Thursday, February 26, 2009

Focus On: futurowoman

I've got to tell you -- I love my "job" here on the POE blog. I get to meet and get to know some of the most interesting people around, and we get to talk about photography. I can't think of much better things to do, quite frankly! If futurowoman, a.k.a. Nancy Stockdale, could have her way, she'd probably have an extra set of arms and one more pair of eyes, and perhaps an Airstream trailer to follow her wherever she travels. Nancy is a prolific photographer who has mastered the use of more than several cameras. Read on to find out more about how she juggles all her equipment to create images of things you've probably seen before yet Nancy has made look unique and beautiful -- to make you say, "wow."

Ann Wilkinson: How did you get your start in photography?

Nancy Stockdale: As long as I can remember, I've been an obsessive photo-taker. I got my first camera as a child -- a Kodak Instamatic that took 110 film -- and I've never been without a camera since. However, I did not get serious about photography as an artistic pursuit until the late 1990's. At that point, I had a few online exhibitions, using photos I'd taken with automatic, vernacular 35mm and APS cameras. Then, in 2005, I got my first digital camera, a dSLR by Olympus called the Evolt 300. With that camera, I became an obsessive photographer, particularly of urban decay, vintage details and nature. Having a digital camera allowed me to shoot unlimitedly, and my composition, focus and manipulation of light began to improve. However, shooting with a digital camera reminded me of how much I actually love film, and by the end of the year, I was shooting with a variety of film cameras that are so incredibly different from digital, including the Lomo LC-A, the Holga and the Polaroid SX-70. I've never had any formal training in photography, but by the end of 2005, I began to acquire a following on art-sharing websites, such as DeviantArt, Flickr and LiveJournal. That has transitioned into brick-and-mortar gallery shows, selling prints (at my Etsy shop and elsewhere), and so on. Although I enjoy the ease and fun of digital photography, I am, by and large, an analog photographer who appreciates the otherworldly nature of what happens when light touches film.

AW: Just how many cameras do you own, and which one(s) are your favorites?

NS: I'm not exactly sure how many I own currently, but it's a lot -- around 30! All but three are analog. I do love my sSLR Evolt and my Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoots with their sweet Leica lenses. However, I simply adore shooting with fine vintage cameras, such as my Praktica FX (a beautiful East German camera from 1952) and my Rolleiflex T1, as well as plastic and toy cameras from the past, such as my Fujipet, my Diana, and my Agfa Clack. I also love, love, LOVE my Holgas! I have a few, and I use them for various things: one is my dependable Holga CFN for straight shooting, one of my Holgaroid for instant Holga photography, one is my backup Holga FN in case I want to shoot color and black-and-white at the same time, and my latest Holga is a 3-D stereoscopic cam with a special viewfinder for enjoying the effect!

I'm also a complete Polaroid junkie! My favorite Polaroid camera is my SX-70; it was a perfect camera for the peerless, and now defunct, Time-Zero film. However, I've had good results using other films with it as well, and the optics on that camera are simply wonderful. I also love shooting with my Grandmother's old Polaroid 104 Land Camera, my Polaroid Spectra System SE, and taking pinhole photos using my Daylab Polaroid pinhole camera. To top it off, I'm a Soviet-era Russian camera junkie! My Lomo LC-A is my favorite 35mm camera, and I particularly love to cross-process film shot with that elegant little device. I have several other cameras, too, including a variety of fun toys from cereal boxes and other product promotions, dollar store cameras, other Lomo-company Soviet cameras, a sweet new Black Bird, Fly camera and old Zeiss Ikonta from the 1930's...and the list goes on and on!

AW: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Nancy-the-Photographer?

NS: When I go out shooting, it's often a time set aside just for that -- exploring for photo opportunities. Because I like to take photos of everyday details, I spend a lot of time wandering the streets wherever I am, looking for something to shoot. Once I find it I then determine which camera and/or film seems best for the subject matter. Sometimes, however, an unexpected opportunity presents itself, and you have to do your best with whatever is in your hands. For me, that's the mark of a photographer -- being able to create an image using whatever tools are available, not just setting up a shot using one particular tool over another. I tend to take many pictures whenever I go out shooting, but, if I can get just one that I think is wonderful, then it's been a great day.

