Andy Martin Q&A - Night Photography | Long Exposures

Andy Martin is probably best known for his long exposure night photography on Flickr. He's able to create amazing compositions by finding the beauty in seemingly undesirable areas of Sunderland

Images from Andy's Flickr stream have been incorporated in to the post in no particular order or relevance to the questions and are just a small sample of his creative eye and talent.


1)         Please state your full name

Andy Martin



2)         Current occupation

I drive a white van for minimum wage, unfortunately. I get to drive an 1820's steam engine throughout the summer months though, so I suppose it balances out. Although the pay is equally as rubbish.



3)         Where are you currently living

Sunderland



4)         What's your age

25



5)         What do you like about photography

There's a certain magic, particularly with shooting film. It's hard to describe, but I love the endless creative opportunities that go with it. Other than that, the smell of film, being under a red safelight, and that excited feeling you get when holding a transparency up to the light for the first time.



6)         How did you get started

See Question 9



7)         Would you like to be a full-time photographer

Well, yes – it would be great to be paid for what I do but it depends on the manner of photography of course. I wouldn't wish to shoot weddings, school children, or cruise ship portraits. I'm not sure if there's any market to make a living from the kind of work I do, it's possibly a little too obscure. We'll see.



8)         Which countries would you like to visit for photographic opportunities

Japan, definitely. It's somewhere I've wanted to visit since I was young, and to photograph it would be immense. The architecture is very interesting, and the lights at night seem to have a different quality to what we have in the UK. Other than that, the US, Australia, various Scandinavian countries, and large parts of Eastern Europe. Quite a lot really.



9)         At what age did you become a photographer

Well, I'd not class myself as a photographer in all honesty, but for the purpose of the interview, and not to appear awkward… I took lots of photos when I was young. Around 6 or 7 years old I got a little point and shoot camera from Boots from my grandparents (and still have it). I took photos when I could but we didn't have too much money when I was young so film processing was a problem. So I used to go round and take photos without film in the camera.  But I didn't really start taking things seriously until about 8 or 9 years ago when I started college...



10)      What inspired you to become a photographer initially

Well I got into it seriously once I started college in 2001. I was doing an Art & Design course, and photography was one of the modules. I was fortunate that it was before digital had really become as mainstream as it has done so everything was Pentax K1000, black and white film and of course the intrigue of the darkroom. I was hooked from the very first minute, and seemed to have a natural eye for things which certainly helped.



11)      Who or what inspires you now

I tend not to ‘idolise' or follow other photographers too much, preferring to do my own thing. But there are many wonderful photographers on Flickr as you well know, Ursula Pfitzer is one who I have a great deal of respect for. Her photos (all shot on film) have a certain appeal and quality to them that I don't see as much with anyone else. She shares my obsessive film fetish too so there's always plenty of geekery to talk about. Jack Delano's 5x4 Kodachromes (shorpy.com) are sublime. Tom Paiva (brother of Troy) and some of Robert Vizzini's work is right up my street too. But as I said, I try not to draw too much influence from others. Because it always shows. Originality is best. O Winston Link deserves a mention also.

Other than that, I think I've subconsciously drawn a lot of influence from old B&W movies. The Third Man, Metropolis, Streetcar – films along those lines. More often than not I'll be observing the lighting and cinematography when watching a film. And with my work being primarily Sunderland based, local music tends to be the soundtrack to my photos. Not a conscious choice, it just always seems to fit together well.



12)      Why film photography and not digital capture

Well as said previously, I think I was lucky to have been started off on film – I was hooked immediately with the whole process of it. Had it been digital I doubt I'd have immersed myself in taking photos the way I did. Nothing against the medium, I do occasionally use it for certain situations but it's just too easy, too convenient and too samey. For me, they are two totally different mediums, each with their own merits and downsides.  But film is real. Film is honest.



13)      What does film offer you that digital capture doesn't

A challenge, and a drain on my bank account. But I don't mind at all… In terms of night photography, the ability to take longer exposures without sensor/battery/noise issues. And then there's the age old quality debate. I personally think 6x6 or 5x4 transparencies are far superior to anything digital. Film doesn't have that over sharpened smooth look which puts me right off digital. And it can be very unpredictable at times, which is a good thing. Colour shifts and reciprocity failure can ensure that that photo comes out even better (or worse, but rarely) than you could ever have initially imagined. In addition to that, there's an unlimited combination of films, cameras and setups where I think with digital you're very limited. All the photos look near enough the same, clean, crisp but a bit soulless. Like a page 3 model. Sure, you can spend hours post processing them to make them look better but where is the fun in that? I'd rather spend my time taking the photos. All my shots are fresh out of the camera, after a bit of dust removal of course which is where the time often goes. But I enjoy that…



14)      What's wrong with photography today, if anything

Maybe not so much photography, but the post 9/11 society we live in makes people very suspicious of others with cameras. Why, I have no idea but maybe you can blame media scaremongering to an extent. Ironic when Google Earth ensures you can see near enough the whole world in a great amount of detail. Other than that, the discontinuation of a number of lesser used films in recent years. Sad times indeed.



