Editor’s Note: The entire globe has exploded in protest over the brutal murder of Minneapolis, Minnesota citizen George Floyd by the hands of Police. It has changed the fabric of our being and is resonating in every person in every city, town and village in the world. What is a life worth? Our small film photography community has been rocked to the core as well. First with a global pandemic and now with the realization that all is not okay. What will we do? We will carry on and document our lives on film. I would like to share the experiences of two long-time Film Photography Project friends and their experiences on the streets. – Michael Raso, FPP
Photographers Professor Paul “Bear” Brown and Johnny Martyr recently spoke with the Film Photography Project’s Paige Davis about their local George Floyd Protests and why they chose film as the medium through which to document these historic events. Our blog seeks to showcase their unique experiences and in no way aims to represent all protest experiences. We thank them for sharing their thoughts and images with the FPP.
Paul “Bear” Brown is Professor of Film and Television at Savannah College of Art and Design and a member of Who’s Who of College Professors who uses still and motion picture film photography to fuel creativity in his classrooms. You can read more about his teaching methods and philosophy here. The images he contributed to this blog were shot with his instamatic Pentax K 1000 and developed with Kodak D76 at a 1:1 ratio.
FPP: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and images of the Savannah Georgia George Floyd Protests with the Film Photography community. Tell our readers why you selected film as the medium through which to document the protest?
Prof “Bear” Brown: Film has texture and to me texture is emotion. I chose black and white film because that is what the battle was in the 60s and it makes the images feel universal. I find it hard to shoot in color because color can be very distracting when documenting something. I choose color when I’m telling a story, but when I feel more of a direct camera approach, I don’t want the color to get in the way.
I think about photographers I studied and admire who got amazing images without have the options of shooting thousands of shots on digital card. Digital is the shotgun, basically point and shoot at your target and your chances are good for hitting part of it at least. Film forces you to be more precise, weigh the importance of if a shot is really a shot or just an opportunity. I want to shoot my subject most effectively and efficiently. With limited frames, and taking the time to concentrate and evaluate a shot, it allows one to do “Slow-Photography“ to borrow the technique name I heard mention on the FPP podcast before.
Capturing on B&W film also makes the moment feel more universal and timeless. Shooting with a camera from the 60s and 70s added to that timeless connection, same struggle, same lens, different time.
FPP: Was this your first experience documenting protests?
Professor “Bear” Brown: I carry a camera everywhere shooting everything from a slice of life to milestone moments, this was my first protest. I use the camera to capture the stories that life has created. You can’t beat God as a director, and I get to see life through my lens.
FPP: Would you explain why capturing and sharing this moment was important to you personally?
Professor “Bear” Brown: As a black man these times personally affect me. I had to be there. Time seems to be a circle and similar to the 60s, these moments are very powerful and will affect history. Digital has no real shelf life. Shooting on film not only creates a sense of capturing the moments and emotions, but I want my family to have something from the time, in a medium that has proven timeless.
FPP: Thank you for sharing your time, thoughts, and images with the Film Photography Project. If you would like to keep up to date with Prof. Brown you can follow him on Instagram @filmprofessorbear or Bear Brown on Vimeo
Photos courtesy of Instagram @filmprofessorbear Shot on YashicaMat EM, Pentax K1000 / Lomography Potsdam 100 and ARISTA EDU 100.
Johnny Martyr is a contemporary film photographer whose concentration is in Available Light 35mm Photojournalism in Frederick, Maryland. His lifestyle portraits and documentary art can be found in the pages of Huffington Post, Marie Clair, Modern Wedding, Petapixel, Buzzfeed and more.
FPP: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and images with the Film Photography community. I understand from our conversation you arrived at the Frederick March for Justice in Frederick, Maryland around 4pm Thursday June 4, 2020 with your Nikon F2sb and Nikkormat SLR’s loaded with Kodak Tri-X to document the event. While your images are powerful enough to stand alone, the context you provide in your blog One Photographer’s Experience; The Frederick Maryland March for Justice is really illuminating. I would like to set the scene for our readers with a quote from your blog below:
“A storm front began lingering around the area Thursday afternoon and forecasts called for heavy rain to continue through the planned first hours of the protest. Despite the cold downpour from about 2 through 5pm, nearly 4,000 people marked themselves as having attended the march on its Facebook group, and I don’t doubt the numbers at all.
It was about 4pm when I arrived in downtown Frederick. The houses that line the final blocks of West South Street featured bright blue porch lights, showing support for the police. I turned left onto South Market to see that the big windows of Black Hog and Downtown Piano Works were covered with foreboding sheets of plywood. Conversely, the firefighters were still hanging out in front of the station as they always do; a symbol of normalcy amid the tension that was beginning to creep into my mind.
