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A Parallel Planets piece by Joy Celine Asto
Whattaroll Magazine Staff and Their Film Photography Firsts

There was nothing special about my beginnings in film photography, but I've always been curious about how it all started for my analogue-loving friends. What better way to feed my curiosity by asking some of Parallel Planets' film photographer friends from Whattaroll Magazine?

From the first roll of Fuji Provia 100F slide film I loaded in my Holga 120 CFN. All I had were blurs and misses from my very first rolls, so I must have gotten rid of everything and just started keeping photos starting from this roll. You can probably just imagine the tears of joy streaming from my face seeing this and the rest of the photos from the roll.

Almost six years ago, I found myself thrust into a world that I thought I would never set foot ever again: film photography. Like people around my age (and older), my first forays into photography involved wasting film rolls in simple point and shoot cameras as a child, and back-and-forth trips to the film labs to get my prints. I was a curious kid who patiently waited for the time that my mom would allow me to use her cameras, promising to take care of them and to not waste film. A decade later, I had to work in full manual with a film SLR camera for my Photojournalism class in college, and boy, it was a struggle. At these times, I somewhat learned, but not really liked working with film.

Surprisingly, a few years after my college days saw me intrigued at the sometimes subdued, often over-saturated, and mostly moody realm of what "techy" people typically considered obsolete photography. I also fancied a multi-colored Holga 120 CFN, then a Nikon FE2, then a Yashica Electro 35 GSN, and the list went on and on. So did the film hoarding, experimenting, photowalks, and out-of-town trips. My first few film photos from around this period -- well, let's just say they were poor attempts at blurry/abstract/lo-fi art.

However, instead of blabbering about my own beginnings, hits, and misses captured on film for Parallel Planets' January Juvenilia, let me share with you the film photography firsts of some of our friends from Whattaroll Magazine. As each of them now have their own styles and specialties for shooting film, curiosity led me to ask if their first forays into film photography -- whether the first time ever or the first time in a long while -- were any better than mine.


Photo by Marta Huguet Cuadrado

Whattaroll's Editor-in-Chief has an affinity with portraiture, but she also had her own share of experimenting around before finding the genre and style that suited her. Madrid-based Marta started shooting film around five years ago with a medium format plastic camera which she brought with her to Finland during her exchange student days. "The first rolls were quite disappointing since the transition from digital to film was not easy," she said about her first photos. "Some months afterwards, I needed a hobby to keep my mind busy (heartbreak situations are not easy but sometimes they are useful) and I decided to improve my shooting skills."

Like most photographers who had to acquaint or re-acquaint themselves with the quirks and limitations of film -- especially when going full manual -- part of the challenge for Marta was taking note of her camera's settings before taking each shot. "Since we basically come from shooting digital with cameras or phones, I found it hard to remember to take a look at all the settings before clicking the shutter."

"Learning which film to use for different situations also took some time, and now that I am trying to specialize in shooting portraits, hitting the right focus is not easy," she also said about the important lessons she needed to learn while familiarizing herself with film.

Asked about that single, most important advice she has to give her younger, novice self, Marta says:

"I would say be patient and pay attention to all the details. At the beginning it will be a really slow process but you should not rush. Shooting film is not cheap, so the more careful you are, the better. Some people make notes of the settings they use at the beginning. I am not so good with that and maybe that made me learn a little slower, but if it suits you, it will help you for sure. And once you start nailing the techniques, I’d say try to find what it really fulfills you as a photographer. There’s nothing as rewarding of recognizing what you love."

Visit Marta's Lomography and Instagram to see more of her work.

Photo by Marta Huguet Cuadrado
Photo by Marta Huguet Cuadrado


Photo by Adrian Norbert Cuper

Regular readers might find his name vaguely familiar, as we featured Adrian and his impressive work early last year. Like Marta, the Warsaw-based photographer, who doubles as Whattaroll's Executive Editor, has a penchant for portraiture, and some of the first film photos he took seem to be a preview of this. As with many people who have taken interest in film in the recent years, Adrian's first forays into film began with the purchase of an old analogue workhorse. "I started shooting film a few years ago when I bought my first own film camera – the old soviet Zenit 11," he said. "However, since I'm 90's kid, I was ALWAYS shooting film!"

