Event Coverage: Film Photography Paideia 2019
Last weekend, over 150 analog camera and film lovers converged in San Clemente, California for the second annual Film Photography Paideia hosted by The Darkroom. Taking place over two days, this ambitious event (that sold out in just under three days) provided a venue for passionate film photographers from all walks of life to meet and exchange ideas and share their passion for our craft with one another. In true paideia fashion, the event itself wasn’t just a social gathering, it provided an educational and learning experience that gave every photographer there a piece of inspiration to bring home with them. Over the course of the weekend guests had the opportunity to hear from 14 speakers including Phil Steblay, co-owner of The Darkroom, Matt Day, Mike Padia of Shoot Film Co., Michael Raso and Mat Marrash of the Film Photography Project, and Ilford’s own Mike Bain who all guided us through their film photography lives and how they arrived to be such important icons of our community. I am pleased to share with you my favorite parts of this event and offer a recap to those who didn’t have a chance to make it!
When I arrived at the conference area of the Holiday Inn in San Clemente, California the first thing I noticed was the line of people waiting outside. This was the first time I have ever seen 50+ people waiting to go into an analog film event in my life. It was wonderful to see everyone’s smiling faces riddled with excitement as they waited to meet friends and mentors that they have been talking to or following online for years previous to this moment. Though at first, this event seemed like a whos-who of the film community (it was) in reality it was more like seeing long lost family members that you hadn’t seen in years. Juan from Beers and Camera put it this way: "In a world where social media often gets a bad reputation, we use it’s reach to turn what would normally be an online-only community, into a physical community. A community that enriches each photographer that becomes part of it; because of the real-life connection and sense belonging that one experiences. The Darkroom’s Film Paideia serves as a perfect extension of this for us at B&C and a more analog focused one at that. It’s truly like an annual family reunion for all within the film community”.
When we walked into the event space, Michael Kirchoff and I, were immediately greeted with smiles, hugs, and high-fives. We immediately recognized that we had made the right choice to come to this event. After an hour of talking, laughing, and connecting with one another, Saturday’s festivities started off as scheduled with a short talk and introduction from Phil Steblay, the co-owner of The Darkroom and organizer of this event. What really stuck with me from his introduction was the fact that he classified Film Photography Paideia as a “family affair” and distinctly said that this event was “not a trade show with corporate sponsors” but a “fireside chat with friends”. I wouldn’t know this for sure until the weekend ended, but Phil was 100% right.
“Become technically sound so you can be free to be creative”. - Trev Lee, The Darkroom
As the morning progressed we heard from Take Kayo of Bigheadtaco and Trev Lee, the Chief Photographer at The Darkroom who also manages all of their social media content. Trev Lee guided us through his progression as a decade long film photographer, including sharing how he dropped out of college within 6 months of obtaining his first camera. Trev gave a lot of good advice during his talk but the best advice was applicable to all photographers, even the experienced ones. He said, “Become technically sound so you can be free to be creative”. His advice echos the age-long wisdom of it’s not the gear, it’s the photographer. Right after Trev, we had the pleasure of hearing from the Martinez Family, who are the founders of Beers and Cameras. An event company that started as a small gathering of creatives around beers that has lead to a nationwide organization that encourages photographers to collaborate, network, and supports each other via organized meetups centered around craft brews, local restaurants, and loving fellowship. Ringing true to the theme of this event is a “family affair”, Juan and Raquel Martinez had their kids in tow, front and center with them on stage. They had their babysitter cancel on them right before this event and figured that since we were a community, it made perfect sense for them to act like one. Every single person at the event stepped up to this unexpected turn of events and their children really made their presentation more intimate, showing what genuine caring people they truly are.
Next up, we had the founder of Shoot Film Co., Mike Padua, who told us how with hard work and dedication you can achieve your photographic dreams. What stuck out from Mike’s talk were two things. Firstly, what began as a way to express his creativity and enthusiasm for analog photography, his pins, patches, other products have become one of the centerpieces of our analog photography culture. His products display his true love for photography and therefore are a contagious source of inspiration for everyone who comes into contact with them. Secondly, his take on inspiration was based on real-world applicability. He told the audience that, “Inspiration can be vague, but with the right tools, you can focus it [when you receive it] and use it [to your fill advantage]”.
Following Mike’s talk we heard from “scientist turned camera nerd” Megan Barrett, more commonly known by her Instagram handle MeganShootsFilm. I enjoyed listening to her muse about her transition from marine biologist to accomplished surf photographer. The application of her clinical skills from her previous career make her a technically proficient photographer who is able to capture the world both beneath and above the ocean in a new light. I was most impressed with her detailed knowledge of the lighting conditions beneath the ocean and her ability to capture them on waterproof Nikonos III and V rangefinders, challenging cameras in their own right. She is the most creative scientist I have had the opportunity to hear from and it goes to show that clinical knowledge and skill can really elevate your photographic art to new levels. I also want to note that her photography was some of the best images I saw during the event. Being a nature lover, he images truly capture the relationship between water and light that inspire the viewer to respect and acknowledge the importance of our oceans and habitats.
