Jen Golay - American Film Photogaphers - Weekly Feature

Hello! My name is Jen Golay ( @jengolay ), and I am a film photographer from Des Moines, Iowa. I’ve been shooting film almost exclusively since 2012.

I have always been fascinated by photography, but I was too intimidated by all of the strange numbers on the lenses and dials of the SLR cameras in photography classes to sign up for one. In the early 2000’s when DSLRs were first on the market, I decided that it would be easier and less embarrassing to learn photography with one. I could delete all of the duds, and no one would ever see them! Plus, I would save so much money on film and processing. My plan was to get good enough at photography to graduate to film. After several years shooting digitally, I still never felt like I was “good enough”, and digital photography seemed burdensome to me—all of that time on the computer. So, in 2012, I bought myself a Nikon FM, a nifty fifty, and some Tri-X film and just dived in! By the summer, I had signed up for my first darkroom class, and I have been shooting film ever since!

I think what keeps me shooting film is that I can focus on creating images in camera, and I don’t have to spend much time behind my computer screen. And I like the physical nature of film photography: recording the image on film and storing it as a negative and print. Film photography, to me, feels tangible, while digital feels ephemeral. I find myself drawn to my mechanical cameras—the ones with no electronics or batteries required. The more basic the camera, the more I love it.

When I began to learn photography, I had young kids at home who, while cute, were not the most cooperative subjects. So, I turned to my garden. At least, my flowers would stand relatively still and not complain or require bribes to let my practice. While I love making portraits, I find I am always drawn to my garden, landscapes, and travel photography. For me, photography is a way to find beauty in the world, and I search for it whenever and wherever I can.

I have an embarrassingly large film camera collection. I think that is one of the things I love about film photography is the sheer number of unique and marvelously engineered cameras. I could spend the rest of my life simply trying out and learning the thousands of film cameras created in the last 150 years. For me, different cameras have different uses. For example, I love my Contax 645 and Pentax 67 for portraits. My Rolleiflex and Contax G2 are my travel cameras. My F6 is my everyday camera and my macro camera. My Hasselblad 500 CM is for landscapes. And my Olympus Pen FV camera is for stretching my creativity.

My favorite film, indoors or outdoors, will always be Kodak Portra 400. It is such a versatile and forgiving film that is nearly impossible to mess up. But for more specific applications, I love Tri-X for indoor, natural light photography, and for travel, Kodak Ektar 100 can’t be beat.

For anyone just starting out with film photography, my advice is to just do it. Don’t get hung up on what camera a well-known photographer might be shooting or how many features a camera might have. Find a completely manual SLR and a roll of film and start shooting. Keeping the camera simple—just aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, along with a light meter and a single 50mm lens—will let you focus on creating the image. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive, just a camera in good working order. Choose a forgiving film like Portra 400 and jump in!