On his first few snaps with the Soviet shooter, Adrian tells a story that many photographers are probably familiar with when it comes to falling for the quirks of film. "I met with my friend shortly after I bought the Zenit and she told me she has an old film roll in her garret. It was an old black and white roll, I don’t remember the brand. I loaded the roll and stated shooting. People, landscape, detail, portraits – I took photos of everything. Then, I developed the roll in a lab and it was totally scratched by the camera. However, it was then when I fell totally in love with my camera! Those scratches warmed my heart! I still keep this roll in my film drawer."

Learning how to develop films at home has always been one of the things every film photographer strives to learn. This is often considered one of the trickiest and most technical parts of working with film, and therefore comes with a number of harsh lessons, as Adrian found out early on. "The hardest thing was my first bathroom developing. It was total mess! I was like, 'Oh come on! 1 degree more or 2 minutes less…who cares about this stuff?!'"

One can say that Adrian has come a long way with his impressive portraiture today. Looking at the style and mood that he imbues in his photos, is there anything he can say to push his novice self years ago to excel in his chosen genre? He simply says, "Be scrupulous! It pays off!"

Visit Adrian's Facebook Page and Tumblr to see more of his work.

Photo by Adrian Norbert Cuper
Photo by Adrian Norbert Cuper


Photo by Kam Tom Yip

Manchester-based Kam, who is in charge of Whattaroll's Marketing and Public Relations, had a little bit of a head start with shooting film. "I first shot film back when I was in college, so it must have been about 10 years ago, but I didn’t really start shooting properly until a few years ago. I studied graphic design at the time but a section of the course included an introduction to black and white photography. As it was a time before digital, film was all we shot."

The photos here, from Kam's first roll of black and white film during his college days, come with a funny story. "All the pictures were taken in and around Oldham in Manchester, the place where I studied at the time. It was a simple assignment to help familiarize us with the equipment but all I remember was rushing around taking shot after shot, and not really knowing what I was doing! My tutor was very strict and gave us very little time to experiment, so I definitely felt pressured throughout, but the best part was I got to develop and make prints in the darkroom afterwards.

"We were asked to pair up and share an enlarger to make prints from our negatives. My partner wanted to make his prints first and decided to set things up. Assuming no one else was in the darkroom, I walked in the dim-lit room soon after and began talking to him. After a confusing exchange of words, it turned out I’d walked passed my partner and began speaking to a stranger who was also using the darkroom! So yeah, a great memory!"

Like everyone else, technical mistakes and errors brought harsh lessons that taught him how to work with film. But, apart from these, among the things that affected him was the negativity that surrounded his choice to go analogue. "I instantly felt more of an affinity to the processes of shooting film from the start, but as a newcomer and not wanting to be ignorant, I believed I had to listen to my peers. I quickly learnt that if you were new to something, so-called 'experts' were always on hand to give you a piece of their mind, whether you liked it or not. I got really harsh words from friends and even family who thought I was wasting my money and time. I remember feeling really miserable and confused, not really understanding the backlash."

Knowing what he does now about film photography, what does Kam have to tell his beginner self from all those years back? Two things: something bold and something practical. "Don’t listen. It sounds like a cliché, but not all advice is helpful and I wasted a lot of time. Always do you what you want to do first. Besides not listening to others, I’d probably tell myself to invest in buying films than buying cameras. I have a crazy collection of cameras, but without film, they’re as good as pretty paperweights."

Visit Kam's Lomography and Instagram to see more of his work.

Photo by Kam Tom Yip
Photo by Kam Tom Yip
For us who prefer to dabble with film, the photographic medium was, is, and will always be a relentless teacher. While our friends here seem to have fared better than me with their beginnings in film, it was not without some sort of difficulty or obstacle that made everything a lasting learning experience. I'd like to think that it's these challenges that make every photographer's film photography firsts unforgettable.
Please also visit Whattaroll Magazine for more film photography features and interviews, and of course, collaborations with Parallel Planets!


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