The soul of film Photography. Interview with Emily Porter

Emily Porter is a talented photographer with a big experience in film photography and traveling, and a yoga instructor. Emily’s work was published in Harper’s, This Very Instant, Float Photo and Esquire Russia. Moreover, she had several exhibitions in Australia, UK, New York, Washington, DC.

Her work can be described as soft, calming, “here”. When I saw Emily’s photographs for the first time I had a feeling that I belonged, that it fed my soul, I felt comfortable. I have a special place for film photography and especially fim photos that capture particular moments. Emily does amazing work at seeing a unique scene and saving it forever in her photographs. Emily captures not only moments, but also events, feeling, emotions.

Currently Emily resides in Milwaukee, WI. “Never did I think I would move back here but it has really blossomed into a wonderful, proud and supportive city“, she says. Emily loves traveling, no.. she LOVES traveling and because of her experience in the film industry she got a chance to live and travel around the country. Emily lived in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and a small town in Georgia.

Emily explains: “I still try to travel every other month to grow and shoot. Since COVID I have canceled several trips and yearning to get back to it, but of course when it is safe. I have been fortunate to travel to Ireland, Berlin, and Paris and hope to make my way abroad again when the world is safe“.

Why photography and when did you understand that photography is your thing?

Photography is almost like breathing for me. I feel off when I do not have my camera and moments haunt me if I miss a shot. In highschool, I used to paint and my wonderful art teacher encouraged me to shoot my subjects before applying it to canvas. Well, I became obsessed with light and have been photographing ever since

Is is your main profession now? 

That would be the dream! I currently help authors sell their books through tours and whatnot as well as recently I co-run a wellness and lifestyle magazine called Mudita Magazine. I definitely like to keep busy and have done many different jobs in the past ten years!

What was your experience in the film industry and why did you stop? 

I was a festival nomad, traveling from festival to festival organizing and helping run the event! Mostly I was the Operations Coordinator, training staff, and preparing for film premieres with the film cast and crew. It was amazing but not steady work and it was hard to build roots when most of your friends were all over the world. It was an incredible experience and I still review films for a few of the festivals so I feel a bit apart of the film world.

Tell us more about the Institute of Art and Design. What was your experience Like? Did it influence you creatively or gave you any opportunities?

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design was an incredible experience for me. This is when you could still get a photography degree, and darkroom techniques and film was a mandatory class. I am so grateful for our intimate photography family that developed and the professors that helped me grow into the artist I am today. It was necessary and important for me as an artist to meet my peers, artists I admired, and professors that challenged my work.

Do you think creative people Need to go to a college or it is not necessary?

I do not think it is always necessary for creative people to go to college. I was very lucky to win a scholarship in order to go! It really depends on the artist and what they need on their journey. Some thrive and others are stifled. That being said, I do think it is important to learn your craft and the history of the artists that came before you.

Why film photography? And would you ever switch to a digital camera?

It always comes down to the soul of it. The soul of film. I connect more with film, the grain, the fact that it is not immediately gratifying and that I won’t see the image for sometimes months. I love the fact that scientifically I am capturing light and the image is being etched/burned onto this slide of film. It feels like magic every time. Every time I purchase a digital camera, I end up giving it away. I feel disconnected from it, it’s just not the same for me. But I do need to purchase one if I plan to make a living from it someday. It is very hard to make a living wage off of film photography in modern day. When it comes down to it, my love will always be with film.

What is your favorite camera to use?

My most used cameras, my babies, are my Canon AV-1 and my SX-70 polaroid. They both came to me in a way that was fate. My Canon AV-1 was found in the Tenderloin of San Francisco when I came upon a small camera store and this particular camera, I swear, was calling for me. I barely had any money at the time and had just enough to make it mine. I use these the most for my work.

How much time does it usually take to prepare for a photoshoot, mentally and physically?

I like to live in the moment, so most of my work is very candid. If I am shooting a portrait or subject, I use natural lighting and try to go with the flow and find our surroundings. I love finding things on the spot and try not to think so much, let it happen.

My work is an ode to the wandering being. An almost journal of my everyday life and the landscapes and people I come across.

How did your family and friends react TO your decision to become a photographer? 

Thankfully my family and friends have always been supportive of my work. The only time they were unsure was when I wanted to pursue war photography that I ended up not doing from the pleas of my parents. I am super grateful that they allow and have almost forgotten that I am always shooting them. Everyone that is in my life somehow becomes my muse.

What did attract you to war photography? What were the places you wanted to visit and document? Do you think you Could still do it? 

It is so important to document war and what war does to people and lands. It is important to history and important for the lives affected by it. I wanted to go wherever they would have needed me. I am pretty open so I would have gone anywhere. I told myself if I didn’t have a family by the time I was 30 then I would look into it again, but here I am at 30 and trying to build a life with my partner so maybe in the next life?

