Member Moment: Thomas Rainow

Film Club
Thomas Rainow is a Film Club Member whose work was recently featured in our Member Show Seasonal Reflections: Winter. We were impressed by the photos he submitted and decided to interview him this week to get to know him better and to learn more about an ongoing project he is working on titled “Sublime.” 

Black and white photograph of two people painting overlooking the coast

PL: What got you interested in film photography? 

TR: I’ll have to confess: my twin brother William, out of the blue, purchased a film camera about a year ago and got me hooked. He gave me my first roll of film to shoot through, and since then I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about both the art and the medium. I never considered myself a photographer prior, and thanks to him I’ve enjoyed this hobby. 

Photograph of two people on a beach

PL: What type of camera do you shoot with, and what kind of film do you usually use?

TR: I still consider myself a beginner, so I’m still exploring the many types of films and cameras. My main tool is a Canon F-1, which was my first camera and feels effortless to shoot through. I love that it’s independent from electronics and like a little swiss watch, so cool! And recently I’ve been exploring medium format through a borrowed Hasselblad 500CM. In terms of film, for color I mainly shoot Kodak Ektar as I love the depth of colors it renders (perfect for California, my home state), and for monochrome I move between Fuji Acros and Kodak TMAX. I’d say I prefer a lower speed film due to the California sun!

Photograph of a beach between two rock cliffs

PL: Can you tell us more about your project? What is it about and what inspired you to explore this subject? 

TR: My project focuses on the Romantic ideal of the sublime, this feeling of grandeur and amazement at the world around us. And as I dove deeper into photography, I wanted to communicate this emotion through the California landscape. I’m lucky to be surrounded by vast scales of nature in the golden state, and while I study in Philadelphia, I wanted to celebrate different landscapes in relation to subjects, expanding past California to include my new home in Philly. For me, this project reflects my relationships with my surroundings, as I capture my own diminutive scale to the world around me. 

Photograph of person paddle boarding in front of colorful houses on the coast

PL: Out of all of these photos is there one that you feel really exemplifies this project? If so, which one and how do you feel it achieves this? 

TR: I think my latest photo in the group, the color photo of the gazebo, exemplifies this feeling of sublime. The square format frames the structure well, and the grand size of the setting is juxtaposed against the subject sitting beneath. To me, this image portrays this amazement with both the water around and the architecture within which the person sits, and the late-afternoon sun gives a calm, saturated look to the colors. Visually, it’s exactly the sentiment I was going for. 

Photograph of a floating pavilion off of a dock

PL: Many of your photos include people. Do you enjoy capturing people? Is there anything challenging about it? 

TR: I definitely enjoy capturing people. When I first started out, I focused on landscapes, and while I enjoyed the aesthetics, I wanted to push myself to think about framing more intentionally. Personal subjects allow me to add more depth, but certainly come at a challenge. The main difficulty, especially with this project, was to balance sharpness: facial and human features, in my opinion, look best at a more open aperture to smooth features, but the landscapes benefit from a stopped-down depth of field. To effectively manage this, I would either keep a distance from my subject, or choose one over the other, defining either a very sharp or very soft overall image. But overall, capturing people is great - my friends love to pose!

Black and white photograph of two people looking down a New York City street

PL: As you continue to work on this project, is there anything that you would like to try or do differently? 

TR: I definitely want to incorporate more city scenes. I’ve taken many of these pictures in beautiful nature, but I also want to underscore the human subject within a manmade environment. I think, traditionally, the sublime has reflected a fascination with nature, and I want to revert this stereotype to include Philadelphia’s beautiful skyline, or Manhattan’s Upper West Side, or DC’s neoclassical downtown. Hopefully I can take this project to the streets!

Black and white photo of person looking upwards towards tree branches

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