Lucky Four Leaf Clovers

AW: There are some photographers who don't use film at all. Perhaps they made a complete switch from film to digital, or they are so young they never experienced using it. how would you recommend someone begin to experiment with film?

NS: I think that one of the key things to keep in mind is that "perfection" is not very interesting. Film, in my opinion, is fascinating because of its potential for changing the reality of the subject and for the flaws it imposes upon the image. I honestly believe that anyone can take a "perfect" photograph given the proper high-end tools and some practice. However, what is interesting to me is the imperfection of film media and the surprises that film delivers. All film stocks are different, and they change the reality of what the photographer sees through the viewfinder, depending upon the optics of the camera, the lighting, the temperature, and the development chemicals. That is exciting and gives film photography an unpredictability that I find exhilarating!

Once a person abandons the quest for the "perfect" film photo, film becomes super-fun! Experimenting with various films, including expired films, and in various cameras allows the photographer to expand his or her repertoire exponentially. A great way to start is to invest in a few cheap cameras -- such as a plastic 35mm camera from the dollar store, a Holga that takes medium-format film, a retro manual SLR with a reliable lens, etc. -- and then just go out there and shoot! Play with focus, aperture, lighting, and give up worrying about "the rules" and see what happens. Film is a blast, so don't be scared! Abandon your ideas about what "the perfect photo" looks like, and I'm sure you'll find that perfection is found in the flaws.

Personally, I think the proof of the appeal of film is the vast number of photographers who use Photoshop and other digital editing tools to manipulate their digital photo in the quest to make them appear like film. I don't have a problem with that per se; I have used plug-ins like Alien Skin's Exposure to simulate various film stocks using digital photos. However, I wish there was more honesty about it. Fake Polaroids are particularly glaring to me. Polaroid artists can always tell the real from the fake, and it's sad to me that people who make fakes don't always come out and admit it.

AW: Do you work in the darkroom?

NS: I do not currently have a darkroom, but I do know how to develop my film, and there are pieces in my Etsy shop currently that I have developed myself. Working with instant films, especially peel-apart films, is as close as I come to photo chemicals these days. However, I've been making plans to turn the extra bathroom in my house into a darkroom, so that may happen in the near future!

Kiefer's Wing

AW: When you travel, how do you make the decision on which cameras to take with you?

NS: I am very fortunate, because my job allows me to travel relatively often. I am a university professor (of Middle Eastern history), and I attend conferences and do research in various places around the USA and the world fairly frequently. I make it a point to schedule photography-time whenever possible. If I'm traveling by car, I can take a large batch of cameras and film with me, but when I'm flying, I am forced to reduce my stash to whatever I can fit in my carry-on luggage. In that case, I make decisions based on a few criteria: (1) What are my favorite cameras? (2) Which cameras seem to fit the location, and (3) How much do I feel like lugging around in that place? Usually, I never leave for a trip without a digital camera (usually my dSLR and at least one lens for it), my Lomo LC-A, and a Holga. Often, my Polaroid SX-70 comes with me, and, if space permits, I'll bring at least one or two others, depending on the place. For example, when traveling in places that are unfamiliar to me, I prefer not to lug around a lot of flashy equipment, such as a dSLR. Instead, a cheap plastic camera, like a Holga, suits me and allows me to blend in and get a feeling for the environment. That being said, I've been known to wander urban streets and country roads with a backpack full of 5 or 6 cameras, films, lenses, etc.!

Thank you Nancy!

A world traveler and self-taught photographer, look for Ann wandering around city streets and tromping through woods and hiking trails with her camera. After owning an international transportation business for many years, Ann has found her creative spirit again through the lens. See more at Ann's shop and her website.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Ann! I am humbled!!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Ann! I am humbled!!!! :)

Hey Harriet said...

Oh what beautiful photography! I'm a big fan. Wonderful feature!

pirata said...

I found her photography on facebook through a friend. She takes incredible photos of Blythe dolls. Cool interview. Thanks!