Interview: Gareth Morton

“Film feels random and organic and beautiful. I love how different films have different qualities…”

Gareth Morton is a film photographer based in the U.K.. His work is quite strong and he is quite humble about it. You should check out his website and/or instagram. Recently he started The Ten Shot Project with Rick Davy in which they post ten shots with one theme from one photographer. Please check out the website and instagram.

JM – Why do you shoot film?

GM – This would have to be the first question, ha. It’s one of those that I find most difficult to articulate an answer for. Firstly, it would have to be the aesthetic qualities of film. The colour palette that certain films give as well as the natural grain structure, a by product of the silver in the emulsion. Film feels random and organic and beautiful. I love how different films have different qualities like more or less contrast, more or less saturation, different colour qualities and the way negative film renders from the highlights to the shadows.

GM – Secondly, I like the way film makes me shoot. No screen to distract or check after every image. No shooting 100 frames of the same scene and hoping for the best. I am more careful and considered with film and I truly love the process.

GM – Finally, having printed in the dark room recently, I am not sure there is much that is comparable to that. Developing and printing your own film from start to finish is magical and the qualities of a silver halide print are just beautiful. 

JM – What is your favorite film?  Camera?

GM – Absolute favourite? Kodak Portra 800, especially in 120. The grain, contrast and saturation are just beautiful and I have even shot it in bright sunshine for the certain aesthetic that it gives. I tend to lean towards Kodak for colour negative and always shoot travel on Ektar 100 which is amazing and gives great colour renditions with the added saturation, although it isn’t always ideal for people, I do have images where it works very well. I will be travelling to Vietnam soon and am going to shoot almost exclusively on Portra 400 for consistency and versatility. 

GM – My favourite camera is a little more difficult as I have had quite a few and still do. Film cameras, unlike digital, all shoot very differently. Different formats, different sizes of different formats. 35mm in normal or panoramic mode with the XPan. 120 in 645, 6×6, 6×7 all the way up to 6×17! (I have never shot 6×17). I think if I could choose one of each, 35mm and 120 it would be my Leica M3 and a Hasselblad 500cm. I had an M2 first and instantly regretted selling it once I did so this M3 is for keeps. Both of those cameras, the Leica and Hasselblad are completely mechanical, no batteries, no electronics, no distractions. Plus, viewing the world through the ground glass of a waist level finder is a beautiful sight. 

“Despite changing tastes for what I seem to be shooting at times, a few things remain constant that I admire in other peoples work and finding what compels me – a cinematic aesthetic…”

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

GM – Oh crumbs. I have very low expectations on how my shots are going to turn out so anything that I class as a keeper or worthy of public consumption is a bonus. Every now and then, I get a surprise when something turns out better than I had hoped, but often on a shoot, particularly if I am shooting portraits, if I feel I am on to something and everything comes together in the viewfinder, I get really excited and that comes across to the client. That’s when I cross my fingers and hope it comes back as good as I remember.

JM – What is one thing that you’ve changed in your approach to photography?  What was the catalyst for this change?

GM – Honestly, the biggest change I made to my photography was selling all my digital equipment. I am not anti-digital as far as photography is concerned because the end result is what matters, not what it was created with, but for me personally, once I started shooting film it seemed a natural progression until ultimately, I sold the last of my digital equipment in September 2017 and I have no desire to go back. If I could try and identify the catalyst for this, firstly it would be that I was finding a lot of the images I truly admire were created on film and the photographers I alluded to earlier all worked pre-digital and it you look at their images, they are just beautiful and it’s because of the content, not the medium. I would also say I grew tired with the constant upgrade cycle that the internet leads us to believe is neccassary to produce great photographs. I was in a local, well known photographic retailer with a friend for the first time in a while recently and was absolutely blown away by the vast amount of current digital bodies that are available, all promising amazing things, all largely irrelevant for making better images for the enthusiast. That being said, I still have a yearning for a Leica M6 one day, even though it’s irrational and not needed. Ha. 

JM – What do you look for in a photograph?  Is what you find compelling in a photograph different when it’s one of your photographs compared with one from someone else? 

GM – Despite changing tastes for what I seem to be shooting at times, a few things remain constant that I admire in other peoples work and finding what compels me – a cinematic aesthetic. An image that could be straight from a movie and that stirs emotions with a combination of moment, light and colour palette. I love strong black and white work by the great photographers like Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank and Vivian Maier who captured real moments in time with such confidence and conviction and I feel this shows in their photos. I love flare. Something that a lot of photographers deliberately try to avoid, as well as chiaroscuro, which is something that other people seem to do very well but I haven’t quite grasped yet.

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

GM – Favourite shot? That’s a tricky question as I very rarely hold any of my photos in high regard. That’s why this request to be interviewed was quite a surprise. There are different aspects that I think make certain shots special, whether that’s taking you back to a time and place, or stirring up memories of a loved one or friend that you haven’t seen for a while. I have images that remind me what it was like to be stood in a particular place, therefore I think I would have to go with the sunset we experienced when driving through Glencoe in Scotland. I had been travelling with my two American friends, driving through the landscapes and stopping to take photos whenever we saw something we deemed worthy and one evening we decided to head out for a sunset drive which had been fairly uneventful and the sun had all but set behind us amongst the snow covered mountains and then, all of a sudden, BAM, the sky was on fire behind us with the most magnificent sunset! It blazed through the mountains and into my rear view mirror. I had noticed it and was desperately looking for a pull in to stop the car when a voice from the back seat, my friend, Sarah said as calm as you like, “are we gonna stop or….?” As we pulled over, I made only three frames of this moment and it was the last shot on a roll in the Hasselblad XPan (a camera I bought to try and create the cinematic feeling I described earlier). It was loaded with Ektar 100 so I metered the light, it was fading fast, and set the shutter speed as low as I dare (it was either 1/15 or 1/30, I don’t fully remember) and shot the last frame, as well as two on the same film stock on the Pentax 67ii. Those colours, as well as the memories will stick with me for a lifetime. 

JM – If someone told you they were thinking of getting into film, what would your response/advice be?

GM – Just do it, don’t think about it. I often hear photographers who have only taken photos digitally saying they think it’s going to be hard, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Buy a fairly inexpensive film camera, such as the Canon AE-1 or Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, whatever equivalents, get some film and start shooting. Photography ultimately is about content and light and feelings and stories and moments, not about megapixels and high resolution screens and more frames per second. 

More of Gareth’s work can be seen below:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s