Around Resource HQ Jonny Davenport is known as the “Prince of Polaroid” and purveyor of all things instant. His instant photography hangs in numerous places around our office and home. Whenever there’s an event or outing and Jonny is around you’re sure to get a lasting memory handed to you that is brilliantly shot with lots of love. So, for those of you living under a rock or just coming out of a coma, our friends at CreativeLive have been hosting their annual epic online photography education event known as Photo Week.
This insane series of live training events features some of the most famous and talented educators in the photography industry today. This year they reached our to our boy Jonny Davenport to teach a live class on instant photography called “How To Shoot With Polaroid“. While he doesn’t consider himself a master there must be a reason the folks at CreativeLive reached out to him to teach this course alongside some of the biggest names in the photo industry. We had a chance to catch up with Jonny and ask him a few questions about his love of instant photography and what led him to his undying love of this beautiful art form.
If you’re curious about instant photography or have always wanted to try it out Jonny D. is the guy you want to learn from. Click HERE to sign up for this free course and tune in tomorrow to get the skinny, the low down and the the inside scoop on the art of instant photography and “How To Shoot With Polaroid“.
Resource: You’re bio says you discovered photography as a last ditch effort to save your HS education. So…? We’re all curious. Did it work out?
Jonny: High School? Man that was so long ago… Yeah, the good news was I squeaked by with a 1.8 or 1.9 GPA, can’t quite remember but it was below the 2.0 mark. But it was in that darkroom that I found my life’s calling. I was hooked, right as I was being pushed out into the real world. I had my sights on Brooks Institute… My parents told me point blank, there’s no way in hell we’re paying all that money for photography school… Goto a junior college for a semester and prove yourself, then we’ll talk. Well that took me another couple of years dickin around workin in a one hour photo lab in the mall and by then I realized I had no interest in going to school for photography. It’s been a crazy journey for sure. Educated by the school of hard knocks. I’ve been all over the photo industry in a lot of different capacities. I’ve had the opportunity to hang and exchange ideas and experiences with some of the biggest photographers on the planet and I still pinch myself and go, “How the hell did I get here?” I’m not the super goal driven person like some of the photographers I know out there today… I’ve enjoyed the meandering that’s brought me to where I”m at now. I get to work for a great photography software company, travel and do what I love which is turn people onto the art of photography.
R: Is it just instant photography or are you in to all things analog? Tell the truth. Do you have a black and white TV at home?
J: I’m into all aspects of photography not just instant. I’ve been working with Photoshop for almost twenty years now, embraced digital pretty early. I saw how it was going to change everything. I’d scan my photos on an Apple Color OneScanner, putting out little fold and staple photo zines. But instant really is dear to my heart. My most cherished possessions were shot on polaroid. There’s a magic to the medium that nothing else compares to. I don’t own a digital SLR camera. But in full disclosure, I do have an older Phase back that I’ll use in the studio [rarely] on one of my FILM cameras! I typically roll with small point and shoot film cameras and old polaroid cameras. I just love film. I’d rather go through a box of negatives and prints than go rummaging around on a hard drive trying to find files. I do that too, don’t get me wrong… I just prefer film. No black and white TV. You’d think I’d be a purveyor of all things classic like vinyl, 8 track tapes, Kodak Disc Cameras… but I’m not.
R: How does one get in to instant photography these days? What about film? Cameras? Where do you get it? Is it expensive?
J: Instant photography is the most accessible medium to get into! Anyone can do this. Whether your an amateur or a pro… that’s what I love about it. Chances are you already have one of these laying around somewhere or your parents do or a friend has one on their shelf gathering dust. The reality is, most people I know can’t afford that $30,000 Phase One digital back you saw your favorite portrait photographer shoot. We can dream, but it’s not within our reach. Instant photography is right there, right in front of you. You can do this immediately. You don’t have to go broke to begin.
I’ve found so many cameras at a thrift shop or garage sale for under $10. Some work, some don’t… but the more you start familiarizing yourself with it, you begin to know what to look for and come prepared. Like carrying an old film cassette reloaded with bad shots… load that into your thrift store find, does it eject film? Or like carrying some batteries in your bag for the old land cameras… For me, if it’s under $25 and looks pretty good, I’ll buy it without testing…. I’ve only had two cameras that didn’t work. So I’m out $50… but those two land cameras that I picked up for $14 total, both work and I could sell for $150 each…. do the math.
