Liam Warton: The Chemical, Analog Magic of Film Photography

All images by Liam Warton. Used with permission.

In an interview last year, we had a peek at one of the compelling portrait projects of Liam Warton and found out his beginnings in photography through film. He also mentioned how shooting analog was for him one of the best ways to read light and learn the basics. This time, we asked Liam to share with us more of his insights about film photography, a bit about his beginnings learning the ropes, and what keeps him captivated by analog photography despite also shooting with digital for work. Alongside all these details are more of his eye-catching portrait work, in all the glorious colors and moody atmosphere that can only come with film.

Phoblographer: What was the most helpful piece of advice you were given when you were starting out with shooting film?

Liam: I don’t think I really received any form of noteworthy advice…instead, I just had to learn and figure things out as I went along. But this the beauty of it all! With film photography for me, I had to really find my craft in comparison to digital photography where you can just set the camera on auto-mode and take great photos from day one. Shooting film makes you learn the basics, it’s unavoidable. I also feel that naivety can be a beautiful and an empowering mechanism; it is often in the unknown that you find yourself and the happy accidents which shape your style. There is definitely validity in receiving advice if your goal is to work professionally, or if you want to learn something technical, but for me, it was more about creative expression and experimenting with something new rather than perfecting something.

So if I had to give one piece of advice to someone starting out it would be to take the time to find your craft or style, don’t just go in copy what someone else is doing or what is popular on Instagram or Flickr. Look outside of photography to other art forms for inspiration and find something that works for you. Create for yourself instead of your intended audience! For me, it’s about questioning what you see, thinking about how you would like to portray things differently and finding out your method to do this with still images. I would also recommend investing time not money; you don’t need the best camera or equipment rather spend the time experimenting and exploring different techniques or approaches.

Phoblographer: What was the biggest challenge about film photography that you needed to overcome?

Liam: I haven’t actually had too many problems with shooting film. However, I have lost a considerable number of rolls due to failing to load the camera properly (when the film doesn’t catch the reels). This resulted in me shooting a roll of film over a period of time (somewhere between two weeks to two months) and then finding out after I developed the film that there aren’t any images. This is a pretty novice mistake but one I made too many times when I started out…The problem was that I was super keen to get shooting that I forgot to pay attention to the details (even though it is a pretty straightforward process). I lost the majority of rolls to my Leica M3, where you have to load the film onto a spool. You live and you learn.

Phoblographer: What made you choose to shoot film over digital? Was it an easy choice right from the beginning?

Liam: Why analogue photography? For me, it is ultimately about the photographic process and the hands-on approach that inspires me the most. I love the chemical magic of film, capturing something in reality and then seeing it later unravel before my eyes in the darkroom. The delayed gratification, of being focused in the moment rather than looking at a thousand photos constantly on the back of your screen. The sheer joy I get from testing different expired films and different ways of developing the negatives. The end result when shooting analogue is also more in line with what I strive to express through my photography.

That being said, I own both analogue and digital cameras and there are benefits to both formats. For example, I work as a wedding photographer and in low light situations, you can’t beat digital. I don’t think you have to choose one over the other but rather use both where applicable.

Phoblographer: How would you describe your photography style at this point? How has film been instrumental for you in realizing and achieving it?

Liam: This is a tough question for me, as I don’t really feel that I have found my own style yet. As a result of this, I would describe my style as being experimental where I use a variety of different techniques to manipulate my images, from films soaks to painting on my negatives. I also love to shoot expired films and experiment with multiple exposures (I am interested by the duality of meaning one can create simply by imposing another image over the top). I aim is to create images oversaturated emotion that is reflective of how I am feeling.

My first camera was an Olympus OM-2 film SLR camera and I shot only with this camera for approximately one year before I bought my first digital camera. I feel that during this first year I learned a lot about what I like and do not like (through trial and error) and as a result, my still-evolving style has been formed by shooting film. I think that it is also evident in most of my photos that film is the medium I use and I feel that it would be difficult (not impossible) to create the same effect/feeling shooting digital.

Phoblographer: What is/are some concepts or subjects you find yourself drawn to at present? Any series you’ve done in particular that shows this/these?

Liam: I find that it is best with photography for me to channel my own vantage point and feelings, hence my images depict themes of solitude, loneliness, nostalgia, melancholy, longing, and masculinity. I am especially inspired by the last hour of light (blue hour), as light is essential to all photographs. I feel that there is something beautiful in capturing something that is fleeting and before it’s lost into the darkness of the night. I also recently exhibited some photographs in Berlin with three other photographers Annika Weertz, Joe Barrett and Phoebe Jane Barrett, around the theme of challenging traditional portrayals of masculinity. I am inspired to work with the subject of masculinity, as a result of growing up as a heterosexual male in Australia and struggling to strongly relate to this outdated masculine stereotype and being a photographer belonging to an industry where it is acceptable to exploit and over-sexualize women in the name of art.

Phoblographer: Lastly, every film photographer has an answer to this, but in your case, what fuels your passion for this medium?

Liam: As touch on in question 3, it’s all about the process of shooting film that excites me. I am interested in the process of creating something over a longer period of time, taking a few photos here and there, changing ideas and coming back to this work in progress at a later date (eventually shooting a roll of film over a month time). I I feel like it is too easy to mass produce photos shooting digitally (personal experience), and that there is something worthwhile in creating less over a longer period of time and film is the perfect medium for me to achieve this. Also, when looking back at the works of all the great photographers it’s all shot on film and this motivates me to keep pushing myself, learning my craft and experimenting with the same medium which they mastered.

Don’t forget to check out Liam Warton’s personal website, Instagram, and wedding photography portfolio to follow his work.