Interview: Matt Seal

Matt was one of the first people I met when I moved to Columbus. One of the first places I wanted to go was the local camera store and as luck would have it, Matt had started working there pretty recently. He was a talkative nice guy who was passionate about film. Eventually we became friends he’s been amazing about helping me get some ideas together for this site.

JM: Why do you shoot film?

MS: I feel like this is a pretty common answer, but I prefer the ways it limits me. Sitting down with a raw digital file and the seemingly endless directions I could take it just becomes overwhelming. I fully admit that this is likely due to my own indecisiveness, but having a solid starting place with consistent colors is just preferable. Other than that, I find I prefer the experience of using film cameras in general – waiting a while to see the photos, using waist-level finders to utilize the huge focusing screens, and so on. I think of many of them as works of art (my Rolleiflex comes to mind).

JM: What is your favorite film? Camera?

MS: If I were given the choice of one camera and one film stock for the rest of my life, I’d take my Pentax 67 and load it with Portra 400. With my means being as humble as they are, my favorite film is the one that I can count on to deliver the most consistent results. I might have made some more stunning images with Velvia 50 or Portra 800, but my old reliable will always be Portra 400. My favorite camera is a much easier question – a Pentax 67 was my first medium format system, and after trying virtually every big name 120 camera, nothing has come close to delivering on exactly what I want more consistently than that camera. Is that just because I’ve used it the most, and I’m missing out on a better system? Potentially, but I’m not about to try and fix what isn’t broken. The 67 handles like a regular SLR and delivers immense negatives that are already at my preferred 4:5 ratio; there isn’t really anything more I could ask. As long as film is around, I’ll be using this camera.

JM: What proportion of your shots turn out as you hoped (or better)?

MS: The Pentax manages 10 frames per roll of 120 film – I think on average I’ll like 2-3 frames from each roll. Sometimes it’s less, and on rare occasions it’s more. Once I spent two days photographing my friends with four rolls of Fuji’s Acros (R.I.P.), and that was probably the highest turnout rate I’ve ever had. I loved almost every single frame. I’m much less cautious when I shoot 35mm, so those results can be all over the board. I’d still say less than half of my exposures usually meet or exceed my expectations.

JM: When do you call a photo ‘finished’?  When it’s printed? posted on IG? scanned?

MS: This one was the most difficult to answer by far. Off the cuff, I think I would say an image is done with it’s printed and frame-worthy, something I wouldn’t make any changes to if I printed it again. After some more thought about where I personally find my work on an image terminating, I’d say it’s once the image is in someone else’s possession. This might just be because I’m a sap, but I’ve found that the most satisfied I’ve felt with any of my work has been when it’s framed and hanging in someone else’s home, or populating the lock screen or wallpaper of their phone or computer. I can easily cut corners and say “good enough” to an image I plan on printing for myself, but giving it to someone else inspires much more care and deliberation. If I’ve printing an image and given it to someone (either at their request or as a gift), and it manages to land a spot on the walls of their home, it’s very likely that I won’t be revisiting it anytime soon.

JM: What is your favorite shot you’ve ever taken?  What’s the story behind it?

MS: The vast majority of my best work was made from 2015 to 2018, and the hard drives containing 90% of those files were destroyed in March of last year (back your files up online, folks). This makes it difficult to look back and actually know what my all-time favorite image is, but I do have a favorite of the images that survived. The image is from my Burke & James press camera, a portrait I took of my father in 2016. He was sitting in my room talking with me about something when the sky cleared up suddenly and the sunset poured in through my window. I frantically set up my 4×5 camera (loaded with HP5+) and, after one test shot on my digital camera, exposed exactly one sheet before the light was gone. It was one of my earliest 4×5 frames, and I’d say I’ve yet to top it. I definitely haven’t had a shot that hectic turn out so well before or since.

More of Matt’s work can be seen below.

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