All images by Michael Scott Phillips. Used with permission.
Photographer Michael Scott Phillips is one that uses film and who genuinely considers himself an artist. You see, he’s an oil painter. Painting plays a role in his photography and vice versa. His influences are many: Mary Ellen Mark, Bruce Davidson, W Eugene Smith, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Stanley Kubrick, Joel Meyerowitz, John Vachon, and Sebastião Salgado are cited in this post. And while going through submissions for our analog zine, I found Michael’s to be particularly great.
Here’s his submission.
I consider myself an artist. I’m also an oil painter, and my photography often plays into my painting and vice versa. I paint oil paintings of wildlife, and I only use my own photographs as reference. The two art forms push one another, though sometimes they don’t relate at all as I rarely publish my wildlife photographs. Light inspires me the most when shooting photographs. I love black and white because it’s all about the light, and that’s what I like to work with, creating photographs with contrast and a glow to the highlights.
As far as equipment, I have a Nikon F90x and an array of lenses, a Mamiya 6 with a 50mm, 75mm, and a 150mm lens, a Pentax 67 with a 45mm and 105mm lens, and a Linhof Technika IV with 90mm, 150mm, and a 240mm lens. I love working with Fujifilm Neopan Acros, Kodak 320 TXP, and Ilford FP4+ in black and white. My favorite color films are Portra 160 and Portra 800. Ektar is also wonderful for landscapes. Film creates a physical object and feels more tangible like a craft, just like painting, which is about building an object of art from the ground up.
Why did you get into photography?
I originally did a lot of traveling in the 90s and early 2000s, and, after expressing dissatisfaction with the quality of my snapshots on several more iconic trips, I decided to upgrade my equipment to more professional quality. After that, I just fell in love with the process.
What photographers are your biggest influences?
‘Influence’ is a difficult word for me. I may be influenced or inspired by a photographer but not actually try to shoot like them. I suppose that’s true for everyone. Having said that, my influences are Mary Ellen Mark, Bruce Davidson, W Eugene Smith, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Stanley Kubrick, Joel Meyerowitz, John Vachon, and Sebastião Salgado.
How long have you been shooting?
At a professional or semi-professional level since 2004. Otherwise, since about 1989.
Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
I’m also a studio painter, and much of that is spending time indoors working out what I want to do in isolation. Being able to get out and interact with the world is important to me. Thus, I swing back and forth between painting and photography. Photography is nearly immediate and to me embodies my favorite Chuck Close quote: “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.'” By getting out in the world, the interaction involved in photography brings new ideas and inspirations, whether that interaction is with nature or other people.
Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?
Definitely, when starting out, I was more of a documenter. Mastering the process of so many film formats, tends to do that to you. Recently, however, I’ve been attempting to break out of that mold and produce film photographs that really play with perception and reality. Stay tuned.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?
Aside from the obvious, my mind going through all the technical requirements of the shot, I’m playing close attention to light and shadow and trying to create an image in which light tells a story about the subjects therein. I want my photos to glow when printed.
Want to walk us through your processing techniques?
I use multiple formats when shooting film. I have 35mm SLRs, two medium format cameras, one 6×6, the other 6×7, and a large format field camera, the Linhof Technika IV. I develop my own black and white manually using Ilford chemicals mostly, but I send my color film off to a lab. I shoot about 65% b/w, and I’ve tried most every film currently on the market plus a few others. My favorites are Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 and Ilford FP4+. I also love Portra 800. I would love to have the opportunity to shoot Kodak Kodachrome one day.
What makes you want to shoot film over digital at any given time?
It feels like more of an achievement. Even if I get something really good digitally, I always think ‘I wish I’d managed to capture that on film’. I love the fact that film produces a physical object. As an artist, I consider that superior to a bunch of pixels on a computer hard drive. I can always go back to the negative or slide and view its recapture its beauty should I need to. Looking at slides on a light box is a fantastic way to view any photograph. Everyone should do it.