Craig Murray – Local Photographers Series Ep.1

Murray is a 35 year old IT administrator based in Cape Town, South Africa. He has been shooting film for quite some time but describes his current, and growing, addiction to photography as something that really grabbed his attention back in 2015. Somewhere around late 2016, Murray explains, is when he really started dedicating himself back into the medium of film. Whilst being an avid member of a Capetonian Analogue Facebook Messenger group, he has been trying to spark more interest in the once very popular Flickr platform. Flickr was created in February of 2004 and was a Canadian based company. The platform, for those of you born into the instagram generation, is a powerful online-based community allowing amateur and professional photographers to host high-resolution photographs on its website. It’s success has seen around 112 Million users to date. 

We sent through a template of questions, written up by local journalist Storm Simpson, to Murray as a means to unpack his beginnings with film and learn more about his photographic practices as a dedicated contributor to the film scene in South Africa. His initial beginnings with photography are very humble. “My first experience with photography began when my late mother let me use the Pick ‘n Pay house brand AIM 110 film camera”. Although he was instantly hooked, he describes the issue of getting film processed and printed was a result of having busy lives during that era. Moving forward he was able to get his hands on a Pentax point and shoot which required 35mm film, moving away from 110 format because it was dying out rapidly, if not already dead. This was around the time when the digital market started to explode with potential and was becoming more accessible to the everyday consumer. Murray himself moves into this photographic realm with the purchase of a Canon EOS 350D, an 8mp camera released in February of 2005. The world of film took a huge knock during this decade, with reports showing that in 2009/2010, the percentage of digital camera users vs film camera users was around 25% (film) to that of 75% (digital). So, why still shoot with analogue camera’s?

“Shot in 2017 at a friend’s wedding, this is one of my best friends, Melanie. I used my Mamiya RB67 with Ilford HP5 for this shot. It was a horribly hot day, so I got Melanie to sit under a tree and I took this shot. It probably is my favourite film image I’ve taken to date”

Murray enjoys the process of shooting various film stocks. “I mainly shoot analogue for fun and to experience shooting every possible film stock I can get my hands on before they get discontinued”. Many of us film shooters envy those who used the medium in the past. The range of stock they had was immense. Before the age of digital cameras, new film stocks were being made nearly every year. Most of us are either shooting the finite range of film being produced today or shooting expired film from the past. Whilst we are lucky enough to still see film being produced, and even some companies producing new stocks, it is still a very niche market where prices are increasing rapidly, literally as you are reading this. Murray points out in his answers that the gigantic frames of medium format film is still unmatched, digital medium formats excluded. We agree. Although, even medium format digital cameras still lack the fine grain results and attention to detail we find in medium format film. I doubt that there will be a time (at least any time soon) where medium format digital photography will be completely available financially to the standard everyday shooter. Brands like Fujifilm and Hassleblad have already released some great medium format digital cameras. Down side is that they cost the same amount as a car.

“I took this at a Grade 8 initiation sleepover in 2003. This was again shot on my Pentax 738G, but I tried to be clever and use the flash outside in what was pitch-black darkness. I cannot recall what speed film was in the camera, but it was something pretty slow. Combined with waiting 12 years or so before getting the film processed, it led to this grainy monster. Captures a memory but makes me cringe to look at it from a technical point of view.”

Murray is on a mission to shoot every possible film stock still out there. Unfortunately, Murray explains, “this experimental mission means that I don’t quite develop a deep connection with any one stock and so can’t really say that any one film is my favourite at this point in time”. When he shoots 35mm film he gravitates towards his Canon EOS 3. He has also tested a few Minolta Dynax Camera’s, a Yashica FX-D and a Yashica YL35 rangefinder. Furthermore, he also has a Canon Canonet QL25, which has yet to be tested. For medium format film, he makes use of his Mamiya RB67 and Mamiya C330. Two mechanical monsters in the game. Finally, when it comes to lenses Murray likes to fit either a 24-105mm f4 L II, 70-200mm f2.8 L II or a 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6 L II onto his Canon EOS 3. 

