I came across Sebastian Young via the Film Never Die website, where he sells his unique Sebastemulsion film rolls. Being an eager film photography advocate myself, it seemed only natural to ask him if he’d like to be interviewed. He kindly agreed, and what follows is his unique voice. If you like this article, love the feel of film, or just dig photography in general, I’d love it if you filled in your email in the form below and subscribed to this blog. You won’t receive a dodgy series of e-books via download link, but you will receive notifications of all new posts I make. Your subscription will also put a smile on my dial for at least an hour 🙂
Q: Ok…so before I ask anything else, why did the Magpie die? (Magpie was wicked cheap BW film from Sebastemulsion)
The magpie died because I bludgeoned it to death. Bit of a dark joke if you’ve seen the recent video I posted. I was sold about 6 x 150ft (900 ft total) tins on ebay of old Kodak Hawkeye surveillance film sometime around September 2014. It was originally used for red light cameras in traffic. So I checked out the listing, saw the affordable price, and said ‘fuck it,let’s buy it!’ Because it was fairly cheap to buy, coming from a local seller, it meant I was able to only sell it for $5 a roll once I worked out the calculations. When people heard about such a cheap BW film, I literally sold 100 rolls within a few weeks. Went way beyond what I was expecting and has since drawn a lot of attention to what I do! I didn’t actually say what the emulsion was until it was on it’s last legs of being on sale (no pun intended), as I don’t wanna be namedropping every kick-arse emulsion I come across. But in all honesty, all people had to do was google the number that reveals itself on the negatives after development. But alas! It is now dead, because I finished bulk rolling all the film! The only things remaining are the metal tins and the rotten tomato covered in feathers.
I’m looking into some other BW films, but it mostly depends on what bulk film I can get my hands on at a reasonable price. A lot of people are now asking me for high speed film, but it’s far & few between to source.
Q: Now that we’ve got that out of the way, how did you end up using film cameras in a digital age?
Well originally when I was a geeky teenager at high school…..wait I’m still geeky even at 21. Anyway, I was making stop-motion films using a crappy webcam. I got to the point where I won an ACMI competition with a short film a la Creature Comforts (little weird monsters lip synced with interviews from family friends). After that, I decided ‘I gotta upgrade my camera’. The $30 webcam from Dickies wasn’t gonna cut it anymore. I also needed to upgrade my software to Stop Motion Pro. I checked out the list of current cameras that were compatible with the software, and tried to find one that suited my needs.
Well fuck, I spent nearly a year saving and researching about what camera to upgrade to. I eventually decided on a DLSR. I chose the, then quite new, Nikon D5000 (Which now gathers dust on my shelf). When I decided this was the one for my needs, I started buying photography magazines and guides before I even made the purchase. By the time I had my hands on it, I had a pretty good understanding of apertures, shutter speeds, ISO, composition (etc), so was able to dive straight in pretty much straight away. Between year 10 – year 12, I really found my style and what I liked shooting, and built up a pretty good reputation for my work in Bendigo (My hometown, don’t go there….you’ll meet Claude).
In year 12, I decided to study VCE Studio Arts Photography. I was put in the class with one of the most senior teachers in the arts field. She actually became my favourite teacher, and I think I became her favourite student. She was actually meant to charge me money for every roll of film I grabbed (which would have been around 30 rolls), and just let them all slide for free. I guess she is probably one of the reasons I am shooting film now.
Anyway, during the first few weeks of the subject, I completely shunned ‘Old School Film’, calling it a waste of time and money. Why would I bother paying so much when I could get the same results on digital…..for free! Too bad we all had to shoot at least one roll each of BW film, develop it, and then make prints; so I was forced to shoot the pointless crap. Ever heard the saying about meth: ‘Do it once, and you’ll be hooked’? Film became exactly like that.
At first, I felt dirty, like I was just another hipster kid trying to look cool. But the darkroom kept calling my name ‘Sebastian, you know you wanna try me again, c’mon all the cool kids do it!’. I couldn’t let my pride hurt anymore, so I converted to the dark side and became a satanist…….not really hahaha. But I just had to keep shooting film! The whole process mesmerized me.
It forced me to think about every shot I took, instead of firing away madly on my DSLR hoping for the one good one, that I could overedit in PS and butcher anyway.
I started looking more and more and more into this whole ‘film thing’, and stumbled across Lomography. The moment I saw X-Pro photos, is when I more or less packed up the DSLR, bought a cheap film camera and started shooting nothing but film. Once I had my hands on an LC-A though, hoo boy, I was well gone! All my money went into buying, developing & printing film photos.
Nothing has changed since. I just moved out of home and now live on Mi Goreng, Coffee & Cigarettes (So now I actually am poor). I’ve been doing photography for about 5-6 years now, and since have amassed a lot of film cameras (Mostly Lomography, because I’m a huge fanboy) and possibly one of the largest collections of film in Oz! (375 rolls last count). I reckon I’ve shot over 2000 rolls, and I DO NOT want to know how much money has gone into it. Probably could have bought my own house by now, but you know what they say ‘You suffer for your art’. I’ve always got minimum four cameras on me at a time with about 20 rolls at hand for reloading. It’s actually one of the factors that has contributed to my crippled back & shoulders, and now having to get chiropractic treatment.
