Jeremiah Watson is an active Film Club Member who mainly captures street scenes. His photos have always caught our eye for their lighting and composition. One of his photos even won our weekly photo contest on Instagram. This week we decided to interview Jeremiah to get to know him more and to share a collection of his images.
PL: What got you interested in film photography?
JW: I trace my interest in film photography back to two desires: A desire to create work that presents the human experience and the design of our reality more tangibly, and also to slow down and practice mindfulness and intentionality.
For me, film tends to be more honest about what’s being observed. It adds a certain weight and depth that I find necessary when documenting the space and time that we find ourselves in now. Film has a familiar texture that is more natural to the eye and I think to the heart as well.
Having started with digital, photography quickly became too mindless, instantaneous, and without much risk. With film, the reasons to take my time observing and piecing together compelling compositions are more clear, and ultimately, it leads me to trust my eyes and gut more (although I still sometimes find myself shooting like a madman). Beyond the craft, it gives me another outlet to practice breathing and patience.
PL: What type of camera do you shoot with, and what kind of film do you usually use?
JW: My go-to 35mm camera is my small, black Olympus OM2n. For medium format, I have my Mamiya 645, which is a beast to lug around in the streets but it’s (usually) worth it. And of course, I have a pair of point and shoots that are primarily used for concerts and trips with friends. I still shoot with a DSLR, mainly for event-based and surrealistic work.
Most of my images are shot on Fujicolor C200 and Fuji Pro 160 NPS. I think they have the perfect blend of grittiness, contrast, and vividness to capture life in Philly. They both feel nostalgic yet don't mask the reality of the moment. For black and white, I lean toward Ilford XP2 Super 400 for its tonal range and admittedly, for its quicker development time since it can be developed in C-41 chemistry. I also like to use Ilford 3200, Lomo Metropolis, Ektar 100 & 25, and CineStill color negative films. I am just starting to explore slide film, so I'm excited to try out even more film stocks.
PL: What do you enjoy about street photography? What is challenging about it?
JW: Observing–street photography allows me to wander and wonder, find questions, challenge my perceptions, and create stories of strangers, though I rarely get close enough to record them in much detail. And therein lies the challenge–getting close. While it is due partially to anxiety, the distance between myself and the subject(s) allows for more context, which is important in storytelling. I do not want to disturb them, which will only lead to capturing their reaction to my disruption. What I want is to show the interaction between people and the world we have built and how we affect each other. So for me, striking the right balance, the right scale, requires distance a good amount of the time.
PL: There is a mix of color and black and white images within this collection. What are some qualities that you like about both?
JW: Color has this incredible ability to activate our senses. If used with intention, it can fully immerse the viewer into the setting. Those senses create context, which for places as historic and dynamic, and maybe as volatile as Philly, becomes essential for understanding the condition of that place and time.
Sometimes putting too many senses to work can muddy the water and prevent us from seeing the heart of the moment. Black and white, when focused on form and design, can provide more clarity to the message. You can’t beat that instant classic look and feel either.
PL: When out photographing, what are some objects or elements within a scene that inspire you to take a photo?
JW: I look to the shape of light and shadow, scale, tones, and angles to piece together my compositions. It's really just shapes and colors.
But to be more specific subject-wise, I look to capture the beauty and dejection found in my hometown's striking yet washed out colors and off-centeredness.
Coming from a marketing background, I am very aware of how much we are bombarded with advertisements to consume and behave in a certain manner, so much so that it’s become second nature to us. I try to capture scenes with signs, logos, and storefronts to make our exploitation more apparent and raise consciousness.
When it comes to people, I tend to focus on them when they are isolated, which sometimes can be one lone person in the frame or a whole group of strangers that seem to be alone in other ways.
PL: Out of all of these photos, which one is your favorite and why?
JW: I love the photo of Camac Street but my absolute favorite has to be the photo of the man walking under the “tunnel” on N. 11th Street. Titled Light Under the Tunnel, what makes this photo compelling to me is its message of what light can bring to a dark place. Anyone who knows this underpass understands how chaotic and unsettling it can be at times, much like the rest of Philly. This man is surrounded by shadow and even he is turning into a shadow. Yet this beautiful light, which seems to be both harsh and soft, keeps him and really all of us from being completely lost. It reveals a beautiful moment that even I missed until now–a man simply enjoying a drink. It captures the essence of Philly and its people–a city seemingly lost in darkness, but with a little light and an open eye, is filled with beauty. Life is found in the small details here.
Every day, Club Members take exceptional pictures. If you are not a Film Club Member yet what are you waiting for? Join today to support the photo community in Philly and to start saving money on film processing!