Posted on March 08 2020
As part of our celebration of International Women's Day on the 8th March we are interviewing different female members of the film community, asking the same questions to each for a snapshot of different perspectives and thoughts.
Today the spotlight rests on Paula Smith!
Paula - thank you for your time. What is your film photography background?
Photography started as something I did to capture the people and places around me, you know as a kid taking goofy pictures of the cat, then the holidays, parties, friends. Before you know it, you’re become the official ‘unofficial’ photographer.
As I grew older it became a more serious pastime that gradually turned to a profession.
How did you get into film?
I started photography when there was only film photography. As a kid I bought a plastic toy camera with my pocket money. Then we had the family cheapo, no name brand 35mm compact that I took on holidays, school trips, parties etc. At 18, when I started travelling, I invested in an Olympus Mju from an electronics shop on Broadway, New York. Little did I know then, that this would become an iconic little camera that did a great job capturing my early travel adventures. Cor, I wish I still had it. Some toe-rag stole my bag at Waterloo Station and that was the only treasure in it.
As time passed, I got more serious and obsessive about taking pictures. My first SLR was a Canon EOS 300 and the plastic fantastic 50mm 1.4. I still have and use them both. As digital cameras started hitting the mainstream, I did buy into them, though I continued to invest in film photography. I started shooting medium format on a Bronica SQAi, and having tried out a Zorki 4K rangefinder, I bit the bullet and bought a Lecia MP and 35mm Summicron. This was my traveling companion and helped me towards a career change.
I’ve been working as a freelance photographer ever since and though most of my professional work is using digital cameras, I still use film, pretty much on a daily basis, capturing moments with my family and the world around me.
What is the film photograph you’re most proud of, and why?
This shot of a Dingo in Australia is special to me because it was one of those split-second moments where all the magic came together, the light, expression, composition and I somehow managed to get exposure and focus right using a manual camera on slide film! I remember feeling like “Whoa that’s another one that will only live in my head”, but I was pleased when the slides came back and there it was, just as I envisaged.
What is your favourite camera/film combination?
The Leica MP and honestly any film… But I suppose I shoot Ilford HP5+ the most because it’s so versatile and I trust it. If I need to push it, no problem, I know what I’m going to get.
Who is your favourite (famous or not!) female film photographer?
Hard to name just one, but you’ll notice they are from a similar era… Maybe I was born at the wrong time. Bayard Wootten. Dorothea Lange, Lee Miller, Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, Tina Modotti and Vivian Maier
What could the community do to support your personal film photography endeavours?
I guess it’s about helping to share the work to a greater audience. And hey if someone wants to buy a print or a zine (when I finally get around to making one) then that’s wonderful. I often wonder why on earth I’m compelled to take pictures. With a lot of personal stuff I just do it and if it generates an emotion for someone for whatever reason then that’s the most amazing feeling.
What could the community or industry do to encourage more women to start shooting film?
Continue to promote women film photographers – give us a platform to talk about the tools we use and why we use them. This will help break down the myths that it’s some kind of dark art from yesteryear that only old geezers do in their dark sheds.
Far from it!
I’d like to see the industry encourage opportunities for woman to try film photography – maybe some kind of funding available for female film photographers to run workshops where we can help others to try it and learn.
What could the community or industry do to encourage more women to continue shooting film?
Encourage connections between us. I’ve learnt so much from people via social media. If I need advice on something film related people are so giving.
And this probably goes without saying but keep film alive! Keep cameras alive! Ensure that it's affordable and we have access to the knowledge about how to shoot film.
Is there anything in particular you want to highlight/explain/address related to film photography and International Women’s Day?
I had a conversation with a woman I photographed a couple years ago that has stuck with me ever since. I asked her what her motivation was for getting her portrait taken and she explained that she’d recently lost her Mum and she had realised that there were no decent photographs of her. You see, her Mum was the one who always took the photographs, so whilst there were millions of pictures of everyone else, very few existed of her. Sound familiar? She didn’t want that to be the case for her children and so she valued getting in front of the camera every now and again.
So, as much as I hate being in front of the camera you have to do it every now and again…
Where can people find you and your work?