Hey hey! It's getting hot out there. Are you all enjoying your summer so far? I know I am...our family spend a lot of time at the pool in this Texas summer heat. Life with boys is never boring I tell ya, and I am sure Zalmy can attest to that!
I am so excited to present you Zalmy Berkowitz this month as our Film Photographer Spotlight feature! Thank you Zalmy, for letting us peek into your life a little this month. I "discover" Zalmy's work through a Film Photographer group on Facebook. I love how Zalmy seems to capture the authentic essence of the subject in his frame, and I love that! Today, I have the honor to ask him a few questions, and let's get started!
Joyce: Ok, Zalmy, let's talk about your photography background. How did you first get into photography? Do you have a formal education in photography or self-taught?
Zalmy: I was doing graphic design (as opposed to designing graphics, I wasn't good enough for that), mostly for Jewish organizations in the area, invitations and the like. There wasn't much in the way of decent Jewish stock photography (menorahs, dreidels, challah, you know), so I figured all I needed was a fancy pants camera with a big zoom and I could shoot my own. I'm a voracious reader so I googled my brain out between all the identical cameras out there (and how they work, that part I'm glad about) and bought myself a digital rebel. I never got around to shooting those stock photos, but I did photograph my kids. A lot. Let's face it, kids are waaaay more interesting than a dreidel.
Then I just read. A lot. I'd go the library and just read. The older the book the better. And I'm still reading :)
Joyce: I noticed in every single image you shoot, there is something quirky and something unique about how you view the scene. It seems it's more so in your personal work. With every image you shoot, you inject a little bit of Zalmy humor in it. I love that! What inspires you when you are out shooting, photographying your personal work and your family?
Zalmy: Oh gosh, I wish there was something deep I could answer here. My kids are cute (duh), and when they do something interesting I grab a camera. Honestly it isn't more complicated than that. I mean the fact that it's me doing the shooting, I guess that would inject myself into it a bit. In the choices of lens, composition, yada, yada, yada.
Joyce: What is it that makes you say "I want to photograph that", and why?
Zalmy: I would say that I move between systems A LOT, and am constantly looking for different ways of seeing and "the best" way for me. People very often take the tools handed to them (usually a DSLR) that inherently makes you shoot a certain way, and just go with it.
Joyce: While browsing through your portfolio on the website, I was drawn to the unique style of your instant film images. They are freaking awesome! Obviously, you incorporate instant film in your client work as well. What do you like about instant film?
Zalmy: Well for one, it's instant, who doesn't like instant film?! Kids love it, adults love it, teens have no clue what it is (and that's a bit depressing), but they still think it's cool. Two, fp3000b has such a wonderful tone curve and such a beautiful glossy finish. And it's so freaking fast!! It has more shadow detail than delta 3200. Last, it's got a huge sensor. Couple that with a fast lens, and it just has a very unique look.
I actually don't shoot it much with clients anymore. I'm too stingy with my fp3000b. So it's all personal for now. Also my setup is a MONSTER. It's a speed graphic with an old aerial Schneider 12.5cm f/2 lens made out of pure brass. And like coated again in brass. Twice. Just to make it heavier.
Joyce: What do you think about the future of instant film? What is one thing you wish you know about instant film when you first started out?
Zalmy: Hmmmm, the future. I hope some company can make pack film and something like the fp3000b. I don't think fuji will let the patents go though. It would eat into their instant sales (which is the medium they chose to promote over the far superior pack films). Honestly I think the fp100c's days are numbered as well. I don't know if there was anything I wish I knew, I like figuring this stuff out.
Joyce: Have you always shot film? What drew you to film?
I learned on digital. It's what the internet said I should do. Film never even popped up as an option. One day I walked into my local shop and saw a Hasselblad with on ale 50mm lens. It looked amazing and ridiculous, so I bought it. I had never even heard of medium format film.
So back to the library and the interwebz, read too much of course, and was hooked. It took some time. I first shot some slide (that's the the camera store told me to do), then some black and white. I wish I had all my internet history as that would give me a pretty clear memory of how it proceeded. As it is I'm not exactly sure. I mean I saw the colors and tones and medium format look (of course I fell in love with the Contax, and had that system for a while).
There are three aspects to film that I love.:
1. The act of shooting is different for me, totally different. I am way more cogent of what I am shooting, and much more in the moment.
2. The cameras. Digital is so limiting in what you can use. There are so many wacky film cameras out there. I mean anyone can make a film camera. The digital ones need huge R&D departments and are made by boardrooms. What good ever came out of a boardroom?
3. The final result. Duh. It just looks more alive.
Joyce: I love the way you use your heritage as a back drop for many of your personal and client work! You captured a historically influential tradition light-heartily, and sometimes, humorously. Do you find it difficult to show your work and point of view to your family or some of the religious leaders in your community? Why or why not?
Zalmy: Sometimes. Mostly because it seems as the more intensely religious a community gets the less it cares (for some reason) about the arts. Especially the visual arts. But many do get it, and appreciate it.
Joyce: One advice you can give to someone who wants to get into film photography, what will it be and why?
Zalmy: Find someone who knows a lot about it and buy them a lot of beer.
Joyce: Haha!! I will definitely buy you a beer when I am in California! If we can go back in time and do it all over again (it doesn't have to be photography related), what would you do differently, and why?
Zalmy: Read less fiction (the lame, pop kind), watch less fiction, sleep more. All that stuff just fills your brain with mush. Not to mention all the things you could replace it with...This is a tough one, I have a lot of regrets and I'm not gonna list 'em all :)
Joyce: I know you have an ever expanding collection of cameras. What are some of your favorites, the ones you reach for when you photograph your personal and/or client work? And, what are some of your favorite film stocks?
Zalmy: Changes all the time! I'm in love with square. I love waist level finders. I love bellows. That left me with a SL66. Which is an amazing little beast. But finicky as heck, hard to get fixed, hard to find replacements for parts in a hurry, and has a much older and limited lens selection. I just recently got a Hasselblad kit (again) and I love everything about it besides for that darn helicoid. We'll see how I bond with it. For more casual shooting or when I want to focus on my family I have a Nikon F3 and a 28mm that hardly leaves my side. But oftentimes I'll reach for my Speed Graphic for some polaroids.
Favorite film stocks... Portra VC and UC. After that the new ones are pretty darn good (and much more flexible). For black and white my go to are trix and delta 3200 (which I need to use more).
Joyce: Can you share with us any new personal project on the horizon or any exciting special project?
Zalmy: I plan on planning to plan to work on a photo book of my personal family work.
Joyce: If you can spend a whole day with one person (past or present), who will it be and what would you talk about?
Zalmy: Abraham. Philosophy and history I guess.
Joyce: who are your favorite artists on your playlist right now?
Joyce: Complete this quote: "I wish my kids would hurry up and go to bed so I can watch...."
Joyce: Share with us a quote you live by:
Cast your burden upon G-d and He will sustain you.
Joyce: What is the most exotic place you have ever been?
Hmmmm, South Africa I guess.
Joyce: Your favorite hobby (other than photography):
Joyce: Airplane, Train or Automobile?
Joyce: Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
Are any of those a beer?
Joyce Kang is a children & family photographer in Austin Texas. She is also a mentor and an instructor for Embrace The Grain, an intro to film photography workshop. She is married to her best friend and enjoys outdoors with her family. She loves to curl up with a good book and has a terrible addiction to any thing that tops with a heaping scoop of ice cream drizzled with chocolate fudge!