If you don’t want to go bargain hunting you can go online and find places that refurb these old cameras and bring’em back to spec. You’ll pay more, but you know they’ve been tested and work. I’ve heard that Impossible is the largest purchaser of used polaroid cameras on eBay… Don’t know if it’s true or not, but sure would make sense. They refurb and test and bring new life back into these cameras. I kind of laugh, because the camera that costs $200 in Urban Outfitters, I find all the time for a few bucks. eBay is a great resource. So many finds to be had. I buy most of my film locally from Pro Photo Supply. They stock most of the instant stuff I’m looking for from Impossible and Fuji… I’ll dig around ebay and sometimes pick up old stock expired Polaroid film as well, but I have some old stock of my own that I shoot selectively.
You can buy online direct from Impossible, but I prefer going to a local shop. Cheap? Well yeah, it’s not cheap per se…. but how much is the latest digital camera? To me, its way cheaper than shooting digitally. Once you start adding up, camera, lenses, computers & software needed to look at and edit your pics, it’s a hella lot more expensive than instant! Packs run about $23 for Impossible, $12-20 for the Fuji pack film for land cameras. Become more selective with your shooting and it becomes a bargain.
R: Rumor has it you’re a digital guru as well. What’s the deal? Do you use instant/analog photography to balance out the technology?
J: Ha! Guru!?l Far from it…. I’m a total hack and I pride myself on that. Yes, I do work for a photography software company, onOne… And as someone who is a total hack when it comes to Photoshop, I really love what we do at onOne which is bring back the easy button to image editing. I wanna make photographs, not spend hours geeking out editing. I’m all about turning people onto photography. Whether it’s digital or film…. The fact is that we’re all shooting digital with the advent of the iPhone. And then we go into Lightroom, Photoshop or our Perfect Photo Suite and then try and make it look like it was shot on film…. Even though I work for a digital photography software company, my heart is made of film.
R: What’s in Jonny’s bag? Do you take that bag everywhere or is this a special event only kind of thing?
J: You can find out what’s in my bag by checking out the website: inmybag.net The editor Simon Ellingworth recently reached out to me and said how much he loved my work and wanted to do a piece on what’s in my bag….Way more crap than I can carry! But really, in all honesty, I hate carrying bags filled with all my gear. I try to keep it simple. One instant, one point and shoot. My bag of choice is from my bike basket made by PDW (Portland Design Works)… it’s a front mounted basket that holds a six pack and has this super bomb bag that fits in it…
R: Any advice for people interested in taking instant photos?
J: Get into it. Commit. You’re gonna fail. period. I swear failure is my middle name. You just have to jump in. All of these cameras have a mind of there own… Most haven’t been made for over 20 years, minimum… most of the ones i have are at least 30-50 years old. I like the cheap Polaroid Sun 660… you point, you shoot. If you want more control the price is going to go up and you’ll need to shoot with pack film. Get a light meter. Or download a light meter app and start looking at how light affects things. This can really help when your starting out. Pick a camera and really get to know it. Take notes. Why did this fail? We all want the ease of digital now and it’s nice, but there’s so much more in the instant print. Think about what you want out of photography? I don’t think instant is for everyone. But I’ve seen more digital photographers freakout over how badass instant is! So many times now I’ve heard, “This is so awesome…this is the best photograph of me ever!” Ha… yeah, it sure the hell isn’t me, it’s the magic of the medium. All i did was press a button, really.
**ADDED BONUS ** Jonny D’s Top 5 Instant Photography Tips:
1. Commit. Find a camera that you think lends to your style of shooting. Buy film. (If you don’t think you know, hit me up.)
2. Fail. You will. Embrace it. It’s the best learning tool.
3. Study light.
4. Get a light meter. Or at least an app. Use it.
5. Share the love. That’s what this medium is all about.
R: Are there other instant photographers, dead or alive, that influenced you?
J: No real ‘instant photographers’ had a direct influence on me… My two biggest influences when I started we’re: Glen E. Friedman, legendary skate/punk/rap photographer and a fashion photographer named Philip Dixon. You’ll find tons of stuff on Glen, Philip virtually nothing. Having said that, now over the years of looking at the polaroid works of Lucas Samaras, Andy Warhol, Helmut Newton, David Hockney, Willam Wegman, Gus Van Sant, Chuck Close, Walker Evans… I bow down. Amazing artists. Those guys really defined Polaroid photography…. I love that Dr. Edwin Land (the founder of Polaroid) really saw himself as an artist too and really sought out artists to help execute his vision. As Steve Jobs said, “… the man is a national treasure.” Funny, both Dr. Land and Jobs both changed my life in ways that I’m only now beginning to realize the full affect.