15)      What do you find most difficult/challenging about photography

Taking photos in daylight.



16)      Do you have any goals for 2010

Just carry on as I am, January has been very productive so far with February looking promising so far. Lots of photos taken which I'm pleased about. I'm aiming to take more people photos too, something I've neglected for too long. I'm also looking to do my own E6 processing at some point as the lab I use seems to be winding down that side of things.



17)      Do you have anything exciting lined up for 2010

Plenty of ideas and projects in the pipeline, how it develops we shall have to see. I'd like to put out a book of my work, a lot of it which is unseen and this is a medium I'd like to exploit.



18)      Have you achieved your goals for 2009

I'd say so. The launch of the ‘This is Sunderland' website was very successful and has had a lot of positive feedback so far. I ended up with a photo used as the cover image for Lucas Renney's debut album which was nice to see.



19)      How much time per month do you give to photography

Hard to say really, as I have times when apathy prevails and I'm less productive than at other times. But I like to try and get out and photograph at least 3 nights a week. Sometimes it ends up being more, other times less. Life gets in the way unfortunately.



20)      What gear do you use most

My main workhorse camera is a Hasselblad 500C/M which I picked up cheaply a few years ago before people cottoned back onto shooting film. It can be temperamental at times, and probably not worth the hassle it causes but still turns out some decent enough images. But I do use a Graflex Crown Graphic quite often if the situation is right.



21)      Do you think ‘gear' matters

To an extent, yes. I couldn't have taken any of the photos I have with a plastic 35mm point and shoot. But it's not the be all and end all. The person using it is more important. I don't really buy into the ‘Hasselblad magic' thing either. Undeniably excellent cameras and lenses but I don't think there's a whole lot of difference between the ‘Blad and other higher end MF cameras. Other than the price!



22)      Is there any more ‘gear' you'd like to own which you don't currently

Ah, plenty…lenses mainly. I've got a camera to cover every format really but lenses are where the money is. And money is not something I have a lot of. I'd like a higher end 35mm, the ones I use (Nikon F90X, Rollei B35, Olympus XA) are decent, but can be limiting at times. And maybe a higher end 5x4 camera, the Graflex is excellent with it's Dagor lens but has very limited movements. I'd like a Hasselblad Xpan one day too. One day…



23)      You're known for you long exposures, can you please tell us what it is about long exposures which appeals to you and your process, learning curve, film preference, camera (please elaborate on this)

In terms of film, I prefer slide film. The colours are preferable to me, and it's more of a challenge shooting transparency in a night time situation. Challenges are good. And the fact that it's very difficult (and sometimes impossible) to meter at night. This meant I had to learn the characteristics of many films and lighting situations over the years. I rarely get it wrong now.



24)      Whats the biggest compliment you've been paid and by whom (photographically)

I couldn't really pick one out as I get so many kind words on Flickr and via email every day from people whose work I respect very much. I got a merit award in the Fujifilm Distinctions competition (2008) which was good.



25)      Where do you see your work in 5 years

In a similar vein I'd guess, but more refined, and technically better. Hopefully with a bit of recognition for my work.



26)      What do you hope to achieve when taking photographs

Primarily it's to document a location, space or object. But making it look good is close behind. There's also the pleasure of showing people places and things they may walk past every day and not give a second glance.



27)      Do you have a favourite photograph that you took

Not so much a favourite, as I have so many, and all the memories attached to the taking of those. But I guess one image which stands out is this one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/interzone-inc/305314393/

I'd just got back into shooting film at night after a brief digital hiatus *shudder* and was feeling a bit despondent about my abilities and photo taking in general. When I held this shot up to the light I felt a lot better about things. It's one of the most popular I've put onto Flickr so must hold a bit of universal appeal as well.



28)      Do you have a favourite photograph by someone else.

This is pretty special: http://www.shorpy.com/node/1128



29)      With regards to film, what's your process from camera to print/web

Colour = Shoot it, drive through to a lab in Newcastle, mince around for 2 hours or so and then pick it up.

Black and white = Shoot it, load it into whatever processing tank neccessary in the coal shed in the garden. I can only do this at night as the light gets in the door. Then into the kitchen where I spill fix all over the bench which can't be healthy. Once processed, dry them in front of the fire hung on a clothes horse with home made paperclip/bulldog clip neg hangers.

