I created this interview series to introduce the film community to photographers that make up the fabric of the community. There tends to be a stereotype cast over film shooters as being middle aged men with caps on their heads and tattoos on their arms. Some call them hipsters, but I have started this series to show that is not entirely the case. As I have shown so far, there are men and women of all walks of life, all ages, and all backgrounds. Hopefully I will be able to continue to prove this even further the more people I can feature.
Today’s interview is with someone you may already know from the Classic Camera Revival Podcast, Canadian native, my surrogate big brother Bill Smith. He is a seasoned veteran when it comes to all things film, and I always love to bend his ear on the subject.
Hey Bill, thank you for joining me today. We chat often so I know a bit about you already, but for those who don’t already know, tell us a little about yourself and your background.
BS Thank you for having me here today Alyssa. For those who don’t know me, my name is Bill Smith, I live in Oakville Ontario Canada which is halfway between Toronto and Hamilton on the north Shore of Lake Ontario. I’ve had a long time fascinaton for photography but I really only got serious about it for the past 20 years and it started with a Canon Rebel XS mom and dad gave me with the subtle hint I was working too hard in my marketing career. I switched over to a Canon AE-1 shortly afterward and it all went downhill from there, this would be around the 2000-2002 period.
I found an online community called the Analog Photography Users Group or APUG.org I want so say around 2004 and finding your tribe was a revelation that you’re not the only one out there shooting film. It was around the same time I joined Flickr and started blogging. When Facebook became a thing, I found the Toronto Film Shooters group and much later on I want to say 2017 I joined the Classic Camera Revival and the rest they say history.
Was it always film photography or did you do digital for a while?
BS I’ve always shot film, the only digital camera I have is my iPhone and it’s not current one. I’m planning to get a new one soon.
Your brother has quite the collection of cameras as do you. Is it accurate to say you have a friendly rivalry going on and that you guys constantly give each other GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)?
BS Yes, my brother Alex is 2.5 years younger than I am, and he took up photography a year later than I did. I wouldn’t say rivalry so much as when it does come to Gear Acquistion Syndrome, we are each other’s worst enabler.
I often jokingly call you my enabler because we have the same taste in analogue cameras and I always somehow end up with any camera you mention. You have a great collection. What attracts you to a camera? What do you look for?
BS That’s a tough question. I tend to be attacted to systems. I started out with Canon FD and then I started buying some Nikon gear here and there. When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he divied up his collection between Alex and I. He got the Leica IIIG, Topcon RE, and a Nikkormat FTn, I wound up with the Nikon F and Leica M3. A few months after dad’s passing, I traded in my Canon FD gear, for more Nikon. and for a few years I shooting Nikon, Pentax Spotmatics, Minolta MC and Olympus OM-1. Canon Returned, a friend gifted me her dad’s Canon FTb, and around 2009 my brother Alex sold me his Canon New F-1 with lens kit. So I was back into Canon FD. I think in the end the lenses attract me along with the thought process put into body design.
That leads me to my next question.
Like myself, I know you have a connection to your late father through film photography. You have several cameras he passed down to you. Tell us a little about those cameras and how film photography helps you to connect with him. Did he teach you how to use cameras growing up?
BS Oddly enough no. My dad gave me my love for Jazz music. By profession he controlled investments in a defined benefit pension fund worth well over $1 billion for his pool of assets for a very large Canadian corporation. By then his hobby was woodworking when not being a money manager. When I got into photography he offered some encouragement and I think his one regret is not giving my brother and I his cameras. Dad in his later years shot with a Minolta Maxxum 5 and the classic stuff sat.
Oh wow. I am surprised. I thought you inherited your love for film from him.
BS Sort of, dad loved making furniture with hand tools. In some ways that love for analog translated. I work in marketing still and my brother Alex is a partner in a global accounting firm, we both live in front of computer screens. Film photography gives something tangable, and the process does take you away from the computer screen, at least for a little while.
Film is your escape the same way woodworking was for him then.
You mentioned that you’ve been serious about photography for 20 years now. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get started in film photography in this digital age?
BS The best advice I would give is find a camera and lens that’s in great operational condition, buy a pile of cheap film like Kodak Color Plus 200 and start shooting, get acquainted with how your camera works. and be prepared to make a lot of mistakes. And just because I’ve been doing this for 20 years doesn’t make me immune from screwing up. I would also suggest, read, a lot, join photographic communities as in finding your tribe, I can’t stress that enough. And push yourself like learning how to process and scan your own film, and maybe learn how to print properly be in a darkroom or with an inkjet printer, there’s nothing wrong with a hybrid process.
Great advice. Those are all things I have been doing since I began a year ago.
I asked the Negative Positives group on Facebook for some questions and Jake Rose asked What is your “desert island” film/developer combo?
BS That’s a good question. I would have to say my desert island film/developer combination would have to be Ilford FP4 and D76 or ID 1+1 (it’s the same developer).
FP4 would be a nice film for that desert sun lol
BS I know other photographers who push FP4 to 400, and the results look great.
What is the best camera you have ever shot with and why?
BS I think if it’s a case of, I’m headed out for a road trip for a week, and i was rocking two bodies, one for colour, the other for black and white, it would have to be my Nikon F2A’s. They were built like trucks and just don’t quit.
You have done several ‘zines of your work, most of which I have purchased and enjoyed. Can they still be purchased and do you have any advice for photographers wanting to make their own?
BS If you’re planning to put a ‘zine together, figure out a theme first. Like your upcoming “From the Car Window” Series or in my case I go by geography with the town I live in and places I’ve visited. If you’re graphic design challenged. Go with Blurb, everything is pretty much drag and drop. If you have In Design experience other publishing platforms might be better for you.
Before we go, are there any projects you’re working on that you would like to share?
BS I do this annual photography retreat three hours north of Toronto near Algonquin Park and I’m slowly working on a photo book from photos of the past seven years. Sadly this year the trip was cancelled due to Covid 19. That and do some more darkroom printing.
I look forward to that. How long have you been printing in the darkroom?
BS I’ve been darkroom printing for 14 years now, and I still consider myself pleasently medicore in terms of talent.
Id love to have an area to serve as a darkroom one day but it seems to be a whole other ballgame from just developing film in my tub and scanning it.
BS You have to start somewhere. It’s a shame there is not a community darkroom anywhere near where you live.
Maybe one day.
Well thank you for chatting with me Bill.
BS It’s been my pleasure Alyssa!
Keep up the good work keeping film alive.
BS You too!
For more of Bill’s work, follow him on instagram and check out his website. If you know someone I should interview make suggestions in the comments below.
Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.
2 thoughts on “A Snapshot of the Film Community – A Chat with Bill Smith”
Great interview. I am enjoying these.
Thank you. I am glad.