R: With this type of photography you’re often limited to the number of shots you can take. How do you make sure your exposure and other setting are right? Is it a feeling? Do you use a meter?
J: Really depends on the camera, for sure…. If it’s all manual, yeah, typically I’ll use a meter… for the point and shoots, i try to avoid super harsh light outside, and use a flash. Put light behind you, you’ll get better results. And I always try and have a back up pack of film! With as great as instant photography is, slow down…. this isn’t digital. Once you know your camera, you’ll know that in this lighting scenario it will fail, and in this one it will shine. My most expensive SX-70 is by far the most fickle bitch of the bunch. I swear metering is all over the place. But I know that now.
R: We see you give away many of the instant photos you take. Do you take multiple shots so you always have one too or do you take satisfaction in knowing your subject has walked away with a one of a kind piece of art?
J: Depends. Most of the time I give them away… I’ll ask if I can take a shot with my iPhone. I really want people to have these prints. Some pics I see, some I’ve never seen… and that’s kinda cool too… knowing you’ve got stuff out there that maybe great or complete crap. For me, it’s about the engagement with other humans. Turning people back onto the passion of the print. It nearly died once, and who’s to say it doesn’t happen again. From the bottom of my heart, I sincerely thank Florian ‘Doc’ Kaps, André Bosman and Marwan Saba for the herculean effort they undertook to keep instant film alive. And all the team at Impossible for that matter. So bummed to hear that they layed off a ton of people and closed spaces around the globe. The more I can get people turned onto the magic of it all, the better the chance that film will endure. I don’t really think about it as ‘one of a kind art’ for the stuff I give away…. the self portraits maybe, as it’s just me… so that I kind of look at that like ‘one of a kind stuff’ that no one else can do, if that makes sense?
R: What is the reaction of your subjects when they see the instant cameras/film?
J: I can’t tell you how many times I bust out one of my old polaroid cameras, pop a shot and someone turns around and asks, ‘Is that a Polaroid….”Holy crap!?” ? They still make film for that?” Yeah, yeah they do. And then I give them my speech about where you can find film, the different types that are available. People love it…. because it is so rare these days. And I love sharing and talking about it. It’s a great way for me to interact and engage the world around me. It’s crazy how people respond to it… When I was in Vegas for WPPI, I was rolling around the Canon party popping pix, handing them to people… and then we went on the dance floor, grooving, doing the same thing on the dance floor… and all of a sudden I had this harem of woman surround me, “We’re stalking you… We’ve been watching you all night from the second level. You need to take some polaroids of us!” Uh… Ok, sure… And so I popped off some photos, gave them my card and told them I wanted to see them and send me an iphone snap. Never did see those pics…. but it’s just so funny and awesome how people respond to this little cheapo camera and the instant print.
R: Do you scan your instant shots after that fact? Do you do any post on these images?
J: The ones I keep, yeah I’ll scan those or take an iPhone snap… Typically they end up on Instagram or FaceBook I’ll be posting more to my website undaunted.com as well. Especially now that I’ve finally given it an update… When you’ve had a website for almost twenty years, keeping it fresh becomes more and more of an afterthought for me.
I can thank the CreativeLive gig coming up for kicking me in the pants to get an update done. So yeah, I’ll be speaking on CreativeLive Saturday 9/20 at 3pm PST on shooting with Polaroids. Gonna be showing off a lot of old cameras, gear, tips tricks creative techniques…. Hopefully get some people turned onto the magic of the medium.
Feel free to connect with me via social @jonnydavenport or via my website, undaunted.com
I’m working on an eBook called ‘polaMagic’ and will be creating photographic edges and textures from my old polaroid film negs and peel aparts. If you want to be informed, ya gotta connect!
Thanks for all the love Resource. You’re my most favorite photo mag ever! Seriously, I really believe in what you guys are doing and all you have accomplished since I’ve known about the mag. It’s come a long way.
Honored and humbled to be sharing my passion with you. xo jonny
All images are property of the artist and used with permission. © Jonny Davenport 2014