“The podcast is great because we live it, we are touching film every single day in way way or another”. - Michael Raso, FPP
Following Megan’s talk, we had the pleasure of hearing from Michael Raso and Mat Marrash from The Film Photography Project. Started in 2009, FPP’s mission has been to inspire, engage, and inform beginning and professional film photographers around the globe through their bi-weekly internet radio show, the Film Photography Podcast. On it, they share dependable product reviews, tutorials, and tips that deconstruct the complex without dumbing down the content, providing tools that expand skills while supporting photographer’s creative output, experiences, and passion for film photography. The best thing about listening to Michael and Mat is their passion for the medium. As they put it, “The podcast is great because we live it, we are touching film every single day in one way or another”. These gentlemen are not just talking about film on their podcast, they are getting hard to find expired film into consumers hands, even if Michael Raso needs to draw on a line of credit to do so. He shared with me that “I will go take out a $5,000 loan to buy a lot of film. I am not worried, I know I will be able to sell it”. In addition to his enthusiasm for getting products into photographer’s hands, FPP runs a donation program that takes analog cameras sent to FPP headquarters and refurbishes them. These cameras are then circulated to school and student programs in the US at no cost to those organizations to promote the wonderful world of film photography. Overall it was excellent hearing from two gentlemen that have been living and breathing film for the past decade.
Next up we had the opportunity to hear from to Jonathan Paragas, more commonly known as “KingJvpes” on YouTube. Jonathan has been producing camera reviews, educational videos, and street photography commentary for years and has built up an incredible following. With over 42,000 followers, Jonathan has built up the analog photography community on YouTube with his unique style and undeniable enthusiasm for the medium. Being the youngest speaker on the circuit at Film Paideia, his youthfulness didn’t stop him captivating the audience. He made us laugh while sharing his story about continuing his families legacy of film photography. Though his mom wasn’t an artist per se, she did carry her Polaroid camera throughout his childhood while his peers' parents took up digital photography to capture their children’s lives. This dedication to film carried on with Jonathan as he picked up his first 35mm camera and began shooting street photography. He told the audience, “My mom shot on film while digital photography was gaining momentum, why can’t I [do the same]?’. This inspiration has stuck with him through his career and he continues to shoot film today. And though he is known as a YouTube personality, this doesn’t stop him from shooting for himself. He said, “I don’t shoot to create content - I don’t want to be known as a YouTube Photographer.”.
The last talk we had the privilege of hearing before lunch was from the legendary Matt Day of Matt Day Photo, YouTube channel Matt Day Photo Film Show, and the podcast The Shoot With Matt Day. Matt has built up a huge following of 85,000+ followers on YouTube has become one of the cultural icons of the analog film community. What sets Matt apart from other photographers is how real he is as a person. This realness came through to the audience and he described his introduction to photography and how he came to love the medium. At the age of 13, Matt’s brother became paralyzed from the waist down which resulted in his family being away for long periods of time, tending to his brother’s needs in the various hospitals he was in. During this time his Aunt gifted him a camera so he could capture his life to allow his parents a window into his world while they were away. This simple act of kindness sparked his intense interest in photography which has lead Matt down a path of continuously documenting his life via photography. He shared with us that “Documenting my life is a personal project that will never end….”. Through his effort to share this passion he has “made real human connections with people around the world” which actually helped save his life in 2018 (which you can read more about here). Overall Matt’s talk was one of my favorites due to his humble and open book approach to his life and story. It was a real pleasure hearing him speak.
“If your legacy is important to you, a silver gelatin print can preserve it. It will be here a lot longer than you will”. - Mike Bain, Harman Technology
After lunch, we had one more speaker to go, an important individual that a lot of younger photographers may not know from our niche community. This speaker was Mike Bain, the US representative for Harman Technology LTD, the owner of Ilford Film. Mike has been in the industry for over 30 years and first started at Ilford as a technical representative in 1988. Mike took us through the hard realities of our niche community and described to us in detail how in 2004 Ilford Imaging went into receivership during the rise of digital camera technologies. At that time, “photographers worldwide were terrified that their popular black and white film HP5 would disappear forever”. In 2005, Harman Technology was founded by former managers of Ilford Imaging UK Limited to purchase the assets needed to save the most important parts of Ilford, to enable film and photo paper production to continue. The following years Ilford continued to lose money, but in 2009 that changed. Harman Technology had its first profitable year in over half a decade. Since that year Ilford has remained in business and has remained an important pillar of the photographic world. After Mike gave us an important history lesson, he mused on the importance of printing your photographs. He told the crowd, “If your legacy is important to you, a silver gelatin print can preserve it. It will be here a lot longer than you will. You should print more!”. The audience cheered and applauded at his final note.
