Siegrid Cain - Film photography has everything to do with physicality

Siegrid Cain is a film photographer through and through. Trained as an apprentice twenty years ago at the young age of 16, her incredible portraits, lifestyle & wedding photography, boudoir shoots and personal images leave your eyes insatiably wanting more. In this interview, she shares with us her practice of film photography, what draws her in, the value of connecting with others and why it's important to fail and get back up again.

Has film photography always been close to your heart?

Yes. I started working as an apprentice to a master photographer at sweet 16 in 1994. Photography was taught as a handcraft and an art then. So the process of shooting, developing and hand enlarging was my normal way of working. And the only way I wanted to work as it really meant I was creating my very own photograph. Digital was in its baby steps and mostly frowned upon then.

So you got to shoot, develop and enlarge. You started out by learning and experiencing the entire process involved in making your own photograph. Do you think this has provided you with a very different grounding in the practice of photography compared to photographers that are now just starting out?

Yes exactly.

I do believe so from a technical point of view anyways. Unless they start out in the same way. However, the knowledge and self esteem of creating acceptable work from more than the first few years of training.

It comes from non-stop practice. film or digital does not matter. Failing and getting up again. Not giving up, listening to your gut feeling instead of trying to copy others.

It's a long road, a learning process that is never finished.

Since you first started out as an apprentice, it has been 20 years. What has been the biggest thing that has changed throughout that time in your own practice of photography?

Ok. Wow. So much and yet so little...

I guess the first thing that springs to mind is that since digital photography has taken over and become so affordable, photography is not as appreciated like it used to be - Generally speaking. When I started and all the many years leading up to it, going to a professional photo studio was a luxury. It was never about quantity but about quality. Now of course we laugh about some things we created in the 90s. So it is a tough job to make a living with now but it's worth it to me still. The pressure to keep growing and pushing harder is ever present. It can be tiring but mostly it's keeping me on my toes and helps me to become a better photographer and person.

Lots of good things have happened too. We are much more flexible now and no longer bound to shoot in a studio. It's less lonely to be a photographer nowadays. We travel the world. Thanks to the internet the world has become a much smaller place.

It's so fantastic to meet like minded photographers and artists. To learn so much by connecting with others. And some of my closest photographer friends I would never have met without my passion for film combined with the internet.

You mention that you would never have met some of your closest photographer friends had you not had a passion for film. And I know that you'll be hosting an intimate gathering for female film obsessed photographers with Isabelle Hesselberg via Bohemia Collective next April in France. Spaces to this opportunity to gather and learn about film photography with other females filled super quick! Do you find that the film photography community is a tight knit community?

In my experience film photography has everything to do with physicality! Also I need to add that I mean professional portrait photography is no longer studio bound. Obviously we know of a large number of fantastic photographers who have always worked on location for documentary purpose. One of the most fascinating, intriguing, impressive of these to me is Dorothea Lange.

Yes. Isabelle is a friend that means the world to me. We both share the same passion and life values too. I must add that I am forever grateful to Jon Canlas who created FIND. That is how Isabelle and me met.

The idea of what became Bohemia Gathering has been in my heart for much longer than I can remember. It started more like a gut feeling. And talking to Isabelle it soon became this fixed dream. She invited me to speak at a workshop hosted last September in Norway by the lovely Lisa land of the Norwegian wedding blog. And there we learned that we work really well together. So different in style yet so similar in our passion.

So I stumbled upon this gorgeous B&B for rent in France and two weeks later Bohemia Gathering was born and sold out.

We wanted to offer it only to women, at least the first one. Because women can be more themselves when there are no guys around. There are plenty of male film photographers we love and appreciate as friends. But I am sure all ladies agree that when there are only women present it's easier to let go, be open, be ourselves.

Yes.

Film photographers are mostly a tight knit bunch. We are all on a mission. To keep film alive. And it is absolutely necessary to work as a team, as colleagues, not as opponents.

We're already a rare species on the planet and I am not worried about there not being enough work for everyone. We only get booked by clients who see the difference and want exactly what we create so no worries.

Wow! Indeed the Bohemia Collective gathering in April in France was something that I wanted to attend greatly. Alas, I'm from Melbourne, Australia. You expressed that you get clients who see the difference and want what you create. Can you explain what this 'difference' is? And do you still mostly use film with clients or do you prefer to mix it up with digital?

I guess what I mean is that I have developed a signature style. It is nothing to do with me thinking I am better. Quite the contrary.

Learning and growing and developing never seems to stop.

But I am a whole package. My personality, my style, the way I talk to my clients etc. So being unique, having found my own voice, only people who like exactly this are going to book me. I also only take on assignments that feel right. I always shoot film. The only time I have a MKIII with me is at weddings. Sometimes it is just not possible for various reasons to shoot film during church ceremonies.

"I always shoot film" You do weddings, families, children and a whole lot more in terms of client assignments. When you photograph for yourself, what are you mostly drawn to Siegrid?

Yes. Basically humans are my photography genre for personal work. I love to think up stories and recreate them in shoots. Sometimes very elaborate, often very simple but always planned and shot straight from the heart. One big project I am working on since over 1 year now is to shoot people who in my eyes make the world a better place by what they do and also interview them. For now these stories are at home with me and keep growing. I have not decided what I'll do with them eventually. But I do need enough time to just create and shoot for myself in order to stay creative and happy for client work.

Here’s a technical question, what film camera do you gel with the most? And what are your most used film types?

It depends on what I am shooting. Mamiya 645AF gets used most for client shoots like weddings and families. In my handbag I always carry a little old Canon AE1. And for personal work and boudoir/fashion I love my RZ67. I have so many cameras that I love. It really often comes down to my mood which one I choose. In terms of film, my favorites are Kodak Portra 800 and Kodak Portra 160. Kodak Portra 400 gets used most though thanks to its versatility. For B&W, I use Ilford HP5.

You are an incredible photographer that has a wealth of real experience. If you were providing advice to a person that is just starting out with film, what would it be?

Learn your basics. Shoot everything and see where it takes you. Don't look at what other photographers do. Follow your heart, work hard and don't give up. There is no short cut to success. Oh. And don't forget that film has been around over 100 years. Everything was shot on film before 1999. Once you know your shit there is no need to be scared of it. Also I believe that shooting film makes every photographer a better photographer. Ohhh and make sure to find a few really good, trustworthy, honest, passionate photographer friends. Because other people find it hard to understand us or endure our endless musings about shooting, film and gear and that it’s not just a job but more a way of life.

For more on Siegrid Cain and her work, please visit her site.