We discovered the work of Oli Sansom and found his old style low-key film photography very strong and spirited. Oli has shot all kinds of images ranging from B&W landscapes to ‘documentary-style’ wedding photography and his creative spectrum is quite wide. He shoots 50 year old film using an even older TLR; creates videos with still/moving images; and attempts to challenge his own work by continuously experimenting with his style and approaches. His portraits are soulful, street images are interesting, and photostream looks complete. Here’s our Q&A with him with a selection of fine images:
I’m a photographer, mostly, from Melbourne, Australia. I grew up drawing, lots - having chalk thrown at my head in math class by Ms Laidler in primary school, and then much of the same in high school. I ended up studying Multimedia, and then merging that with the drawing thing: the result of which was some 8 years at design/ad agencies as a digital designer/art director, before switching to this at the start of last year.
Outside of all this, I play guitar in a band with a bunch of other goons down here. I used to be big into the heavier side of things (well, still am) but with this band we’ve traded face paint and spikes for more of a tropical pop vibe. It’s a great release after sitting down editing images all week. I plan on picking up the Sax too, but probably just so I can pull ‘Careless Whisper’ out.
I first picked up a camera in 2009 for my first trip overseas, and first started taking it seriously, I guess, pretty recently. Which turned out to be fairly well-timed as when the company I worked for closed up at the end of 2012, I was in a position to go ‘ok, what if we try this…’ as far as giving photography a proper go. I’m nearly at the end of my second year going solo at it.
I haven’t created a statement yet. I think that side of this whole caper is making me more anxious than anything else, ha. I did write a blog post several months back though, that I think just about answers this perfectly.
Outside of that, I just get excited at producing and teaching new things. This image making thing is full of a lot of open people and deep thinkers, so it’s fair to say it’s changed my outlook on things pretty significantly, which is a good thing when you’re creating images for real people, and not some marketing campaign.
Presently I’m focusing more on weddings and portraiture, and I use a mixture of analogue and digital for both. Like many, I moved into weddings mostly out of necessity - it was a place where I could do my thing and reasonably quickly keep things afloat after being out of a job, and not wanting to just jump into another. Now I’m trying to create a shift more into fine art & portraiture, which always feeds back into weddings anyhow. Couples get pretty excited when I bring a clunky old camera and film that expired 50 years ago, which rocks.
I use a Canon 5DMKIII for weddings, with the 35L and 85L. I don’t really use them for anything else. Outside of that, I have a Pentax 67II, Hasselblad 500CM, Yashica 635G TLR, Speed Graphic 4×5, and Gundlach Korona 4×5: a beautiful 100 year old field camera.
The Pentax 67II was bought for a specific project, and the Hasselblad & Yashica TLR for overseas travel - after taking a whole heap of digital gear on a trip in 2010, I realised I’d spend more energy debating which piece of kit to use. Now I just take a 6×6 film camera, don’t have to edit thousands of shots, and my images are better for it.
I’m right down with photo manipulation. Humans innately want to see authenticity in an image: the moment there’s distrust, we kinda lose interest, and the image gets a poor response. That can be created out of it being ‘too perfect’, hyper-real, or on the other end of the dial, not polished enough or with visible errors. I’m a huge fan of photo manipulation - to create worlds/things that look authentic, whether using film or digital capture as a base.
‘Documentary style’ is just a buzz phrase that quickly communicates the type of images that a couple will get. Usually very early on in conversations something will come up to the effect of them finally finding someone that isn’t about all the ‘posey stuff’, or awkward setups typical of something that seemed to bloom in the 90’s. The reality is that there’s a big wave of shooters doing ‘documentary style’ now, but nonetheless it just quickly makes that distinction. That didn’t really answer your question, did it? Oh yeah. ‘Documentary style’ means the approach is about staying out of the way, and documenting what’s happening.
About different sites, I originally had them merged but hit the problem of couple confusion because what I was showing was too narrow - all way dark and moody portraits (you’d think that with my background in marketing-related stuff that I would’ve realized this cause & effect thing earlier). I wanted to segment heavily from the start as far as creating a niche, but it was a little too far on the extreme end of the dial. It hit home when a friend heard from a couple, funnily, that they didn’t think I do ‘documentary’ on the day so didn’t book - which funnily is about 99% of what I do on the day. So I separated them. Show what you’re selling, people!
My lab Raw Digital & Film Lab can probably be thanked for the attention to detail on the scanning end of things. Some fogging was present, but that’s easily fixed with burning. Most of the images shot on that film were in high-contrast scenes anyway, and wouldn’t be made into tone-critical prints, so it was just a case of playing with curves to get some extra punch out of them.
