Once in a while, a project comes up and reminds us of the unique creative potential of film. Sarah Berglund's project Friend of a Friend, a 252-page mixed-media photobook composed of film photos and journal entries, is one of those projects.
Made between 2019 and 2022, the photobook follows the artist's youth, the years "tucked away quietly", the "things that happened in between", and the conversations written down on paper afterwards in an attempt to make sense of these bygone years.
The photobook was printed early in 2023 with the help of an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign which raised more than twice the initial goal. We talked with the Canadian artist about the project in this interview.
Hi, Sarah! Welcome to the magazine. Can you tell us about yourself, how you started with film photography and why you keep shooting on film?
My name is Sarah. I started using film when I was in high school. A lot of directors I liked shot on film so I found my dad's old Konica and started to figure out how a manual camera works. I kept going because I liked the process. I liked feeling like I was improving at something and being mindful of my attention and decisions.
I liked how present it made me feel. Though it could just be a force of habit now. But there are still more photos I want to make, and I'm still learning a lot about what it means to make images, you know. The curiosity is alive, so that's a good sign.
Which cameras and film stocks did you use for the photos in the book? And what's your current photography arsenal composed of?
Most of the photos were on an Olympus OM series camera and Portra 400, or whatever film my friends gave me. A few are also off an Olympus MJU, but it only made it through a few days out and one party before breaking - the flash was great on that camera though.
I have some others: a twin-reflex medium format, a bunch of digital pocket cameras, and I've really liked using the LomoKino recently for short videos on 35 mm. I also have a Sony A7 III that seems to just sit around until I need it for some video.
Can you tell us briefly about Friend of a Friend? When did you realize you wanted to make a photobook out of your photos and journal entries?
It's a mixed-media photo project I made over three years about my friends, the connections between us, when I was living in Toronto. The book is full of photographs and journal pages and notes from that time. When I was a kid I made a lot of books, just for myself - photobooks and poetry books and graphic novellas.
It wasn't until I saw Kids in Love by Olivia Bee that I realized, oh, this is something you can actually do. So it's been in my mind since then, and it just took finding the right project.
Which aspects of releasing a photobook did you struggle with the most?
Deciding when the final draft was finished was a bit of a process; finding the point where it's exactly what I can do at the time and reflective of the moment, and then just letting it be.
I like having a time limit and a goal to reach, so the fact it needed to be done by a certain time in order to print was so helpful for choosing to call it. I'm really happy with how much time I spent on it, and where it ended up coming to a conclusion though, so that feels good.
What was your initial goal with Friend of a Friend? And did you find it changing/evolving throughout the process?
Yeah, initially it was going to be a collection of 20 or so images of people I met for the first time, on the day we met. I was looking for a reason to get out and practice photography, and an excuse to talk to new people, really. Then some of those people became my friends and I naturally leaned into mainly taking photos of them and things we would do together.
I wasn't really thinking about it being a project then, I was just enjoying life and taking photos of people I loved. Then I moved away and everything took on a new context. I had a clearer focus and this whole collection of photos just sitting around. I started to write a lot more, and that's when I started making it into a book.
Congratulations on the success of your Kickstarter campaign! What was your reaction to the results?
Thank you! Yeah I was so stoked, and a bit overwhelmed in the best way. I ended up being able to print an edition much larger than I originally hoped for, so I felt excited and so so grateful that more people than I thought would get to see it.
On your Kickstarter page you wrote, "taking a photo was an act of devotion - there was no overthinking, just one definitive choice after another." Is this still how you approach photography?
I do, yeah. I mean, I'm trying to pick that statement apart but it still holds up. It's that flow state people talk about, I get that when I'm taking photos. I attribute it to being fully present, one of my friends always says it like that. It's just the act of taking a moment to sincerely notice the world, the person in front of you.
Even when I don't have a camera, I notice photos all over the place and it makes me realize how much I love photography. It gets me out of my own head, lets me be a part of things. That sounds a bit posey, but it's true.
Do you have any tips for anyone planning to make a photobook and share it the same way you did?
Just commit and enjoy the process. If you get hung up, always return to enjoying the process.
Do you have any other projects you'd like to share with us?
Here's the video about the book. Nothing else to share just yet, definitely in the future.