“This is off my first ever self-developed film roll, a roll of Fomapan 200 shot on my Mamiya C330. I self-scanned this on my Nikon CoolScan 8000 and it was the first time that I could truly appreciate what the C330 could do as a camera. Up until this point I had mostly had a very frustrating experience with the camera and wasted a lot of good film trying to get usable photos. This was the roll that convinced me to keep persevering with the C330 in the future.”

Further Q&A’s with the photographer: 

1. Which photo lab is your favourite? Why?

I tend to use Noyes Pharmacists in Kenilworth quite often, as they are the only real processing lab left in the Southern Suburbs and they are convenient to get to. I do my own scanning now which saves me money and lets me get higher quality scans than Noyes offered, at the expense of my time of course. I also have had pretty good experiences with Orms in the CBD, but it’s a long way to travel for me so I haven’t been back in a while. Once I get some slide film shot, Cape Film Supply will be the logical place for me to go, since they are the only lab processing E6 in Cape Town!

 

2. Describe your work in one sentence.

Nothing highly unique or earth shattering, but sometimes I get lucky and get a shot I am very happy with.

 

3. Do you think your identity is reflected in your work? If so, explain how.

I don’t think so and I don’t think I’ve actively been trying to reflect my identity consciously or even unconsciously. If anything however, perhaps a sense of boring perfectionism that reflects my logical and technical mind.

 

4. What inspires you? E.g. personal experiences, other artists, your environment?

Mainly good photography whether digital or film based. I’m lucky in that being involved with a couple of photography groups, I’m often inspired by the work the members produce. Seeing what they do ignites my curiosity in that I want to know how they did something, which drives me to try and get a similar result on my own, without directly copying their work.

 

5. What motivates you to keep shooting?

To experience every remaining film stock out there before they get discontinued. Film has had a very healthy patch of growth these last few years, but it’s still something that feels very tenuous. Look at Fuji killing Pro400H out of the blue, one of its incredibly popular remaining film stocks as an example. I feel almost a weird sense of duty to try and use them all, so that I can document the outcome of each stock for future generations to look at. Sounds a bit pompous I think, but it’s what keeps me going.

 

6. Are there any particular experiences (good or bad) while shooting that you remember?

Two come to mind. My first ever walk with Analogue Cape Town was memorable for the simple fact that I had to get up at a pretty early hour in the morning (for a weekend – I like sleeping in late on the weekend) to join the gang in Newlands. Despite that, the members welcomed me right in, as despite being something like the 5th member of the group on Facebook, I hadn’t attended the first few walks as they were too early in the morning for my blood. Very quickly I fitted in however and the rest is history. The other memory is a bit more comical. ACT were shooting at the old Rhodes Estate Lion Enclosure. We were barely an hour or so into the walk when we got evicted by a SANPARKS ranger, as apparently we needed a permit to shoot there. First time in my life I’ve ever been thrown out of somewhere!

 

7. All mediums have their ups and downs, what are the most rewarding and challenging things about working with film for you?

The most rewarding is always getting images back from a roll. That thrill never seems to get old no matter how many years goes by. There is that and knowing that if properly cared for, the negatives could be usable in a hundred years. That’s a level of permanence digital images has not yet been able to replicate. On the challenging side of things, easy access to different and unique film stocks locally, finding quality labs, the costs of developing and buying new rolls and maybe most annoying for me personally is the lack of accurate metadata on the finished photos. That’s one thing I have come to rely on in the digital world.

 

8. How do you select your subject matter?

Generally speaking, I tend to look for something that is either unique or pleasing to my eye from whatever angle I’m shooting at. Unlike digital, when I shoot film I’m always mentally evaluating on whether I should take the shot or not, so sometimes I miss the chance to get the image I was visualising in my head. Still, there’s usually enough subject matter when I’m doing street work that I mostly get what I want in the end.

 

9. Where is your favourite place to take photographs?

I don’t really have one favourite place. I like to shoot wherever I am at until I’m pretty content, then move on to the next place. Keeps things fresh for me. Cape Town is a hugely photogenic place, but that also means that just about every square inch has been photographed to death.