Scanning = Bit of a dust and hoover round the bedroom (where I scan) then get scanning. I use those microfibre cloths from Poundland between each scan to keep as much dust away from the scanner as possible. It's far from an ideal setup, but it's all I currently have.

Once scanned I save the original and make a copy. Then dust removal, adjust levels to match the transparency or whatever I had in mind for B&W. Then resize and add a small watermark for web use.



30)      Have you exhibited your work and if so where

I've had a few exhibitions over the years but it's not something that has really appealed as I like full control over the output of my work. I had a bad experience with one so called arts venue which left a bitter taste. But we'll not go into that…A good one I did have was in the no longer used Holy Trinity Church in Sunderland, I had a loop of my photos projected onto a large screen in front of the altar. Was a good experience.



31)      What's your preferred mediums for print

32)      Are you signed to any stock/art agencies, if so, which

No, as I said I think my work is a little to obscure for marketing purposes. I'd be pleasantly surprised if I turned out to be wrong though. If anyone has any recommendations…



33)      Are you working on any personal projects at the moment.

I recently asked my Grandfather (88 years old) to write down any memories he could recall from his childhood growing up in Hendon (Sunderland, and a place where a lot of my photos are taken). I put them together in a short book with a selection of my images and also some family images, it turned out really well and he was delighted with his copy.



34)      Are there any anecdotes about nigh time long exposures you could share -  scary encounters, or perhaps the tranquillity you enjoy.

Ah, too many to mention! There's rarely a dull night when taking photos…Over the years I've encountered people dogging, drunken charvers (chavs to those down south), scary old tramps, rats, owls, bats, I've been chased by dogs more than once and have stood in dog shit more times than I care to recall. The perils of wandering round in the dark... But it can be very peaceful and beautiful, like up in the countryside under a full moon with nobody for miles. Or on a deserted beach watching meteors fly overhead. Things are very different at night.



35)      What' do you like the most about night photography

The mystery and surprise that the photos rarely turn out how you imagine them. And the colours are amazingly unusual at times.



36)      Do you have a favourite subject/place to photograph

Hendon, a part of Sunderland full of industry, interesting characters and many ghosts of the past. And also somewhere the majority of my family were born and bred, there's a definite link to the place.



37)      What's your favourite film and why

Too many to choose. For colour, Fuji T64 was my main film of choice when I started out but since it's been discontinued I've used a lot of other films more often, mostly transparency for night stuff. Velvia 50 at night is a challenge, it doesn't respond well to long exposures unless they are very long, but done right they are worth the trouble. Black and white? Much the same, I like 100ASA films, Delta 100, Tmax 100, Acros 100. Pan F shot at 25 ISO at night can be beautiful in the right conditions.



38)      If you had to choose one camera, one lens and one film (if you choose film over digital) to work with solely for your own purposes, what would they be and why

If I could afford it, I'd probably buy a Pentax 67. Good compromise between the quality of MF and the portability of a hand held SLR. Lens? Not too hot on what's available but something fast. And film would be Provia 100F, to cover most situations. 



39)      Do you have any plans to start taking photographs for a living

Not currently, but I'd like to get paid for what I do. Might happen one day…



40)      How do you relax

I drag race old Volkswagens with souped up aircooled engines, there's a certain thrill in driving a car designed 75 years ago far faster than is healthy.



41)      What excites you

The smell of film. Haha!



42)      What's your favourite Flickr group

The ‘Film is not dead it just smells funny' group has a excellently high standard of photos. And all on film of course.



43)      What's the best thing about photography

The waiting. Waiting for the long exposure, waiting for the film to process, and waiting for the scanner to finish. The anticipation is immense, and the images are always rewarding and highly satisfying.



44)      What don't you like about photography in general
45)      How would you like to be remembered

Just…as someone who loved his hometown and ideally as a half decent photographer. But I've a way to go yet.



46)      What advice would you give to someone looking to buy a camera

Try before you buy. And make sure it takes film.



47)      If someone would like to see your work, where can they find it.

There's my Flickr stream - http://www.flickr.com/photos/interzone-inc/ - which has the latest work, www.this-is-sunderland.co.uk has the most extensive selection of film work from the last 5 years and for a bit of variety www.interzone-inc.net showcases a lot of night photos I took on a 5 megapixel compact camera. I still like a lot of that work despite it's limitations.

48)      Can you send some examples of your work as low-res JPG's (500pixels)

Feel free to take any from Flickr or the TIS site, as long as the watermarks are left on them that's fine.  If there's any specific ones you'd like me to send over then let me know.
49) Do you have anything else you'd like to add
Thanks for the interest in my work, and I always look forward to seeing your shots on Flickr. Keep flying the flag for film photography!
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