CJ Arayata became a Film Club Member and started shooting film during the pandemic. He recently submitted to the weekly photo contest on Instagram and his photo really stood out to us so we thought we would interview him to learn more about his relationship with photography and see more of his images.
Q: What got you interested in film photography?
A: Even though I’ve been using digital cameras since I was a teenager, I had never messed with film or even disposables or had any idea of what “photography” even was. But film has an air of romanticism with its grain, nostalgia, the physical form, the delayed gratification….all of it piqued my interest but at the same time was extremely intimidating. My partner mentioned that she would be happy to lend me her old SLR so I could give it a shot, but I didn’t really take her up on it until she forced the issue: For my birthday in 2020 she got me a new camera battery for it and a PhotoLounge Film Club Membership which had included 3 rolls of film!
Q: What type of camera do you shoot with and what type of film do you usually use?
A: I started out shooting film on my partner’s fully-manual Nikkormat EL. After a few rolls I found her camera pretty heavy and difficult to use; I felt the technical learning curve of a manual camera was impeding my ability to learn the artistic aspects of how to see. Plus, a camera is no good if you leave it at home. So I switched over to 2000’s “plastic fantastic” dad-cams because of their light weight and ease of use. I’m now using my dad’s old Canon Rebel 2000 along with two Fujifilm digital cameras. As for film, I’ve shot a lot of Fujifilm C200 and Kodak Ultramax 400, but have been trying out B&W and other color film stocks such as Ektar 100. Maybe one day I’ll be confident enough for slide film.
Q: Some of your photos are of groups of people and seem to capture an event or gathering. What does it mean for you to capture these moments on film?
A: Taking snapshots of social events, birthdays and special occasions is something I’ve always done since I got my first digital camera. But these kinds of events became even more monumental during the pandemic for a few reasons. Both myself and my partner are very extroverted, and the inability to see friends and family in the spring and summer months was hard. Further, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, and not being able to spend a lot of time with him before his death was very difficult. Because of all of these circumstances, bringing a film camera to capture these happy moments with friends and family during a time of a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, and looming sadness about the future gives these photos that much more gravity.
Q: Many of your photos are of skateboarders. What do you enjoy about photographing them? What is challenging about it?
A: Along with photography, the pandemic gave me an opportunity to rekindle my passion for skateboarding, and eventually unite and explore the intersection of both interests. I used to skateboard a lot as a teenager, and even though (or maybe because) I was not very good, I used to dream of being a skateboarding photographer or videographer. Getting back into skateboarding as an adult and learning about photography at the same time has given me new intuition and different lenses (both literally and figuratively) for understanding and appreciating the art in both. For example, the background knowledge of how a trick is “supposed” to look when executed with style, gleaned from years of studying skate magazines and videos, has been very helpful in learning how to get the best angles and when to press the shutter. But really, the short answer is I enjoy it because I get to skate with my friends, take cool photos of them doing cool tricks, and maybe most importantly, chase that feeling of nailing the shot that encapsulates and translates to a viewer how cool they feel when they’re actually doing the trick. As for challenges, I am finding mine are mainly practical at the moment: Bringing a camera to the session is one more bag to bring; photo time cuts into my own skate time; my 12mm fisheye lens is a bit wide which dictates getting *very* close to the action; and I don’t yet have an off-camera flash set-up for better lighting.
Q: Many of your photos also have a strong composition. When photographing, what are you thinking before you click the shutter?
A: I appreciate that observation! I’ve been trying to work harder at composition and be more deliberate and aware. I want to dissect your question a little bit and answer it a little differently. I have actually been trying to think less and feel more before pressing the shutter. Feeling when to pull the camera out of my bag; feeling drawn to a certain scene or perspective; feeling the right moment to press the shutter. A lot of the thought comes in later on when it’s time to review my photos. What photos do I like, do my eyes linger on, do I think are “good”? Why was I compelled to take it in the first place? Was it the angles, the light, the colors, the people present, or some combination of all of the above that made it “good”? After this reflection, I feel just a bit more in tune with myself the next time I go out.
Q: Out of all of these photos, which one is your favorite and why?
A: The yellow wall, easily. I was riding my bike home after a skate session and found myself staring at it while passing. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I made a note of the intersection and went back a few days later. I poked around for a few minutes and took a few photos quickly, then jumped back on my bike and rode home, not knowing if any of them were going to be any good. When I uploaded them to my computer and looked at them full-size, this was one of the few times I’ve had a ‘wow’ moment with my own photos. Besides the obvious color in the photo, I love the straight-on perspective, how the one rail lines up with the corner that juts out, and the handrail and ramp angles. It was also a cloudy day which, in retrospect, I am thankful for because I didn't have any shadows to distract from the image I wanted to capture. I also didn’t need to do any cropping or angle adjustment. I don’t actually remember consciously thinking about any of these things when I was shooting; I just executed and fortunately for me, it all aligned. Even though I consider myself to be very much a novice who doesn’t really know what he is doing, this photo instilled self-confidence by making me realize that I am capable of taking photographs and not just snapshots.
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