Q: Geez, what cameras are you lugging around each day that you’ve stuffed your back up? Give us an insight into your daily camera bag contents.
I’m writing this with massive pain in my left shoulder as we speak. And also a strained bicep from carrying a slab of beer too far. Well I generally have my Lomo LC-Wide, 2 Lomo LC-A’s; One an original Russian model reskinned with a Where’s Wally print & the other the LC-A+ made in China. Absolute bargain that actually, scored the camera for $65 plus the Krab Underwater Case for $12!
I also have my hands on a Contax T3, which is so tack sharp. More or less a completely auto, premium compact camera. Gaz bought it for something like $700, as soon as I saw the camera I flogged it. I think he put through 2 rolls and I’ve put 15 or something hahaha. I can’t keep my hands off it. So simple and easy to use. Auto exposure, auto focus, auto flash.I mostly carry auto compacts because I’m lazy. The less I have to think about, the better. Doesn’t mean I don’t understand the science behind exposure, I’m just a lazy sod who wants the camera to think for me…hahahaa.
But I think the reason my shoulders are so stuffed is because my bag strap is almost falling off, plus I sometimes carry around my Pentax Spotmatic with a Zenitar full frame fisheye lens. That thing weighs an absolute tonne, but produces some rad images. Hoping to get my wireless flash rig back up and running to use it for gig photography at my mates punk gigs. I’m actually thinking it would be cooler to carry around a briefcase with all my cameras, film, notebooks and laptop plus less strain on my aching body. Just wouldn’t help the fact I already look like a high school geography teacher. Side burns, mustache, leather jacket and an old man hat. The cameras are nothing though, compared to the rolls of film I’m carrying around!
Q: Do you think the whole Lomography thing has contributed to making film use more popular amongst certain groups?
I definitely think it has. They are one of the largest movements responsible for keeping the analogue love alive. Love or hate them, they’re here to stay. Obviously I love them to death, but I’ve heard so many people complain against them. “They are making novelty cameras and film with no real merit to the world of film photography”, or the like.
Dude, shut the fuck up!
If it wasn’t for them, a lot of people shooting on more ‘pro’ cameras wouldn’t have taken it up in the first place. The way I see it, Lomography produce the sort of fun, quirky cameras and film that appeal to a lot of the teenage/early 20’s market. Sure they’re made of plastic and liable to break at some point, but who said photography had to be serious? The best photos are captured from spontaneous moments on crappy cameras. My biggest complaint though, is how much they jack the price up.
Take the La Sardina for example (which I did use to death). It was my first lomography camera for my 18th birthday I think. It was ~$120 with the flash and coloured flash filters. That thing is worth like…..$50 max. But it’s their marketing and packaging that makes it so compelling to hand the money over. Once I saw the wide angle example photos, I HAD to have it!
Then I kept buying more and more lomo cameras, both plastic and more ‘pro’ cameras per se, like the Spinner 360 or the LC-Wide. But I think after getting to grips with using a pretty basic camera with minimal control, it makes people look more and more into what can be bought in the analogue world, and upgrade to say an SLR or a TLR etc.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people in my age bracket, who started off on lomo cameras, are now shooting on professional cameras with Carl Zeiss glass. It’s for that reason I hate people who mock Lomography. Well I don’t hate the person, just their arrogant ideology. Just because you’re shooting a Hasselblad C/M with the most premium lens, with the freshest film stock available, doesn’t make you any better than the 16 year old kid with a Diana Mini loaded with expired Kodak Gold.
At the end of the day, we’re all interested in the analogue world in one way or another, so the amount of arrogance I see in some people is just baffling. Just shoot some photos and be happy with the images YOU take! I think I got a tad off topic from the original question, but I guess I’m just passionate about Lomography haha.
Q: There’s been a lot said about the demise of film but places like Film Ferrania have just had a successful Kickstarter campaign for restarting the old Ferrania film factory in Northern Italy. What do you think of the debate and how do you think film can live harmoniously with digital?
The demise of film? Film was never dead to begin with, and it never will be. The moment that it’s declared film can no longer be made or processed anywhere worldwide, is the day I either:
Say goodbye to a cruel world without film and kick the bucket, OR
Start a black market for it.
I think that the latter would be a better option, but part of me is serious.
Since a lot of the demand for film is now in the cinema market, I highly doubt it will ever truly die. But can it live side by side with digital? Absolutely. They both have their place in the world, and different strokes for different blokes y’know? I don’t touch my DSLR at all anymore, unless I have to do product photos for the FND website, but other people may happily use theirs alongside a Pentax Spotmatic or a Leica IIII.
For me, digital just doesn’t give the satisfaction of trying to nail a few shots per roll, waiting 2 months to develop them (by which stage you have forgotten what’s even on them) and getting a massive surprise when you see a photo you are proud of. Digital is just too…..instant, too perfect, too clean. Sure film can be too, but where’s the fun in that?