That said, it’s pretty remarkable how the stock holds tones when exposed in beautiful soft light - out of this world in the mids and shadows. Apart from some fringe cases of odd-fog at the edges, 95% of the images simply had some pleasing cloud-patterns over the mid-tones, as well as some kind of extra grain which I all found pretty pleasant.
I’m super fascinated by what can still be done with the world of stills and motion. They say everything has been done before, that doesn’t mean that crazy new adaptations can’t be made along the way. I’ve been lucky to have been involved with one such project through a pioneering bunch of ratbags down here in Melbourne called ‘Oh Yeah Wow’, and I have a couple of my own ones on the burn that are so ridiculous I’m sure they haven’t yet been attempted. Here’s a couple of projects that have had some stills/motion hybrid going on:
Paper Kites: Young - This was made by carefully positioning 350 people, and taking upwards of 4000 photographs that were then composited together to have them all singing the song.
Dropframe: Trichome - This one is bittersweet. It was my first attempt at doing a cinegraph, so to try and do an entire music video might have been a little ambitious. I learnt a lot through it though. Namely to avoid shooting footage in anything but RAW (I didn’t have Magic Lantern at the time), and, maybe, to ease up on the purple grade a bit. I plan on doing a ‘director’s cut’ to clean it up a little and remove some sections.
I’m gonna give my pals Bayly & Moore a plug too - I was blown away by their use of stop motions in a wedding context, super nifty and just shows how many unique ways there are to do things:
Which one of these is your favorite photo and why?
I have plenty of definite favourites that I’m not going to pick, only because I instead love the story around this one. This was from a trip to New York last year, where I wanted to try street photography, and decided an old TLR was the perfect medium for that quest. Just sitting at a cafe minding my own business with the TLR on the table, an old guy in a wheelchair approached. ‘I haven’t seen one of those in a hundred years!’ The conversation unfolded and as it happened he was an ex-Vietnam veteran who had been crucified (with the scars to prove it), was a model in the 70’s and cheerfully bought magazine clipping evidence the following day to prove it, and ended up taking me around ‘his’ lower east side. His name is Ed, a fascinating, open character that I’m hoping to catch up with again next year.
For the past year or so I’ve wanted to focus on creating bodies of work, instead of just candy images shot in natural light. I have about 3 projects in the works, loosely across the themes of oppressed musical movements, crowds, and another that has a nifty tie between a super old technique and a super new one. I’m fascinated too by how value can be added to an image just by the distance created between the styles of now and the styles within the image (from whenever it was captured), so that’s another thing.
I don’t really follow the scene. I should, but I don’t. I think for me personally, it’s an exciting time given the enormous amount of intersections between new techniques, and the analogue world, which is having it’s own revival. There seems to be a big emphasis on ‘19 year old surreal photographers’ employing floating teacups and such - I’d love to see more far-reaching publications look a little deeper into what’s happening. A personal favourite photographer of mine the last couple of years is Sean Fennessy. Subtle, intelligent contemporary photo narratives, and Raphaella Rosella.
I’m only really thinking about 12 months ahead at the moment - getting out a few projects that I’ve had on my brain for way too long, before trying to refocus on how I can make this sustainable for the long term. My background is in digital & marketing, so there’s some stuff in the works that merges that with the photography thing.
Inspiration is a funny thing - I tend to just fill up the inspiration well by hanging out and shooting with friends rather than getting out there. I’ve been pretty lucky to run a few workshops locally and overseas this year. I’m a big believer in just getting on the tools, and finding inspiration outside of the medium. Two of my favourite personal projects that illustrate the power of giving something 100% in isolation are ‘Windows of New York’, and Fred Nurbys reimagining of the Facebook platform. Those projects inspire me a heap, as far as finding beauty in the mundane, and the power of consistent work done en masse.
Ira Glass has lots of great things to say about that end of things in a clip-vide that went viral called ‘The Gap’.
Zdzislaw Beksinski is presently my favourite painter - incredible textured worlds that take a pretty unique mind to create. Painters need to imagine and then craft light and tone, so I think exploring that craft is pretty important as far as making better sense of everything photographically.
A few of my favourite projects at the moment are Greg Miller - Primo Amore - Fantastic 8×10 images of beachgoers, and enough to sell anyone on the merits of shooting large format. Sean Fennessy – Gold - A clever narrative drawing parallel between the tacky worlds of the Australian Gold Cost, and Dubai. Chloe Dewe Mathews - Banger Boys of Britain - A brilliant photo essay using the grand daddy of all rangefinders, the Mamiya 7.
The single biggest thing that holds a photographer back is plainly ‘not doing’. Collaborate, buy the tools you need right now, shoot often, and -totally- forget about finding the ‘perfect’ personal project, as if that even exists - it will come out when you’re shooting and going through a process, not sitting about waiting for it to fall in your lap.