It is with the greatest pleasure that I introduce you to Dena Robles, a film portrait photographer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. Dena has just moved back to the States after spending six years here in the UK and I’m pretty much sure she’s loving the light over there, especially shooting on film. Like me, Dena shoots her portrait work using ambient light on location and her work is very beautiful. You can check out her website here to see just how pretty her work is. Here’s what she has to say!
“Like many photographers I started my photography journey by shooting film and printing in a darkroom. Like most of those photographers I also made the switch to digital when DSLRs were finally available at a price less than the cost of a luxury car. And like a small handful of those photographers I have made the switch back to shooting film over the last few years. Why? I can talk on and on about the difference in the way film looks and feels, about the tangible quality of loading and advancing film, about the way it makes me slow down and think more about each frame I expose, about how inspiring it is to use classic old cameras. I won’t dare to try to qualify film as better than digital or vice versa. I know that is an endless and dangerous conversation to enter into. In the end, shooting film is a personal thing for me.
Recently I have discovered a bonus advantage for shooting film. Whether shooting with an old classic camera like my Hasselblad, or my tiny old school Pentax K100 or my large funky looking Contax 645, pulling one of these cameras out is a great conversation starter. People stop and notice, they recall memories of their father or grandfather using the Hasselblad or they might exclaim excitedly that they also learned photography on a Pentax K100 and relate “I should pull that old thing out and give it a try again.” Usually, this conversation leads to portrait making between the two of us, often it leads to a great cup of coffee and an afternoon talking about art and swapping stories. This autumn I vowed to carry the Pentax with me everyday for a month. When it wasn’t slung on my shoulder, it was parked next to my car keys at the front door, ready to go. I met many people, had coffee and lunch with several artists and students, and even scored free sushi when I started photographing the beautiful interior of a new sushi restaurant in my neighborhood. To my surprise, I was also stopped by the local TV News crew who were out filming a story one day during the lunch hour. I don’t know that I was necessarily ‘newsworthy’ but they did ask me to speak about what I was photographing and why. I declined the story, it felt to personal to me. It felt great to make these connections in my city and it was also very satisfying to discreetly document the activity going on that month. With such a vast amount of people owning, carrying and pointing digital cameras, I felt less conspicuous and like I had a free ticket to photograph the public.
Following is a snippet of the series I created documenting my new hometown. I think I will do this again in the spring, but with a fabulous old Polaroid, I would love to be able to immediately hand over a photograph to the people I meet, a little token of our encounter. I wonder if the news crew will be out that day…”