Posted on July 01 2019
We have a special treat today! To celebrate the launch of Kosmo Foto Mono 120 we sat down with the man, the architect, the Kosmonaut behind the brand - Mr Stephen Dowling - to talk analogue photography, the fun of packing boxes, and the Soviet inspiration behind it all.
Stephen! Tell us about your background in film.
I started shooting film in earnest around 2000. Before that I had a couple of all-singing, all-dancing autofocus SLRs, but 2000 was the year I decided to go old school and learn the basics on an old Praktica SLR.
I also bought a Lomo LC-A at the same time (the Soviet original, still going strong) which is probably most responsible for my love affair with both film photography and Soviet cameras.
Stephen Dowling and Cat (c) Trupti Reddy
Do you get the opportunity to shoot film with your day job at all?
More than you might think. I work for a science website on the BBC and we’re not tied into the daily news cycle, so a few times I’ve taken my film gear along to snap some pics. The most fun was a few days in Albania last year for a story on the country’s communist-era bunkers.
Sounds epic. And I know you love your music - is there a link there for you between music and film photography?
I am definitely of the indie rock stripe - hey, I worked at the NME in the mid-90s - and I think there’s a definite appreciation of the analogue aesthetic from those who plug into vintage amps. I’m been documenting one band, Buffalo Tom, since the mid-2000s and shooting them on black-and-white film.
What prompted you to start your blog Kosmo Foto - and didn't it start with a different name?
To be honest, I was at a loose end. I had already been shooting for ages, and had a sizeable collection of cameras. This was at the stage (in 2012) where a bunch of other camera/film photography blogs seemed to be starting up. It seemed to be a good way to review cameras, show off a few of my shots and share stories of my travels with film.
I shoot with a lot of Soviet cameras, so Zorki Photo seemed a good name. Not when it came to releasing a film, though, as Zorki is still a registered trademark in Russia. Hence the name change.
What have you enjoyed most about running your website?
I would say building what has become a bona fide film brand and, I hope, a trusted voice in the film community. I’m a writer by trade, so I like writing, and I’m curious to see pics others take and stories they have about film.
Film photography has been a constant the last two decades and a massively important part of my life. Building the Kosmo Foto film brand has been huge fun. I didn’t realise how much stuff had been percolating in the background until I started the film. There’s a definite aesthetic that has been waiting to get out. Now all I need is Dua Lipa or Kendall Jenner to start shooting my film.
We'll tag them when we share this article on Twitter - I'm sure that'll work :-) And what have you enjoyed least?
Definitely packing boxes. Lots and lots and lots of boxes...
Let's go back to the aesthetic because people really love the Kosmo Foto character and branding. What inspired the look?
I soaked up a lot of the wonderful graphic design from the USSR and Eastern Europe when I started getting into Russian cameras. There was this amazing school of graphic art on everything from matchboxes to camera manuals to airline posters. It’s so evocative.
My Mate Does Art, who does all the graphic design for Kosmo Foto, totally understood the look I was going for. He created the packaging for both the films which is so striking. So many people have commented about it. Film packaging has become less adventurous of late - the packaging adheres pretty closely to parent branding. I wanted to create something that really leaped out.
Along with the packaging, he created these images - first a space series, and then images that hark back to the “jetset” era of aviation - as stickers and postcards, and now t-shirts. You can only buy these from the Kosmo Foto Shop. It’s nice to still have a reason for people to buy from me, as the film becomes more widely available from online sellers like Analogue Wonderland and shops around the world.
You’ve done an awesome job branding a 35mm B&W film - and now the 120! - to help make film more fun and relevant to a new generation of photographer. What has been the most satisfying aspect of this project?
I love seeing the enthusiasm of people shooting the film - the unboxing videos on Instagram, people sending me images via email, people filling out the Kosmonaut questionnaire and showing their images to the world. Even just seeing them in the shops. It must be what authors or musicians feel like when they walk into a book shop or record store and see their creations on the shelves.
What's your favourite photo that you've taken on Kosmo Foto Mono 35mm film so far?
I shot this image of an antique shop owner in Tirana, Albania, after buying a few trinkets from him. Shot on a Nikon F100 and a 50/1.8 lens.
What are you most excited about for the 120 version?
The depth of field you can get from 120 is so much more three dimensional and eye-popping. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the 120 customers do with their film. Show me your portraits!
What's the craziest place you've seen people take your film?
I have a customer in Greenland which is pretty cool. I live in hope that some film-shooting astronaut/cosmonaut takes a few rolls up with them onto the International Space Station.
What's next on the Kosmo Foto hitlist?
There are various things on the cards, I remain tight-lipped for now, but be prepared for more announcements later in the year.
I’m having a huge amount of fun on Kosmo Foto and really want to build it into one of the premiere film photography blogs on the planet. So if you’re not already reading it, please give it a visit.
Absolutely! And thanks so much to Stephen for his time. If this interview has inspired you to try Stephen's film then you can stock up on Kosmo Foto Mono in either 35mm and 120 in-store.