Behind the Lens: Kirk Mastin

Keeping alive the love of film photography in a kayak shot

Pacific Northwest photographer Kirk Mastin speaks to his love of traditional film photography and how he went beyond a normal portrait assignment for C&K’s Unfiltered to also capture this dynamic kayaking photograph. Both photos are featured in the July 2013 issue.

Justine Curgenven, Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme navigate the tidal surges of Deception Pass, Wash. Photo: Kirk Mastin

The Shot:
Pentax 645 with an adapted Pentax 67 105mm f2.4 lens.
Portra 400 film rated at ISO 320.

CanoeKayakMag.com: How do you handle your processing?
Kirk Mastin: My film is developed at Panda Lab in Seattle. My negatives are uncut and un-sleeved, rolled into paper boxes so that I can scan them as long rolls at home on my Fuji Frontier SP3000.
My Fuji SP3000, although at least 8 years old, is a top of the line scanner made by Fuji at the height of film. This piece of equipment is critical to the look I want from my film.

Was this kayaking shot with set up or just a candid action sports moment?
I treat every assignment as though it is the most important shoot I have done and that I may get the image that will change my career. There is a lot of opportunity in each assignment if you look for it. I knew that Justine was briefly visiting the United States on a tour for her new film and that our paths might not cross again. So I arrived to the assignment early and left quite late, pushing way past the original portrait assignment. Staying late gave me the opportunity to capture a candid feeling of kayaking with friends in Deception Pass, one of the most beautiful places in Washington.

I set up the portraits of Justine. I believe that a great portrait is a collaboration between the photographer and the subject. The key is to get to know your subject and make a connection. Then wait for the right time to set up the portrait. In this case I wanted to wait until Justine had been paddling for a few hours, covered in water, with hair tousled and rosy cheeks. Capturing her just after getting out of the water from paddling in the surf created the right feeling for the photo, and I love how it turned out. Finding just the right background and light made it perfect for me.

Photo: Kirk Mastin

People may perceive shooting on film these days as archaic. What motivates you to still shoot with film?
There are two main reasons I shoot film. The look of film, when scanned properly, is unmatched. To me it looks like a painting. Film is not about resolution or sharpness at all, but about the beautiful color palette and soft tonal transitions that makes it look alive, organic and, in some strange way, authentic. I find digital to be too sharp, too polished, too literal. For certain things, especially product shots and commercial work, digital has a more appropriate look than film. But I work more from an emotional standpoint than technical, and film supports that way of working.

The second reason I shoot film is that I enjoy the process itself. With film I slow down, visualize each shot and weigh in my mind whether the shot is worth it. Shooting film allows me to connect with my subject and keep from being distracted. I feel more in the flow, in the moment.

I will continue to shoot film until color negative film is no longer made. I don’t think that will happen, though. I think film will be like vinyl records. Never again mainstream, but sought out by artists and individuals that prefer the analog medium.

What’s next on your list of photographic adventures?
I am working on two book projects and a new system for hybrid film/digital photographers. The first project is a series on totem poles in strange environments. I photograph them in their environment and record the often strange story of how they got there. Sometimes the story is fascinating; sometimes it is not. I once found a piece of a beautiful totem pole that had been found behind a pile of wood in a neighbor’s backyard. I found another totem pole in a Trader Joe’s.

The second photo project is about people in Germany who have been living as Native Americans for over 200 years. Inspired by the writings of Karl May, a famous German author, tens of thousands of people in Germany and Russia learned the ways of Native Americans and have formed communities to live that way.

The last thing I am working on is a set of presets and educational videos that will help others learn how to match digital images to film images. By matching digital to film scans photographers can transition slowly to shooting more film. I want my work to open up film photography for thousands of people wanting to try it without breaking the bank.

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