Film Is Not Dead

Interview by Brodie Lancaster, Photos by Greta Parry

Full disclosure: this interview with Melbourne photographer Greta Parry may not be totally unbiased. Considering how much I love and admire both her and her work with medium format photography, you could even go so far as to say it leans pretty far in her favour. There, I’ve said it. I feel better now, don’t you?

Greta has a lot to say about film photography, and much of that has been expressed at great length on her blog, over the past three years. She can tell you what makes a good shooting situation (genuine love and emotion, happiness and a few novelty drunkards), and a good portrait (still, honest, candid subjects). She can explain ad nauseam what she loves most about shooting certain Melbourne bands and musicians (Eagle and the Worm, Grizzly Jim Lawrie, Saskwatch), and why her recent series examining the relationship between pornography and the female body—her own included—won’t be published online anytime soon. She can dissect and summarise the benefits of shooting 35mm film over her beloved 120mm, and is more than willing to share the tips and tricks for shooting on the plastic “toy” cameras that make up the Lomography family that she’s taught herself.

But today I just wanted her to tell me why she does what she does.

So, Greta, what do you do?

I am a sub-editor at a magazine…or that’s what I used to say. More recently, when people ask what I do, I can say, “I’m a photographer.” Because I never studied photography I never felt like I could say that, because it’s always been an extended hobby. But lately it’s different. Having a website is making me feel super professional!

Knowing that you’re calling yourself a photographer now is even more interesting to me because I feel like I knew you when you first got your Holga as a gift, and that started all of this work that you’re doing now. You were so committed to it and focused on it as a hobby, and had such a specific eye for it from the very start.

I studied photography in high school in my studio art class with a teacher who really didn’t know what she was doing, so I sort of taught myself through years 11 and 12. I was getting good grades in other areas and I thought it would be a waste if I was just going to go and study photography—something so easy, I thought. It was probably when I was about 24, a friend of mine had been tagged in these amazing photos on Facebook and I called him to find out more about what they were. Turns out they were black and white, taken with a flash, at night, in a bar, on a Holga. So I started doing some research and it seemed like that particular style and equipment had everything that I loved about photography. So that friend bought me a Holga for my birthday that year. And that gave me the push I needed to get back into it. It was all about falling in love with film again, especially at a time when digital had become the main option for photographers. I wonder sometimes, if I hadn’t received that camera as a gift, if I would’ve pursued it myself. And I don’t know whether I would have.

From that Holga, with its 120mm film, what other formats have you explored and experimented with?

From black and white and colour 120mm film, I looked online to see what other people were doing and I discovered Slide film. Cross-processing that took the whole film idea even further, and I just fell in love with that. I still love 120 film and I still love the beautiful, square format, and what my Lomo[graphy] cameras (a Holga and a Diana) do with that stuff, but the expense is quite high. As someone who works in the arts (and thus makes very little money), I knew if I really wanted to push and explore more I’d have to look into 35mm and use what I learned in high school. I never really thought about what I could do with it beyond colour and black and white. I looked specifically for a camera that could do multiple exposures, but a high quality film camera. So I got a professional model Nikon from the 80s, and I really took the experimental aspect of plastic photography into 35mm. I was interested in using film with a really high grain and doing more cross-processing with slide film, and just seeing what I could do.

I feel like the digital photography novelty was really worn off now and film sales are starting to go up and people are exploring their options more now, and embracing film with Apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram. What’s your take on that digital “analog” photography?

It’s so strange. I’m trying to figure out why that appeals to people and I think on a big level it’s aesthetics. But, it’s such a strange contrast. A lot of digital photography is about hyper-realism. People want things so real and so perfect with this incredible clarity. But I think the appeal of film—to me and to people who love Instagram—is that it’s got a direct correlation with reality. Because I don’t do any post-production and everything happens in the camera, there’s a sense that it’s all honest and there’s no manipulation. I really feel very strongly that what’s captured on the film is what’s real, and the film does not lie. For me, film is the honest part about photography. It’s such a paradox to be saying that digital is fake because it looks so real. That’s some post-modern shit right there. I’ve thought about it a lot because people ask me, “Why do you shoot film? What’s wrong with digital?” And I know why. I feel it. But that’s the closest I’ve come to being able to articulate it.