Ben Robson’s love affair with film photography


Our ‘Discover’ series highlights distinct up-and-coming photographers on 500px, sharing their experiences from behind the lens. In this instalment, we’re featuring Ben Robson, a photographer from Victoria, Australia, who revels in the flaws of film.

If photography is a language then, for me, film photography is poetry. Film demands a different pace; by its very nature you look at the world from a different perspective—especially if you are using TLRs, with which you see the world looking down into a mirror. It’s also in film’s fallibility, the imperfections of the process and the end result, that I think reflects something altogether much more human, like soul.

Hannibal by Ben Robson on

I’ll be honest, I don’t think that I would have been as interested in film photography if it wasn’t for my first DSLR. I remember, as a kid, shooting a roll of film (yes, I’m that old), sending it away when you could afford it, or when Mum and Dad stumped up the cash, and days later, your photographs arrived. And I remember the disappointment: first with how bad the photographs invariably were, but then with how I couldn’t remember what it was I was trying to achieve in the first place. With digital, that learning curve is immediate. You can see where you’ve gone wrong, tinker, and learn as you go, and I’ve translated a lot of those principles into my film work.

Beehive Market by Ben Robson on

My first (proper) film camera was a little Yashica Mat TLR that someone had refurbished with a red leather finish. I just had to have it! I think I overpaid for it, but it really does look cool. I’ve since been able to acquire a few other film cameras and, if nothing else, love them purely for their aesthetic beauty and an appreciation for the hand-built engineering of, say, my Leica M5.

One of my favorite finds was a Rolleiflex TLR, complete with leather briefcase and filters, as well as notes from a previous owner. I love the history behind them all, and wondering what kind of life they had before me. I especially love that they will never be superseded by ever-more megapixels.

Great Grandma (redux) by Ben Robson on

One of my favorite images is a portrait of my wife’s grandma, complete with scratches and bubbles from the developing process. Ironically, a lot of people thought I’d Photoshopped those elements in and would ask how I did it. The answer was that I’d messed up! And the reason I hadn’t cleaned it up in Photoshop was to say, sure, I lost a battle with an inanimate reel. Sure, I would love to have a pristine negative of an image I feel privileged to have taken. But this is my version of truth—creating something that is physical, flawed, and yet somehow beautiful because it is imperfect.

Shearing Time by Ben Robson on

I develop my own black and white film, too, which lends an organic feel to the process. I love the sense of achievement, but I still feel trepidation, especially when you first open up the developing tank and look for images on your film. Fortunately, so far, I’ve only lost one roll of film because my Fixer was dead, but it was from a pretty special occasion so it’s still sad to think about that one!

Spiky // Girl // Light Leak by Ben Robson on

I have a literature background and worked for a number of years as a journalist, so I think I’ve always been interested in people, which is why I like portraiture. However, I don’t like the idea of being pinned down to one type of photography—the downside being that my feed is a bit of a hodgepodge of images. It’s still early days in my journey with film, but I figure I’ll just keep on doing my own thing, trying to learn along the way, and hoping to get better as I go.

Are you into film photography? Share your favorite film photos in the comments!

Follow Ben Robson

Instagram: @thetwelfthframe


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