All images by Paul van Bueren. Used with permission.
The thing about film is that the small format stuff is cheap, easy to use, and can give you really beautiful results in the right hands–but photographers like Paul van Bueren show that it’s the large format photographers that are the real masters here. I found his work on Behance, and immediately became smitten with his telling portraits of people. I was further enthused to learn that they’re all done with analog cameras; and that Paul thoroughly enjoys the organic process involved in creating the images he does.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Paul: I was studying to become an outdoor sports instructor. It was during that study I fell off a mountain in France and broke my ankle. So I could not finish this study in time. While I was recovering I went to a car show with a friend of mine, he had just bought a new digital camera:
a silver Canon 350D. He lent me this camera and said to try it out. We clicked immediately. So after the car show I purchased a camera of my own, with the help from another friend who was working in a camera shop at that time. He gave me a real good deal. I want to learn more about photography so I went to the Dutch ‘FotoAcademie’.
We were the first two classes in Rotterdam. I had a great time and learned a lot. This was where I first felt how a photographer can feel. We had an lesson about photographing with a 4×5″
view camera. It was great. We were allowed to take this camera on a field trip and were challenged to shoot street portraits in the style of Richard Avedon. This was it. I loved it.
About two years later I started my own business as a photographer. This was in 2008. I took me about four years when I rediscovered analogue photography. So I went on a 4 hour train ride to purchase my first analogue camera: a Mamiya c300. I felt for the square pictures. After using it for a year I found out I can only work on a tripod, this was an obstruction for me. So I went and looked for another camera.
I came across a 4×5″ view camera which I then could swap for a Canon 5d camera. Again I went on a train ride it took me over six hours this time. Meanwhile I went looking for a camera which I can handle better.
So I found the Pentax 67 mk II a great camera. It had everything I wanted from a camera, except the weight. One day I found a complete set with three bodies, four lenses and accessories within my budget. Again a four hour train ride.
Since then I also got a Mamiya 645 super set. Now I shoot analogue as often as I can. My portraits are getting better by every roll. I love that.
Phoblographer: What made you want to get into portraiture?
Paul: I love to shoot people in different settings. In a documentary way, just how they are at the time I find them. I also like to direct people. I can do that in my commercial portraits. And in my fine art portraits. I like people in generally. I like to discover what is ‘it’ that makes this person unique. I like to photograph them in an ‘authentic’ way. By that I mean the feeling / expression in the photograph needs to be real.
Phoblographer: Lots of your portraits on Behance are done with film, what details of the analogue process appeals to you?
Paul: I love the time per photo. When I photograph digital I always shoot more photographs than I need or can use. It makes me a ‘lazy’ photographer. I mean there will always be a good portrait
among the dozen photographs. It is like some sort of reverse order. Instead of making the photograph upfront you can now make your selection afterwards. With analogue this process is back in the right order.
I want to make every shot as good as possible, because I have the feeling it is my only chance. And I like that. So I have to look twice if everything is good. The light, the setting, the look and feel in the picture and so on.
With the view camera for example I can work for twenty minutes before I even touch the shutter. Everything is more unique with analogue photography. I like the process of sharpness and color. And I like the sound of the shutters!
Phoblographer: When you approach a subject to do portraiture, what is the initial conversation and idea generation like?
Paul: Depends on what kind of portrait. When I’m making street portraits. I make sure I make contact with my subject. And can be just a nod or a little conversation about their day. While making a ‘posed’ portraits the conversation can really be about everything. Most of the ideas are rough ideas when starting a shoot. Most of the things like light and poses I think of while shooting. Sometimes I have sketched out some basic poses or images I really want to make.
Phoblographer: How do you feel film helps you achieve the creative vision you’re trying to get across?
Paul: The most important thing is awareness. While shooting film I’m more aware of all the aspect that makes a good portrait.