My life is none of those things, so why would I let my lifestyle be the reciprocal of my shooting style?
I shoot film, because I know I can achieve a unique image that just CAN’T be replicated on digital or photoshop, no matter how much you like applying filters. But if I went on to explain all the reasons WHY I shoot film over digital, we could more or less make another War & Peace novel. But in the current day and age, it’s a niche market, and that’s the way it’s gonna stay from now on. We have no choice, digital technology moves too fast for anyone to keep up with.
But that being said, the downfall of digital is how replaceable it is. My Nikon D5000 is more or less considered ancient now, and it’s only 7 years old! Bigger, better, faster, stronger – when does it end? It never fucking will, and that’s one of the reasons I hate it. Life is just a big competition to outdo each other in whatever is thrown at you. Film forces you to slow down, analyse what’s actually in front of you, get your metering correct, get your framing correct etc etc – and you know it’s worth it when you can hold your prints in your hands, while the lab tech waits for you to fork out the dosh. I guess this question is a pretty loaded one for me personally, and like I said earlier, we could be here for hours.
I’ve got a fair few ideas planned at this stage. I’ve got a notebook just chock full of things I wanna work on, but it’s mostly finding the time to do it in-between working the FND shop and being a checkout chick at Coles. So it’s all long hours into the morning when I get home. A diet of coffee, beer & cigarettes helps me get everything done (Please note: I do not recommend this work diet)
But I’m currently working on the Ghetto Developing Kit for BW film. Just a bag full of brown powder that you add to water, and use like any other developer. But I’m just working on the small details, now that I’ve confirmed I can get consistent results. Gotta work on the packaging, a promo video, instructions etc.
But I’m also looking into making remjet removed cine film in both 35mm & 110.
The 35mm is easy to do, just gotta get some bulk stock and load into canisters. It’s the remjet removal that’s gonna be tricky. As I have to remove it from every roll – and then dry it in the dark. But after that, it means it can be put through C-41 chemicals. So pretty much a home grown Cinestill!
This also includes about 200ft I have of Kodak 5254 Cine film, which I’m fairly sure expired in the 70’s sometime. Because it’s so old, I gotta do A HEAP of testing, as it uses the precurser developing method ECN-1 (All modern cinefilm uses ECN-2). Plus the ISO could be anywhere from 12-100, so I gotta look at what can be done. It’s definitely not gonna give perfect results, but if I can produce ANY image from it – then that’s a win in my book. The 110 version is gonna be a bitch to do though, so I don’t see that happening until at least towards the end of the year. But, I’m sure it’s entirely feasible!
I have an ISO 6 slide duplicating film, that I’ve tested and will put on the market soon. Just gotta do the labels and take it from there. But that’s the easy one, I’ve got the same bulk film; but it’s again, from the 70’s and uses the E4 process (We now use E6 for positive developing). So how in the fuck I’m gonna develop this one, I have no clue.
But there is ALWAYS a way, and I’m sure as heck gonna figure it out!
I’m gonna be bringing back Bokashi, which has appeared to be the 2nd most popular film next to Magpie. It had a hiatus over summer due to daylight savings. But I think myself and a lot of people are going to be happy to welcome it back with open arms! I will also be introducing it’s streaky cousin at the same time.
I’m currently working on a bulk order for a guy in Korea (not Kim Jong, but his name IS Kim) that runs the site the35mm.com, which is about 180 rolls worth of film. So I’m pretty pleased about that!
How a guy on the other side of the world got word about my film, I have absolutely no clue, but either way I’m stoked! If I can get some international recognition, then things are looking up!
I will also try working on a podcast with a twist soon! I conducted a survey a while back to try get a better understanding of what people like to see in film photography. One of the questions I asked was: How do you listen to music? MP3, CD, Cassette, Vinyl etc
Well, no one said they listen to cassettes, so I thought, stuff ya all! I’m gonna do an exclusive podcast on cassette tape with music, interviews, general photoraphy banter with a few mates, some fake advertisements. It’s not meant to be anything serious, just a bit of fun!
A few mates have said: ‘Are you gonna put it online at all?’ Well, absolutely not! That takes away the exclusivity of it! If you don’t have a player – get one!
Should be fun though, I’ll just organise a few mates to come over for a beer and just record us talking shit about film and analogue photography!
I have another handful of ideas, but I haven’t even begun on them yet. If I was doing this full time, things would be happening a lot faster! But alas, I have to work all day, ‘erry day just to afford to run the business!
Q: Thanks Sebastian! It’s been very informative. Just on film: I think we could all do with slowing down and thinking once in a while.
No, no – ThankYOU mate! It’s always a pleasure sharing my thoughts on photography, or ramblings I should say! I’m passionate about what I do, so I tend to go on a bit…hahaha
Absolutely, I think anyone who is taking photography seriously, needs to consider shooting film at least a handful of times! Some like it, some don’t!
Just don’t do HDR, no-one wants to see that shite hahaha