10. When is the best time to take photographs?

The golden and blue hours for sure but if you are doing street work on a walk or a festival, you have work with what you get to the best of your ability. That being said, avoid noon sun if at all possible. Results are very rarely worth it in that harsh light.

 

11. Do you shoot consistently or only when inspiration hits?

I only shoot film when I’m on a photo walk or if I have managed to get out the house to scout an area or am going on an outing with family. I don’t find inspiration in carrying a camera around with me all the time, especially not a film body.

 

12. How many rolls do you go through in a month?

If I’ve been on a walk, anywhere between one to two. Otherwise, it can be long stretches of time where I don’t shoot a roll at all. The hard lock down of 2020 being a very noteworthy example.

 

13. You just got your roll back from the lab, what’s the first thing you do?

Since I got my scanner, scan the images. Prior to this it was place the negs into a Print File sleeve in strips of 6 and archive the sleeve. For long term storage, those sleeves from a lab that house strips of 4 negatives are useless.

 

14. What is your post-development process?

Scan, sleeve and archive. I don’t have much in the way of good editing skills, so I’ll basically just crop, straighten and do a minor tweak here and there. I could do a lot more now however that I can scan in TIFF format vs JPEG you get from a lab, as JPEG files can only be pushed so far and each save is a destructive step quality wise of the file.

 

15. If you could shoot any place, at any time in the past or future, where and when would it be? 

Oof, good question. I love to imagine what South Africa as a whole body of land must have looked like before huge amounts of people settled here. I would love the landscapes, but I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. So I think a better answer would be Cape Town in the early days. I have a few books of images from those days and it is utterly fascinating to me seeing landmarks and how the city evolved.

 

16. How has your work changed since you started shooting?

Since I got back into things in as mentioned above, film was a secondary medium to me. I shot test rolls purely to check that a camera worked, didn’t have light leaks etc. Artistically my shots had very little meaning. Since I’ve been part of various photography groups and have had the chance to learn from others both visually and by listening to their suggestions during chat, I have tightened up the work I produce, even with test rolls. More thought and care goes into shooting each image now, reducing the rate of random snaps.

 

17. What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give someone about to shoot their first roll?/What’s the one thing you wish you knew before you shot your first roll?

Don’t buy into the mindset that to shoot film, you must use an old manual camera to somehow get the film “vibe.” Manual SLR’s are fantastic and are great teachers of the craft of photography, but it can also be deeply frustrating and disheartening to a beginner to take shots and get back terrible results. Late model SLR cameras make life so much easier, more so if you can use lenses with any existing digital bodies. The one thing I wish I knew before I shot my first modern roll is what a big undertaking it would become to try and complete my self-imposed “shoot them all” project. Some types of film stock are way more expensive than others…

 

18. In your opinion, what makes a photograph good?

Emotion, something that reaches out and grabs you and your attention. If a photo possesses that quality, it often doesn’t matter if the photo is technically proficient or not. That is truly one of the greatest powers of photography, stirring emotion of some sort in someone. That being said, for certain genres of work, a technically proficient photo can also be truly stunning and take your breath away, which stirs a different set of emotions I think.

 

19. Who are the photographers you admire?

Ben Horne, Nick Carver, Jerard van der Walt, David Harker, Martyn Mulder, Charmé Kriel, Charl Fourie. Some film, some digital, some both. Each of them stirs the previously spoken about emotion in me and makes me want to see more of their work and even try to reach towards their standard of work.20. Where can we view your work?

Most of the work I’ve shot for myself and not the school I work at can been seen on my Flickr page – https://www.flickr.com/photos/134952755@N07/albums
Whilst I am on Instagram, my feed there basically has cropped images from my Flickr stream reposted. I am just not a huge Instagram fan for truly enjoying good photographic work at their best possible potential. 

Photographers choice of an old photograph – “it’s not quite the oldest photo I’ve taken, but I don’t have any scans of our family 110 film archive so I can’t share those at the moment. This photo is from 2001, not long after I got my Pentax Espio 738G camera. I can’t recall the film stock, it was either a Fuji 100 or Tudor Colour film, Tudor being a rebranded Fuji stock if memory serves.”
 
Questions by Storm Simpson. Write up by Kino Hogan.

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