Interview: Florian Guillon

“[Film] is a medium that allows me to express who I am while doing the things I love: getting out, watching the people around me, and spending time in nature.”

Florian is a film photographer in France that I know through Instagram. He and I ordered our Intrepid MKIV-Black cameras nearly at the same time and have gone through the paces of learning large format photography together. His work has always been an inspiration and it has been an honor to get to know him better through this interview. His instagram can be found here along with the Instagram for Les Trois Bains (The Three Baths).

JM – Tell me a bit about yourself. This can be anything from what you do for a career or what got you into photography or anything else. 

FG – I am a 28 year old attorney living in Paris, France. I started shooting film 3 years ago, and have shot it daily ever since. I have always been interested in art, however I am completely unable to paint or draw anything but stick figures! At one point I tried photography and I immediately knew this was the medium that would help me express my creativity. It is a medium that allows me to express who I am while doing the things I love: getting out, watching the people around me, and spending time in nature. 

FG – I am also an active member of a French photographic collective called “Les Trois Bains” (the name is derived from the three baths of B&W film processing: developer, stop and fixer). It is a unique collective that wishes to help people discover (or rediscover!) the joy of darkroom printing and film photography. We aim to grow the Paris community of film photographers and darkroom lab and printing. Last but not least, it is a place where we can share our photographic work. Photography is by definition a very solitary process but sharing it and working together on a future project is very fulfilling since we can learn and improve from each other and hear very constructive criticism on our work – something that is kind of lost in today social media platform where praises are mandatory and critiques are perceived as offensive. 

JM- Why do you shoot film?

FG – Like so many of the photographers of my age, I began my photographic journey with digital. I can barely recall shooting film before, except for a few disposable cameras (which film I never saw for some reason). A few years ago, I went on a trip to Scotland with my Canon Eos digital camera and came back with something like 4,000 pictures on several SD cards. I uploaded the 4,000 pictures into Lightroom and got bored with it. I saw the photos many times during my trip: via the LCD screen when shooting them, again when I was reviewing them at night, again on the airplane, and many times after that. But somehow it felt like these where just not what I was originally looking for. Because really, they weren’t good images – there was nothing inherently special about them. They were nothing but postcards of the remarkable landmark of the Scottish Highlands. I only wish I could have captured the very essence of my journey in Scotland, a place I deeply love.

FG – I had just exposed my first roll of HP5 a couple of days before I went on that trip but didn’t get it developed until several months later. I have to say, it was by far the best photographic experience of my life. Touching the negative, seeing it dry, and feeling the very softness of it in my hands was a very organic and physical experience. Holding a negative is something unique. The photographs on this emulsion you are holding are evidence of a past moment of your life. It felt like a revelation to me.

FG – I then recalled the experience of shooting that roll. I had to be very mindful of every exposure for I had only 36 of them to make. It considerably slowed me down. This different approach changed everything. Not only was I enjoying the process of shooting the same way I was with my digital gear (if not even more), but I also was living in the moment while shooting, not looking at the LCD screen of my camera checking for the correct exposure or composition. It was a real turning point. 

JM – How would you describe your style?

FG – If you have a look at my work, you could say that I am a landscape photographer and that is partly true. Landscapes are what I mainly share on social media. Landscape photography is the “style” of photography that first helped me capture images that I feel inspire a feeling of melancholy. I am obsessed with that emotion. You could call my photographic journey a “chase of melancholy”. To be honest, however, landscape is a huge part of my work but it is not my main focus when it comes to photography. 

FG – My main focus is about capturing moments of “everyday life”. I have the deepest respect for photographers that can document the life of people around them or the life in the places they live in a very unique way. Photographers such as Elliott Erwitt, Igor Moukhine, Alec Soth and other less well known photographers such as Pierre Lansac, Eloi de la Monneraye. My favorite of all Christopher Taylor (see “Steinholt” publisher: Kehrer) excels in doing this. As a result of my respect for these photographers, I am shy about sharing my work on this aspect of my photography. I have been working on a project for a couple of years now with which I would love to capture scenes of a place where life, loneliness, and emptiness cohabits. I will be sharing some images of that project with you here.

JM – What is your favorite film? Camera?

FG – For landscape photography, Ilford FP4 is my favorite film. I love the negatives I get from it, and it is a very easy film to be working inside the darkroom. That said, my go-to film is Ilford HP5. I love that this is a very versatile film that is easy to push or pull process. I should also give an honorable mention for Bergger Pancro 400 that is becoming one of my favorite films. 

FG – As for my favorite camera, I will say the Hasselblad 500cm, because of its incredible built quality, everything feels so great with it. The Leica M6 (and its 50mm Summicron) is my go-to camera though. I love this camera as it does what it is designed for, shooting without having to care about your camera. I could forget that I have it in my hand when shooting with it. This probably explains why it is considered as one of the greatest camera designs of all time.

JM – When it goes to obtaining new gear, what qualities do you look for?

