Dilemma

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reviewing my ongoing fishing boat based project and I’ve concluded that it isn’t going the way I want. I’m not unhappy with the images I’ve made, so far, I just feel that the photos aren’t connecting with people or conveying the story I have in my head. There are a few reasons for this, and if I’m honest, most of the issues I have are down to me.
From the start, I got an idea into my head as to how I want the images to look and what I want to convey. I want to show fishermen working in the extremes, which they do a lot of the time, but I still haven’t experienced that extremity…well, I have, I just haven’t photographed it.
Going out on deck, with a swell coming in looking like rows of terraced houses is scary, especially in the dark. This fear was made all the more acute after one fisherman warned me, “If you go overboard at night you may as well be in outer space because we’ll never find you…or you’ll be dead long before we do”.
The day after, the same fisherman launched an inflated carrier bag off the back of the boat, “If you go over, that’s all that would be visible above water…tell me when you can’t see it anymore”. I lost sight of the white bag within thirty seconds. That was in daylight.

Early death issues aside, I’m also starting to convince myself that for this project I’m limiting myself, creatively, by shooting solely on film. I know I’ve missed shots in the past because I’ve had the wrong film in the camera or been in a situation where I’ve got to the end of a roll and had to go and reload. I don’t ‘machine gun’ when using digital, however; it would be beneficial to have hundreds of chances, rather than just 36.
Finally, there’s a financial consideration; every roll of film I put through a camera costs me £15-20, taking into account the cost of the film, developing and scanning. The last two-week fishing boat outing I went on yielded 25 rolls of film, which for a trip of that length isn’t a considerable amount. Still, do the maths, and you’ll see it’s around £500 on top of all the other expenses.
So, the first problem is easily solved – I need to motivate myself to get out and stay out on deck when the sea gets a bit lumpy. And stop being lazy. The second issue, though less serious, is actually more difficult to solve – I feel as though I’d be ‘selling out’ by shooting digital but at the same time, am I restricting the outcome of the project by using film?

20 comments

  1. Phil, I think your analysis is as incisive and real as your photos are. The impression conveyed to those who read and view your work is profound and compelling. The medium does not matter. On balance the immediacy of film tells its own story. My message to you? Keep doing what you do and just don’t fall overboard, we would all miss you and what you do. Take care out there!

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  2. The first to commenters got it. What matters is the subject, not the medium. Work with digital. It gives you a lot more room to machine gun (I don’t do that either) when you must at some peak action. And, as you say, you aren’t changing film at the wrong time. By now I would think you know the fishermen. Is there not some kind of harness they can rig up for you to keep you from going overboard?

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  3. Take the pictures and tell the story to the best of your ability and with whatever works best, be that digital or film. A good photo is a good photo. Yes i get your feelings of selling out by not using film, but these are internal considerations that on the whole no one else cares about. Of course it’s important how you feel about the work ( film v digital ) , but surely the final image , not matter how it’s caught is the most important thing

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  4. Phil, I’m going to make the same comment as others, if only for reassurance that they’re right and you really needn’t worry. Use digital if that’s easier, given the extreme and challenging environment you’re in. Hell, few have the balls to do what you’re doing, the message and the impact of the image is so much more than the format used. Keep going, let’s see those amazing images…

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  5. Katie Jakeman

    Have you seen the documentary ‘Everybody Street’? It’s about street photography, but I think what you’re doing is basically the same. There’s a woman on who says something like “Who cares if it’s film or digital as long as it’s being recorded?” – you’re recording it and you’re recording it better than anyone out there. As for the safety aspect – get a harness and clip-in.

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  6. gravelghost

    I like your images. In particular the second one. You may not be capturing what you think you want, however, what you are capturing is valuable and has the energy of what you are witnessing. Getting that energy recorded is what is important for the viewer to feel it.

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  7. I agree with much of what has been said above. Use digital if it makes sense, film when you can.
    But really, your images are excellent whatever you shoot with, as you have shown us time and again. You may be anxious to get those extreme weather shots, but what you have already got from the boats is wonderful and tells a powerful story about life aboard.
    In your dilemma I would probably ask myself why I wanted those extreme conditions shots – is it because that is what the crew make a big deal about, are excited by once they get over the exhaustion, or is it just a big “fish” to land, an adrenaline or testosterone kick, or something that will sell and fund the trip? Is it an essential part of the fishing/fishermen story? I am not sure it is. But surely the opportunities will present themselves regardless of gear for one or two good shots.

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  8. I think you should stick to film, I think you would be disappointed having mixed. Whilst you may not think you have what you need yet, seek out, push a little further – only you know when you have the complete picture. The cost of shooting film, missing shots and making mistakes is not easy and can be soul destroying, but the rewards far outweigh digital (my own feeling when I shoot) and as photographers we never stop learning. Losing and gaining confidence on the journey is all part of the process is it not? Always loved your images and narrative and your honesty.

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  9. 35mmMAG

    Your images are a pretty amazing as is, but I love the fact you’re using film, they look uniquely ‘Phil Kneen’. Maybe try shooting both? Use digital for the flash and nighttime work?

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  10. really understand you and your doubts, but finally you have to decide for yourself what is more important for you – to stay the only film using photographer or to bring a fully storied story – well its never possible to be everywhere at the same time, but at last less limitation with a speed, exposure, type of film, amount of frames. Possible some magazine will pay attention that you use the only celluloid for your project, but. . by my opinion, the gear is important to only hipsters.
    anyway – i love every image from the posts about your fishing adventures but absoluteluly understand you through about some hard core photograps you missed due to different reasons.
    Take care of yourself.

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  11. Analog_Angel

    I’ve been a great admirer of your work for a few years now; originally it was your film work that brought me to your site, but I also love the work you make using digital. So for me, I’m with you whatever you choose because it’s about the images, not the medium. Perhaps try using only digital on a short trip and see how it goes before committing?

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  12. Jay

    If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend Martin Labs Filmborn app for iPhone. Shoot in analogue! There are only a few presets but they are awesome.

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  13. One thing that I am learning or that gets hammered to me by my lecturers is to keep shooting and may not make sense in the moment, but it will eventually click. I know, not the best advice when shooting film and you have digital at your disposal (no pun intended), but at least you won’t have to go back to get more material for your project. The images look great as usual.

    I know it’s a long shot, but why not get yourself a scanner and digitise the work yourself? The Epson V600 or V850 is pretty decent.

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  14. NY Street Shooters

    Hi Phil, would you be interested in testing/reviewing the Fuji XF10 digital compact?
    The XF10 is being marketed as a street shooters camera to match the Ricoh GRIII (which we are also sending out to test)
    I know you aren’t generally a digital photographer but we feel you’d give this camera a great comparison test.

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