outcomes and possibilities along with color! And an added plus is meeting hella dope folk who also believe in film.
What kind of photos do you like taking?
People often ask what photos do I like to take and I still to this day cannot fully answer the question. I just love to shoot, you feel me? Some days I have moods that I do not want to photograph. But at the end of the day I'm shooting with whatever I can!
What are your favorite film stocks/cameras to use?
I’d say my favorite film stocks are Lomography Redscale, LomoChrome Purple, Fuji slide films, Silberra, Kodak Ektar 100, Ferrania p30. Favorite cameras to use are Nikon FA and Fujica GS645 Pro. I’ll die ‘bout those two.
How were you introduced to Lomography?
I think it was either my hawmie Ugo or Adrian who shot Lomography Redscale then I saw and was on it, but I can’t remember.
And how was your experience with the Lomography Redscale? What was your reaction when you saw the results?
My last experience with Redscale was immensely memorable. My homegirl Kayla who is a creative director/stylist hit me up wanting to get a shoot curated by her. At the time I had zero rolls of film left, only some 120 slide film and I broke my Fujica earlier this year, and we all know the price of film right now. I was fasho out of the game! Had to summon my hawmie Adrian and he had a roll of Redscale sitting on ice strictly for me since he knows I love that stock so much.
The shoot was in Downtown Los Angeles, my homegirl Kayla rented out a space and brought along her hawmies who were Des and Jenny, the model and makeup artist, respectively. I also had my hawmie Aston be first assistant and he provided our lighting.
My reaction when I saw the results made me feel so good. I hadn't been shooting like that all year and it felt extremely nice to deliver and help out my friend. The grain and color shift along with the outfits, makeup and communication made it more organic–some of the things I truly love about shooting. And everyone enjoyed the flicks.
So when I saw the flicks I was thinking “Yoooo we did that shiet!”. Would not have been possible without all parties that were in that room, and for that I am thankful.
Do you have any tips for anyone planning to go into portrait photography using film?
Tips I’d suggest while shooting portrait style are to find someone you genuinely want to photograph. Someone you can form a connection with or already have one with. Pick film stocks that correlate with skin tone. I cannot stress that enough. For example I chose Redscale because I knew the colors and or shift of them would pair well with my models’ skin tone.
Communicate effectively and always ask your subject if they're cool with an idea you have and ask them for creative input. This ain't a one-way street. It is not a solo journey. You are connecting with another human being, don't be weird just be cool and always make them smile. I love making people laugh and then pressing that shutter. Gives that real art raw feel.