Josh Mueller is a Film Club Member who currently has photos featured in our third annual Best of the Year exhibit. We really loved the images he submitted to the show so we decided to get to know him better and share a larger selection of his photos with the community. Scroll down to see it all!
PL: What got you interested in film photography?
JM: After shooting digital exclusively for a few years, I started shooting film completely by chance. Last fall, I happened on an old kit for $25 at an estate sale and decided to take a gamble on it. I don’t think I’ve touched my DSLR since. Beyond being completely hooked by the suspense of seeing a new batch of scans, I really love how the physical constraints of film (limited number of exposures and fixed ISO) force me into a more deliberate process. Every shot feels like it counts, which I think suits my style of photography. I love shots that feel quiet and still, and I’ve really started to appreciate how slight “imperfections” that come with limited exposures can actually enhance the sense of immediacy of a scene and subtly highlight how much has to go right (place, time, technical decisions, etc.) in order to get something worth keeping.
PL: What type of camera do you shoot with and what kind of film do you usually use?
JM: My trusty estate sale salvage is a Canon AE-1 with a stock 50mm lens - it’s a no-frills workhorse. I don’t think I’ve shot the same film stock twice at this point, so I’m still figuring out what I like. I’m often drawn to light and shadow, so it’s been satisfying to tinker with different conditions to get the right level of contrast that I’m looking for. For example, the photo of the spotlight on the red door (I’ve gotten in the habit of naming all of my photos when I post them - that one is called “slot light”) got me started hunting for reflections on sunny days all over the city so that I can shoot them at narrow depth of field with a fast-ish shutter speed on slow iso film. I love the crisp, almost artificial effect produced by that particular approach, and I think it’s a fun complement to some of the more classic washy stuff that’s so fun to shoot at broader depths with less pronounced contrast (I’m thinking of the table in front of the glass block wall - “quotidien pane” - and the dry cleaner - “urban fabric”).
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?
JM: I don’t have a lot of experience shooting black and white, so it has been really fun to see how much of a range you can get out of your images by choosing different contexts and approaches. For example, even though I shot them on the same roll, the high-contrast cityscape (“lamp chop”) couldn’t be more different from the hazy bridge and canal scene (“route branch”). With color, I’ve lately been interested in spotting scenes with a really limited palette to see how much I can squeeze out of them. The motorcycle (“tired exhaust”) genuinely stopped me in my tracks and practically shot itself. The gravesite (“aerial burial”), truck driver (“plumb tree”), and rusty car (“parking meeter”) follow the same principle and now I’m keeping my eyes open for similar compositions to see if I can build a series out of each.
PL: Some of your photos seem to capture street scenes. What do you enjoy about this type of photography and what is challenging about it?
JM: One aspect of street scenery that is important to me but doesn’t necessarily show up in the photography itself is the peaceful buzz I get from going out on long walks around where I live or travel. I started shooting in earnest during the early part of the COVID pandemic when streets were empty, so it was a bizarre and humbling experience to try to tell stories using images that didn’t have any direct signs of life in them, but that routine definitively shaped my style. I think “solving” the puzzle of making something interesting out of scenes without people, animals, or some sort of natural subject is really satisfying - it’s gotten me to think more about how our decisions to build, destroy, maintain, neglect, or otherwise modify our environments create new possibilities after we’ve moved on from the site of our action. Sometimes it’s fun to shoot pretty shapes and colors too!
PL: Very few of your photos include people. Is this an intentional choice? If so, why?
JM: At this point I think it is, though I’ve recently been playing around with ways to fit people into scenes to complement the setting. As I mentioned, I started out shooting quiet streets so that created a little bit of momentum, but I really committed after a friend bought me a Stephen Shore book. He has a few series, Uncommon Places and Transparencies in particular, that just completely changed my outlook on what could be desirable in a photograph. He has a few shots that are just so matter-of-fact yet precise that they almost hum when I stare at them. It made me want to shoot things more “boring” - I mean that as a genuine compliment. Every time I look back at my own photography, I think I need to go even simpler and more direct. I’m not there yet.
PL: Out of all of these photos, which one is your favorite and why?
JM: I don’t think it’s necessarily my best shot, but I’m really intrigued by the empty store space (“split level”). Everything points to the mirror in the back, which does more the more you look at it - the cart is reflected strangely and the box next to it shows up in the reflection but not in the room, I don’t show up in the reflection even though I shot it straight on, and the joint of two glass panes that I shot through chops the room in half right down the mirror. Reflections and not reflections - satisfyingly off putting. I’d like to shoot more like it.
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