The Kingdom: On Black and White Film, and Finding a Home

We recently asked new Staff Contributor James Moreton to discuss his project The Kingdom, how he became interested in photography and why black and white film?

The Kingdom is a project based in the area of Northern Ireland where I now call home. Dalriada was an ancient Gaelic over-kingdom that stretched from the Glens of Antrim right up to Argyll and Lochaber in Scotland – at that time it was easier for people to cross the sea between Ireland and Scotland than to cross the hills over the land. For me personally, this project is a reaction to finally finding a place to call home; when I was 21 I had lived in 21 different places – so I am a bit of a nomad! When I moved here the landscape fascinated and intrigued me and I wanted to try and take a snapshot of my local community. I have a strong creative streak and desire to express myself, usually through photography, and this felt like a decent backbone to a series of pictures.

I find I get irritable and worry that I am wasting my time if I don’t have something I can practice, learn about, get better at and create from scratch. This project was an outlet for me that let me express myself somewhat – it was a response to finding a home in a beautiful, rugged place with dramatic history.

I’ve been interested in photography for a long time. When I was a teenager I have distinct memories of messing about with cameras and loved taking random pictures with a little point and shoot. This was the 90s when most people only got the camera out to record a special event, or a holiday, unlike today where people document and share their lives continually. I, on the other hand, liked ‘wasting film’, taking close ups of things I found interesting, wanting to see what they looked like in picture form. One of my best mates had an old Pentax MX and shot really interesting pictures of our group of friends. I thought the ability to control the exposure; to shoot blurry images with a slow shutter was the coolest thing. The colour from the film and the look he got had me hooked. We used to look through stacks of prints laughing as we remembered what was going on (sometimes we needed the pictures to remind us). Today I use photography to be creative and to express myself.

I’ve always shot analog. I like analog over digital for a number of reasons. First I like the look of film (both colour and B&W), I like the grain and the tones. I think film pictures look like they have soul and aren’t as clean, crisp or sterile-looking as digital. (However saying that digital can also look great – and at the end of the day a bad photo is a bad photo regardless of whether it is on film or digital).

The process is also very important; not seeing what you have makes you work harder. I prefer the tactile nature of analog – loading the film, winding it on and then developing the photos afterwards. I like not seeing the pictures right away, letting them sit for a while and then going back to them is an important part of it all. Then when I do develop the film it is like Christmas!

That feeling never goes away. I love printing in my darkroom too – it is very relaxing and rewarding at the same time. Photography is about the physical object; either a book or print and analog encourages that. It just feels right to me.

I decided to shoot exclusively with B&W film some years ago. Shooting colour is really hard, it is an extra dimension that you need to factor in and I don’t think I am anywhere good enough to do that yet. You need really nice light for the colour to be as good as possible (or use flash) – living in Northern Ireland it is overcast or dark for a lot of the time, so I think shooting B&W works here. I also like the mood and emotion you can get with B&W. I have shot B&W film for so long now it is like an extension of my eye – I know how it is going to look. Although saying that I have a plan for a series of Large Format colour portraits in my head, but they’re all still at the planning stage at the moment.

 

I shoot Ilford Hp5+ exclusively on 35mm and 4×5 formats – I love this film! It is so forgiving and I know it really well now. For 35mm I use a Leica M6, Contax T3 and Nikon FM2n, all with 35mm lenses. For 4×5 I have a Chamonix 045H-1 with 90mm, 150mm and 210mm lenses. I use Ilford DD-X developer and Ilford paper in the darkroom.

 

The Kingdom is a work in progress; it is currently on pause whilst I work on a series of other projects (one of which is a spin off from The Kingdom, all shot on Large Format). I really want to travel up to the islands off the west coast of Scotland in order to complete the series geographically and just get some time to complete the project. Ultimately I would love to see it come to fruition in a book or self published Zine (which is always the goal I have in my head when putting a project together). In terms of marketing and spreading the word; Instagram has become the best platform for me. I have met so many great people in the analog and photography communities on there – so I typically spread the word about my projects, activities and direct people to my website on there.

I am like a sponge when it comes to being influenced by others, in wider life and in photography. At the moment I am finding a great deal of inspiration in classic literature and if you follow me on Instagram you will know I am a photobook nut – each book I have influences me. However, there are four photographers that stand out above the others; Alec Soth, Sohrab Hura, Trent Parke and Todd Hido. They each influence me in different ways. I also find great inspiration in the photographers I follow on Instagram, the landscapes from Dave Rothschild, the work from Tatsuya Totsuka (@thequietx) and Nicholas Dominic Talvola and many many more…

To see the full series please see James’ website, you can also catch him on Instagram and Facebook.

Photo Essays is a series on the Phoblographer where photographers get to candidly speak their mind about a specific subject or project of theirs. Want to submit? Send them to editors@thephoblographer.com.