As always with this series, I have been trying to raise up voices in the film community, especially female voices. Today I will be talking to Toronto native Alexandria Jahr.
Hello Alexandria! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
AJ: Hi! Thanks so much for inviting me to do this!
Tell my readers and I a little bit about yourself.
AJ: I was born and raised in the GTA, and after attending school in Waterloo I moved back and am currently living in downtown Toronto. I started shooting film 4 years ago and while it’s just a hobby, I quickly became consumed by it. Despite my dad having a darkroom in the basement of the house I grew up in, I never thought to try my hand at it til I found my grandfather’s Voigtlander Perkeo II. My dad showed me the ropes and so began my obsession!
Does your dad still shoot film as well?
AJ: No, in fact he’s always trying to convince me I’ll change my ways and want a digital camera! No shade to digital photographers at all, it’s just not the medium I love. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an expired film he’s always loved (Portra 160NC) and I’m really looking forward to shooting it together.
I know exactly what you mean when you say even though it is a hobby, film photography just consumes you. What do you think it is about film that draws you to it in such a digital age and becomes such an obsession?
AJ: I consider myself a recovering perfectionist, and my journey in film photography has been really empowering in allowing me to get away from that mindset. With film, there’s a certain number of variables you can control, but ultimately you get what you get and it forces you to accept the imperfections. I also fell in love with the manual process – shooting vintage gear without many features (I started with a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 518/16) forced me to slow down, be mindful, and be present, especially when limited to 12 frames on a roll. Not to mention the patience us film photographers need – strangely enough I love the delayed gratification.
Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I think in this day and age, slowing down and actually thinking about the photo you are about to create is a nice change.
One very personal decision I think each film photographer makes is their weapon of choice; which camera they will primarily be comfortable to shoot with. Some say their gear is second to their work, and others are all about the experience. What is your favorite camera, and what is your view on camera gear?
AJ: Great question! I can’t say I’ve never had GAS, but I do prefer a more minimalist approach to my gear. And I’ll admit, my choices are driven largely by aesthetics and not necessarily enough research into what the best gear is. My favourite would have to depend on the subject matter (and they’re my babies, I can’t bear to choose!). I chose the Nettar because it was similar to the Perkeo (which remains part of my dad’s collection). I shot that exclusively for almost 3 years. I loved being limited to 12 shots, a fixed lens forced me to work more to find my shot, and the fact it is fully manual allowed me to learn the more technical aspects of photography. Next was my Canon AE-1, and I loved having 36 frames to really explore creatively and further develop my own style. An SLR with built in light meter was a dream and I love travelling with it. I fell in love with my Bronica ETRS because of the sound. When the mirror snaps up and the shutter clicks? Pure magic.
My collection continues to grow but those three are my desert island cameras.
AJ: I realize as I answered that question I may not be as minimalist as I once was! C’est la vie.
Haha well compared to me, you are.
I think, especially in film photography, you never stop learning. Is there anything you are still working on in your skill set?
AJ: Oh, everything!! There is so much I don’t know, and I tend to be in the habit of learning just enough to allow me to dive in and start making mistakes. Lucky for me, the film community is amazing and there has been no shortage of inspiration or resources to learn from, so I’m really thankful for everyone who’s helped me along the way.
One thing I’m trying to focus more on are portraits – proving to be a little tricky during the pandemic of course. But there’s something so powerful about a well captured portrait – the potential for honesty and emotion and storytelling is incredible. This year I started to print in the darkroom and am so excited to continue learning more about that. It’s an amazing feeling to have control of the whole process and I will never tire of seeing an image come to life on paper.
Thats great. I hope one day to have a little dark room myself. It makes the process feel complete.
As a female I am sure you’re aware that the film photography community appears to be very male dominated. We are out there, just not elevated as much. Why do you think that is and how have you navigated in this situation?
AJ: It absolutely is, though I can’t say for certain why. As I imagine a lot of women relate, having a public social media profile (where I post the majority of my work) can attract unwanted attention, and I approach a lot of interactions with cautious optimism. That said, I’m lucky in that I have found the film community, in my experience, to be a respectful, inclusive one. I have also been able to meet a number of female photographers through Facebook groups and Instagram, and it’s been really great to connect and encourage each other.
I saw on your website that you have traveled all around the world. The Inca trail looked amazing. Which place would you say was the most photogenic, and did you face any unique challenges shooting film in other countries?
AJ: I’ve been very fortunate with how much I’ve been able to travel. The Inca Trail was incredible, and I’d love to go back some day – the Sacred Valley makes for some stunning landscapes. Vietnam has been my favourite so far. It had everything I love to photograph – historic architecture, breathtaking landscapes, vibrant culture and food, and beautiful, kind people. Luckily the only challenge I faced was my own doing – forgetting to pack a spare battery and losing out on a day of shooting in Ninh Binh.
That sounds amazing.
I love your projects Talk With Your Hands and Sense of Self. Can you tell us a little bit about your thought process behind those projects?
AJ: Thank you so much, that really means a lot. Sense of Self wasn’t initially intended as a project – it started taking shape and as I realized the impact it was having on me I became more deliberate in completing it. I never used to mind being photographed, and in the right circumstances enjoyed it – at one point in my life I wanted to pursue modelling. But in the past few years, particularly coming out of a very unhealthy relationship, I realized I had become uncomfortable with being seen, being vulnerable. It’s been a journey of self discovery and self love, of returning to the same place and seeing how much you’ve changed. It’s celebrating vanity and vulnerability and imperfection.
Thats a really beautiful form of self expression.
AJ: Talk With Your Hands was my first project I planned (then threw away all my notes in a moment of imposter syndrome, then planned again) and was deliberate with. I’m Bipolar II, and I used to bite my nails and pick my cuticles ’til they bled. At any time you could tell the state of my mental health by looking at my hands. It really got me thinking about appearances – the stories they tell and the assumptions we make about others.
It will be taken all on one camera, one film stock, one developer, and ultimately printed in my darkroom and made into a book. I’d love to submit it to a gallery one day but that seems to be a long way off. So far it’s been an incredible experience, sitting with my subjects and having them share a part of their lives with me
Thank you for speaking out about that. I think it is very important to do so.
AJ: I couldn’t agree more! Mental health is so important.
And so overlooked.
Are you working on any projects at the moment or planning anything for the future?
AJ: Talk With Your Hands is ongoing (though postponed), I have a list of subjects I’d like to shoot and am always open to adding to the list, especially if the project resonates with someone. In the meantime, printing the shots I’ve already taken. It’s nice to have different elements of creating involved in the project to shift my focus to since the pandemic has limited my ability to shoot in close quarters. Otherwise just the endless task of archiving my negatives, and hopefully putting together a zine!
Well, thank you again Alexandria for chatting with me. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.
AJ: Thanks so much for inviting me to chat – this has been awesome! Looking forward to seeing yours as well.
For more of Alexandria’s work, follow her on Instagram.
I hope you’re enjoying this series of interviews. If you know of someone in the film community I should feature let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.