FG – Ease of use and sturdiness. That is why I am only working with a fully mechanical camera. No automatic settings, no electronics (other than the built-in light meter). I hate it when I am looking at a camera with some complicated settings and/or knobs everywhere. The simpler, the better.  

JM – What drives you to photograph?

FG – My passion is to create art. Photography has become the most important thing in my life (along with sharing moments with my friends and family of course, and the best part is that I still shoot when sharing these moments with them). I think and live photography, yet it is not even my job. Though I should say it has become a second job because every spare moment of my life is now dedicated to shooting, processing, and working with Les Trois Bains.  

JM – What is a personal goal you have for your photography? 

FG – Being able to produce a cohesive body of work that depicts the society I live in. I do not care about making a living out of it in the future, this is no goal of mine. The project of Le Jardin du Luxembourg is not even close from being done but I will see it through and try to share it because I feel it has something to say about how we as humans are shaping places with the way we live in them and build places that are full of traces of our lives even when we have left these places. 

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

FG – An image should have meaning. A message. In an era where photography has mainly become a means to serve consumerism or to satisfy people’s need for entertainment, I think it is moving away from what it could or should even bring to our societies. What better way to capture what we are or what we could be than to show it in a photograph? What is especially exciting about photography, as in many other art forms, is that whatever style is chosen by the photographer, an emotion, a meaning, an idea or a purpose can be translated into the image. A portrait, just as much as a landscape photograph, can enable its author to capture an emotion.

FG – I always find the work of other photographers more interesting than mine because they often show reality or an approach to photography that is not my own. In this way, the work of other photographers acts not only as a source of inspiration for my work but also as a vector of interest for subjects I would never have been confronted with. Besides, I believe that I have a certain level of expectation of my work that I do not necessarily expect from someone else’s work. The work of another photographer always seems to me to be more accomplished than mine, maybe it is not the case, but there is surely some truth in that. Above all, it pushes me to look more and more in my work.

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

FG – This photograph is representative of these small scenes that punctuate our daily lives. It was taken while walking in a Parisian garden, on one of those weekends when all the inhabitants rush into the parks and gardens to enjoy the few rays of sunshine in an environment where nature is present (a rare thing in Paris). It comes from only my second exposed film. I can remember capturing it; this old lady was asleep while a small playpen is the main subject of this photograph. I only discovered the pregnant woman on the left in a second step, while pulling the negative. That said, I put this photograph aside at first because of its framing. I would have liked to get rid of that horrible trash can on the right side of the picture, but a few years later I finally understood that this element is an integral part of this scene and that this imperfection reinforces, in my opinion, the “authentic” character of this photograph. 

FG – I do not know why this is my favorite photograph. It has a lot of imperfections -it is not the sharpest image of all and also probably not the most interesting, however this may be because of the juxtaposition of these people in amazing positions or the mixing of many generations in the same photograph that makes it very unique? Either way, I always have a laughing eye when I look at it. 

JM – In what ways has your photography grown and improved since you started shooting film?

FG – In the beginning, I devoted myself entirely to the theory behind light metering so that I could not only grasp its subtlety but also apply this knowledge to film development and darkroom printing. And this is perhaps one of the biggest changes in my photography since I started working with film. Not only do I continue to create photographs, I work with all my photographs in the darkroom and no longer digitally (which I now only use for social networking and digital archiving of my negatives). One often hears that it is important to print one’s work which I rarely did when I was working digitally. Since I switched to film, I have been doing almost daily. I am now completely in line with this idea. Making a darkroom print offers intense satisfaction. This is not only because of the pleasure of being able to control the entire image creation process from shooting to printing but also because of the joy of being able to hold a long and demanding job in one’s hands. 

FG – Last but not least, film photography has allowed me to understand that photography is an exercise that requires you to immerse yourself completely in this art form. Taking your time, again and again, starting over again. In an era where immediacy rules our daily life, where screens are omnipresent, film photography is a refuge. Finally, should I mention large format ? My oh my, this is very new to me, so I will assume I know nothing about it. But this is, in my opinion, a completely different approach to photography. And so far, I am enjoying it a lot. Forget everything you knew about patience. This will require you to work (hard), fail (numerous times), and do everything it will take to master your craft. I am convinced after only a few weeks that this allows you to go beyond your wildest dreams in terms of fine details and control over a camera.

JM – Do you have any advice for a film photographer looking to do travel photography?

FG – I don’t have any advice as such to give. I don’t feel legitimate in that sense. On the other hand, I can explain what my mistakes were and what I am now focusing on when traveling:

– Reproducing images seen hundreds, thousands, millions of times is a mistake. The chances you’ll capture a unique perspective of it are close to none.

– Concentrate on your own experience of traveling and try to capture the emotions perceived. The rest is not important. Photography has a unique ability to capture an image and memory forever. My favorite photograph I took in Iceland is of a handle of an old door that reminded me of a jewelry of my grandmother.

– Stay away from airport sensors and kindly request a manual check of your film!

– Finally, leave with enough film, but without overloading yourself unnecessarily. How many film cameras and lenses did I bring with me that remained in my suitcase?

More of Florian’s work can be seen below:

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