The day’s forum was now officially closed but the actives were just getting started! Though every speaker was wonderful, the greatest part about Saturday’s events were the workshops and activities hosted within and alongside it. Immediately following the day’s talks there were four workshops planned which included large format photography instruction by the gentlemen at The Film Photography Project and a creative photography workshop with double exposure techniques lead by Trev Lee. Not only were the workshops provided informative, but they were also fun! If the workshops provided weren’t enough, there was a guided tour of The Darkroom planned for the event’s attendees to go behind the scenes to see how this family-run lab processed and scanned 500+ rolls of film a day. The employees were present and working in full force as we were given a detailed tour of their facilities, machines, and printing stations. The best part of the tour was each employees knowledge about the process who were able to answer any and all questions from both film developing amateurs to home-processing experts.
“This year's Film Photography Paideia was inspiring, community-building, and just downright fun. I finally know what it would feel like to be at "camp" with a few dozen people as obsessed as I am with capturing memories and transferring them to tangible media”. - Andre Domingues, Negative Positives Podcast
Following the tour is when the real fun began! There was a multi-location Beer and Camera’s pop-up after party for the attendees of the day's activities. The whole gang of analog enthusiasts mobbed together to three different locations to enjoy each other company and drink craft cocktails and beer from the Drift Distillery, Artifex Brewery. and Lost Winds Brewery, all within close walking distance from The Darkroom. It was here that our community got to laugh, talk shop, and nerd out on our favorite cameras and film! Andre Domingues from the Negative Positives Podcast put it this way: “This year's Film Photography Paideia was inspiring, community-building, and just downright fun. I finally know what it would feel like to be at "camp" with a few dozen people as obsessed as I am with capturing memories and transferring them to tangible media”. This evening went as late as you wanted it to and the crowd slowly thinned as we moved from location to location with increasing fun results. I personally left around 9:00pm and got to spend time with and get to know online friends and acquaintances I would have never met in person otherwise. As Christine Bartolucci from the Analog Talk Podcast put it, “Meeting so many people in the film photography community in person was an absolute thrill. Putting so many faces to names was like seeing long last friends. We all got to spend real time together and nerd about we love most, film. I honestly didn’t want the weekend to end and hope we all get to do it again next year! Thank you to Phil and everyone who put the time putting the event together. It means more than they probably know”. Though Andre and Christine put it gracefully, pictures do this part of the evening the most justice. Check out this gallery of the night's festivities courtesy of Beers and Cameras!
Surprisingly, everyone I saw the previous night was up early and ready to start the second day of Film Photography Paideia. Though I wasn’t able to stay through all of day two I was able to spend time with 40+ photographers all shooting photos of themselves throughout the morning in front of the Holiday Inn. It was a lot of fun seeing everyone’s camera’s, how the used them, and especially their smiles after they had all fired their shutters. The one event I was able to catch on day two was something I was really looking forward to Analog Talk Podcast’s “Live from Film Photography Paideia 2019”. I won’t spoil the actual podcast for you if you weren’t there or haven’t listened to this episode yet, so click below to play it now!
The rest of day two was filled with a street photography workshop hosted by Matt Day, Take Kayo, and Jonathan Paragas, a group photo-walk around the San Clemente Pier, and Pizza an Beers at Pizza Port Brewery. Though I wasn’t able to make it to the second half, Mike Pauda of Shoot Film Co., really nails it with his thoughts about the event as a whole: “It's very difficult to pinpoint the best moment about the event. I felt like it was a landmark event, at least for me personally, in that I had the chance to meet so many people that I've admired for so long, and everybody was fast friends. I will share, however, one of the most embarrassing moments of not only my time there, but of my whole life: when all the speakers went out to dinner the Friday night before the event, Take Kayo (aka "Bigheadtaco) and J. Grant Brittain, who is a legendary skate photographer, ended up in my car. The only place to park was at the end of a court and the sidewalk had an aggressive curve, and after a few tries, it was proving difficult to get the car properly lined up. So Grant Brittain had to get out of the car and guide me, like an air traffic controller, into this parking space. I felt like I was 15 years old. Looking back, it's now become a highlight of my life. All in all, when you get over 150 enthused film shooters in room, the friendship and inspiration flows pretty freely. I can't wait to see how this event grows and evolves in the future”.
In the end, I had a blast at Film Photography Paideia and I can’t wait for next year! I hope that The Darkroom has the ability to grow this event and continues to push the envelope on what an analog-centric event and conference should look and feel like. Thank you Phil for providing us with two tickets for the event and allowing us to spend time with everyone over the weekend. It was great getting to know each and every one of you! See you next year!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Behlen is a photography enthusiast from Fresno, CA. He works in finance and spends his free time shooting instant film and backpacking in the California wilderness, usually a combination of the two. He is the founder of Analog Forever Magazine. Connect with Michael Behlen on his Website and on Instagram!