It wasn’t long before I could hear the rhythmic, collective din of chanting and car horns echoing through the buildings…”
FPP: In your blog, you mention some of the challenges you encountered when film shooting in the rain, and the changes you made to address them:
“My glasses were spotted by thick water droplets and it wasn’t long before wiping them on my saturated t-shirt became ineffective. Keeping my camera lenses clean was almost impossible and the viewfinders were also fogging. I stopped down my aperture more than normal to correct for the focusing inaccuracies that would surely result.”
Is there any additional advice you would give our readers when shooting film in situations like these?
Johnny: Well, the obviously smarter thing to do when shooting in wet weather is to use a camera rain cover. I have shot in the rain quite a few times and I just haven’t found a rain cover that I feel comfortable operating the camera with. With manual cameras, some rain shouldn’t do any serious damage or hinder operation, at least in my experience. I’ve found that SLR’s with removable heads like the F2 tend to fog more, or at least take longer to recover from fogging than those without removable heads like the Nikkormat. I don’t bring my Leica’s out in the rain but their rangefinders have cleared after fogging from temperature difference faster than an SLR. So, I guess that, besides stopping down and using scale focus to help, my advice for shooting in wet weather is to bring the appropriate camera!
FPP: We would love to hear about your reason for choosing film as your medium on this day:
Johnny: Black and white 35mm film is my primary medium. To look at my body of work, one might think that I just shoot anything on B&W 35mm but in fact some scenes and subjects just don’t work on it, while others align and accel. In terms of what B&W 35mm lends to protest images, I believe a connection can be drawn between the racial and anti-war protests of the 1960’s, which were also documented on similar cameras, lenses and film as I used this past Friday. In this way, I think that film reminds us of what has and, more disappointingly, has NOT changed since that era.
FPP: Was this the first time you’ve covered protests, and would you consider yourself a photojournalist?
Johnny: This was my first time documenting a protest specifically, but I’ve been covering politics intermittently for some time. Not to misconstrue human rights as being political but the events often overlap in content of course and are relevant to one another. I’ve photographed the Clintons, Ralph Nader, Kathleen Sebelius and other politicians previously. I also photographed a Ted Cruz rally during which a transgender teen was removed and protests occurred outside the event. Last Friday’s March for Justice had a similar feel to some of the themes and content of that shoot, for me personally anyway. I do happen to think of myself as a photojournalist, but I mostly use the term to describe my style and approach. I do not want to detract from the hardworking folks who do this kind of work daily. Modern photographic technology, of course has given rise to the citizen photojournalist. I am somewhere in between all these!
FPP: Why you felt it was important to capture this moment in Frederick, Maryland?
Well, I like to shoot important events to sort of prove the viability of film photography in a culture that largely views its use as amusing nostalgia. I just think that visual expression is so much richer and more complex than that. When film shooters covered protests in the 1960’s on film, it was a necessity. But when film shooters cover a protest today on film, it’s a comment and its statement. Something to consider. But why is the March for Justice and all the protests surrounding George Floyd and other victims of racial discrimination important? Because people are important. The way that we treat one another is important. And most of us have had enough of history repeating itself so exhaustively and depressingly. Brutality and oppression should not be the story of our lives. It shouldn’t be what’s remembered or passed on. I want to offer what I can to instigate change.
FPP: You mentioned that as you were writing the blog, your negatives were hanging in a nearby window to dry. Do you typically develop your own film, or were you motivated to do so in order to swiftly share your images and thoughts?
Johnny: About 5 or 6 years ago, all my local film labs either closed or became unreliable for paid/important work. I went to school for film (motion picture film) so I used to process my own work before getting into photography professionally. Ironically, yes, I then returned to doing it myself because I’ve found that I can get work done much more quickly and accurately by doing it at home. This is despite doing it all by hand; no minilab or JOBO, etc. I use only films that perform well in HC110b so that I can do any of my films together easily, even if in different tanks for different times. I process 10 rolls at a time, doing 20 or 30 rolls of 35mm in a day or day and a half. I still use a flatbed and edit other images or work on my blog while film is being scanned.
FPP: Thank you for sharing your thoughts, images and time with us. What is the best way to stay informed about your projects moving forward?
Johnny: Thanks so much for the opportunity to get this work seen by more eyes. I blog at https://JohnnyMartyr.Wordpress.com/ and am active on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/JohnnyMartyrPhoto) and recently on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/johnnymartyrphoto/).
More importantly, if you’re in or around Frederick, Maryland on June 20th 2020, we are conducting another Black Lives Matter march, entitled Say Their Names. Information can be found at Say Their Names_Frederick Black Lives Matter march.
About Paige Davis – Paige is a Content Producer and Director of Film Restoration at the Film Photography Project