Jesse Sullivan is a Film Club Member whose work was featured in our Member Show Seasonal Reflections: Summer. The image they submitted caught our eye so we decided to reach out to them to see a larger group of their photographs. Scroll down to see more.
PL: What got you interested in film photography?
JS: I have always enjoyed photography, both a medium of fine art and as a means of capturing the moments of my life. In the early pandemic, when everything was being turned on its head, I bought a disposable camera on a whim. I found I loved the aesthetics of real film, and more than that I appreciated the care and waiting that comes with shooting on film. I couldn’t just take a million pictures to be viewed immediately and saved on the cloud. I had to think and wait and savor the process. Since 2020 I have been expanding my range of film and cameras, bringing a little automatic film camera with me everywhere I go, ready to capture whatever catches my eye.
PL: What type of camera do you shoot with, and what kind of film do you usually use?
JS: I have a small handful of different film cameras I use. I admit I prefer cameras with everything automated – that way I can focus on arranging the composition or quickly capturing the moment. The camera I bring with me everywhere is a small Chinon Pocket Zoom. I also have a Minolta Dynex 300si SLR camera. I got both on ebay for under $30. For color film I typically end up getting Fujifilm 200. The black and white film I get is whatever random rolls happen to be on sale when I’m checking out.
PL: There are a mix of black and white and color photos within this collection. What are some qualities that you like about both black and white and color film?
JS: In many respects I am a maximalist, so removing anything – such as color – doesn’t come easily. However, in the way that I appreciate the singularity that film photography captures (as opposed to information-saturated Live Photos), I realize that I appreciate the sparsity that comes with black-and-white photography. By removing color, elements of form and texture often come to the foreground. Still, I think my favorite ratio to shoot is 75:25 in favor of color film. I keep on telling myself that one day I’ll just manually view a whole roll of color film in black-and-white, though I have yet to actually do that. Color is just too beautiful.
PL: These photos capture a variety of subjects from nature and street photography to portraits. How would you describe your style of photography? What do you like to take pictures of most?
JS: I like to think I have a fairly developed eye which unites all my favorite work under a unifying umbrella. Outside of photography I am an art historian, so my job involves taking aesthetics seriously. I think a lot about elements of design – form, color (if applicable!), line, texture etc… For my photography that is divided in two parts: the first is while taking the picture, the second is when I’m looking back at the developed film. I don’t find that my underlying approach is very different no matter what subject matter I am shooting. In fact one of my favorite aspects of photography is in post-production. I don’t tend to edit my photos very much if at all, but occasionally cropping a photograph can make a monumental difference. I try to vacillate my eye between looking at a photograph for its content and for its composition.
PL: Some of your photos within this collection capture people. What do you like about photographing people? What is challenging about it?
JS: The majority of the pictures I take are of people, especially my friends. One of my favorite elements of photography is its ability to solidify moments in time – creating links to memories that I might have forgotten. When photographing my friends I am often less concerned with formal elements of style in the moment of clicking shoot. When I get my film developed I am viewing it in a twofold manner – of social and aesthetic. The majority of my film is fun and silly and only very interesting to the people in the pictures. But in every couple of rolls there is a picture that I think transcends that personal realm into a more universal space of aesthetics – something odd or unusual that prompts the viewer to see the photograph as both a document of an individual or individuals and as an aesthetic composition.
PL: Out of all of these images, which is your favorite and why?
JS: Oh no I don’t know if I can choose! Just selecting the photographs I submitted was difficult enough. I guess my silly favorite is the one with the file name “8,” of the squirrel in the tree. It has an element of humor that I appreciate, while maintaining formal elements of composition. This is a good example of how important cropping can be. Turning it into such a forcefully vertical image encourages the viewer to make connections with hanging scrolls and in turn take its elements of design more seriously. To me this photograph has similarities with Chinese hanging scrolls like Ma Lin’s Quietly Listening to Wind in the Pin from the Song Dynasty and Japanese Rinpa painting like Red and White Plum Blossoms by Ogata Korin.
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