What are the must-haves for a film photographer, in your opinion?

Honestly, a working camera and strap and more than enough rolls of film. Oh, and a developer you can trust if you cannot develop yourself! Stay curious and inspired. I try to look at what other photographers are creating almost on a daily basis. It is so important to just keep shooting!

And what skills are important for a photographer?

A good eye is a key, of course! I think it’s also important to have a level of respect for whatever you are shooting and know when to shoot. Sometimes it is important to be present and not shoot too, and allow yourself to be in the moment and let it be lost. Depending on what kind of photographer you are, one needs to blend into the background or in another realm to have a presence. 

How do you select photos for your portfolio?

It is really hard to say. When I am going through rolls, images that make the cut bounce off the sheet at me. I just know it possesses the “perfect” factor. Sometimes I will come back to rolls uncertain if they are any good years later, not knowing why I did not like it at the time. Sometimes images need to marinate or stay hidden until it is their time.

What is your creative process? Working with film cameras is different compared to digital cameras. How many “chances” do you give yourself to take a photo?

My creative process is pretty basic. I make sure I always have a camera on me and when I see something I need to shoot, I shoot. I have a little satchel I put all of my exposed film in and grab two every few weeks to develop. It has almost become a little game for me. I always give myself one chance unless I am doing a polaroid portrait. Then I give myself 8 shots, one pack. I kind of look at it as, if it doesn’t come out it wasn’t meant to be captured. I know some photographers would think that was crazy but it feels right to me with my work. When I shoot digital it is a completely different story.

Do you develop your photos yourself? What is IT LIKE FOR YOU?

No, that is the goal, but currently I send them out. When I receive the images back I will sit with them for days seeing how I feel about each image. Sometimes I will only like one shot and with others I might like the whole roll.

Who or what inspires you? And what motivates you to stay on this path?

I think the importance of photography and to document the world and our lives is what keeps me on this path. So many photographers and my friends and family inspire me everyday. Nature and traveling inspires me to create imagery as well and honestly the awe of being alive keeps me shooting this wondrous worlds.

Which photographers do you look up to?

Oh goodness, so many! Nan Goldin, Elinor Carucci, Teju Cole, Robert Mapplethorpe, Vivian Maier, Jess T. Dugan, Meaghan Garrahan. So many amazing photographers who I just love

What was your experience like working with the bigger magazines? Did you submit your work or they contacted you? 

It was incredibly positive and made me feel like I was doing something right with my work. I worked with Harper’s and Esquire Russia that found my work and contacted me. I am always submitting to photography magazines and exhibitions to make sure people are seeing my name and work. I would like to think that this had something to do with them finding me. 

What feelings did you have when you saw your photos in the actual printed magazine?  

It was very much a moment and validated me as an artist. Sometimes we as artists can second guess what we are doing, if our work is important or even impacting anyone. It was gratifying and rewarding to see my images in print for thousands of people to view.

And which magazine would you like to be in?

My all time goal is National Geographic and Aperture. I could die happy if I had an image in National Geographic or Aperture.

What are your future goals and what is your ultimate goal as a photographer?

I think my ultimate goal as a photographer is to be able to live off of just my work while traveling the world experiencing different cultures and landscapes. I would also like to influence others into exploring and falling in love with the medium.

Did COVID influence you creatively?

It did. I had a few small trips planned where I was excited to really take off and shoot. I am also high risk so I did not leave my apartment for months which really had an effect on me. I do not like being inside. It made me think outside of the box and step out of my comfort zone. I ended up developing a series called “Quarantine Moments” with polaroids, which were all taken inside my home or a few blocks from where I live.

Do you have any favorite Instagram photo accounts or YouTube channels?

This is hard! I don’t watch YouTube much but Instagram…is my everyday inspiration. Here is my list of people I look to for inspiration and absolutely love their work: @bachviki, @anjalipinto, @kate_sweeney, @anna_c_robertson, @mkevernacular, @float_magazine, @meagahan, @diego_maeso_, @marta_kei

What do you want to say to people who are interested in photography and especially those who want to learn more about film photography?

Do not be intimidated and just jump, experiment and see what happens! Try different cameras, try plastic cameras, try cyanotypes. Just make sure you are learning while finding the magic. Reach out to photographers you admire and ask questions! Every photographer I have ever met loves talking photography. I love when people ask me questions about film and I love getting people to find photography that they have never given a chance. It really is a medium that you can explore for life.

Thank you Emily for writing to us and sharing your work!

I am in love with Emily’s photographs and I hope you guys also enjoyed the interview and liked Emily’s work.

Support Emily by visiting her website and following her on Instagram @emilyporterphotograph

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