You asked for interviews, so we’re bringing you interviews! Welcome to our new series, debuting today. We’re going to bring you at least one interview a month, with people from all over the photography world including pros, students, product designers, editors, teachers, and everyone in between. We’re starting off with photographer Chad Schaefer…
Tell me a little about yourself and your work.
My name is Chad Schaefer, and my older brother and I have the dubious honor of being named after the British folk group, Chad and Jeremy. I’ve been living in Austin, Texas for the last six years, after spending most of my previous life in Chicago.
My formal education consists of way less than it should have, as I never really enjoyed school. I spent most of my time passing tests without studying, and passing time in class doodling on everything… all through school I wanted to either design cars or go into animation. In fact, the only photography education I’ve had was 1/2 a semester in 7th grade, where film photography was part of our industrial arts class. At that point, I was just amazed that my dad let me even touch his 35mm camera…
Years later, I bought my first digital camera (a bulky 1.3 MP behemoth) to document the vintage Vespa scene I used to be heavily involved with. However, with the proliferation of cameras at the scooter rallies, I quickly got bored of taking the same pictures as everyone else. In the meantime, I was working my way through the older Nikon point and shoot Coolpix cameras, the ones with full manual settings, and learning all the stuff I forgot about like f stop, aperture, etc. I started playing in Photoshop, trying to take my photos and turn them into something different. I love old photographs, especially family snapshots, vacation slides, postcards, and the like. I spent hours in Photoshop trying to make my digital pictures look like film pictures, and then one day, I decided to just go out and buy a film camera, which happened to be a Holga. I chose that camera mainly because it was inexpensive, and the Holga shots I had seen at that point were about what I was trying to achieve in Photoshop, and I knew nothing about film cameras at that time.
What do you shoot with?
Today, I carry more cameras than luggage when I go on vacation. Last fall, I took a road trip from Austin to Disneyland, and I had, I think, 10 cameras with me. I rotate a lot, and I DO use all the cameras I have. Lately I have been favoring my Yashica Mat EM, coupled with a Heiland 3 cell flashgun, but I also get a lot of work out of my three Vivitar SLRs, 2 220/SLs and a 250/SL (one loaded with color, one with black and white, and one with color infrared). I have two Universal Uniflex TLRs, from the 1940s, one loaded with b/w infrared and the other is usually loaded with b/w 120. I have a few Polaroid model 100 Land Cameras (again, one loaded with color, one loaded with b/w), as well as two Argus C3s (one 40’s model that is M synced for flashbulbs, and one later model that is X synced for electronic flash). I have a Brownie Target Six-20 that comes with me all the time, and a Brownie Starflash that I have experimentally loaded with 35mm. I finally got some of the Impossible Project’s SX-70 film, and I’m playing with that in my SX-70 Sonar OneStep. Sitting around at the moment are an Instamatic 500, a Brownie Hawkeye Flash, and few other bits and pieces.
What type of film do you use and where do you buy it?
I used to use anything I could get my hands on, especially expired stuff. That habit left me with a really underwhelming experience with color film until I started using Kodachrome. On that Disneyland road trip, I went through 8 rolls of Kodachrome, and have been using that almost exclusively in my 35mm cameras, until, obviously, the inevitable end last December. I am still seeking a nice alternative for that. On the 120 cameras, I have really enjoyed the vivid and bright results I have been getting from Ektachrome. Almost all the color film I buy is expired… Since this is essentially an expensive hobby until I can get consistently paid, I have to budget myself in a way to get maximum results with as little expenditure as I can. However, when I shoot black and white, I do buy new, but I don’t have a preference. I get most of my new film from Freestyle photo in California. Their house-branded black and white film is extremely inexpensive, and sourced from, I believe, the Czech Republic, which gives the results a vintage feel without really trying. They also sell Fuji’s pack film for the older Polaroid Land Cameras, as well as infrared films and 127 format.How are you getting your film developed and printed?
I trust my developing to either Holland Photo or Precision Camera, here in Austin. My rationale behind this is: I am kind of the Ed Wood of photography. I don’t bracket my shots and I rarely take more than one or two photos of the same thing. I will go to a concert and take two photos all night. Some of my cameras go months before I finish a roll of film. Each of those shots is highly unique, and I don’t want to risk a step that I may screw up.
How do you feel about the new digital apps that try to recreate the look of old film?
I have an Android phone, and I use the retro camera app more than I thought I would… I enjoy the personality it gives a bland photo, and it’s fun for Facebook and stuff like that.
Part of me feels like I should hate it, but it’s just another toy, and the effects don’t really come close to looking like what it is supposed to simulate, so I don’t feel like it’s a bad thing. Besides, it might steer some people into probing beyond the app and delving into film.
Who are your favorite photographers?
My self-education created a surprising lack of knowledge of historically significant photographers, although much of their work is vivid in my mind. Jack Delano’s FSA/OWI work was really an eye-opener on both the use of color and the sheer awesomeness of Kodachrome, and if I had been born earlier, my ultimate goal would have been to be a photographer for LIFE.
What are your top 2 photography pet peeves?
I’m sure this could wind up a list, but the top two? People who believe that they can be better photographers by buying the most expensive equipment they can get; the latest lenses, the newest equipment, all those gadgets aren’t going to help if you don’t have an eye.
That, and digital photographers who are afraid of film.
What are your favorite things to photograph and why?
Austin has a legendary music reputation, and I follow the smaller, traditional honky tonk scene, which is a perfect complement to my style and medium. I love getting candid images of “regular” people, which goes back to my love of the timeless snapshots you see in junk stores and attics. I really enjoy tourist traps, old motels, abandoned buildings and the like, but it’s not a particular THING that I like as much as a feeling that I like to capture.
Whats your favorite tourist trap, destination, and/or roadside attraction?
Disneyland. That is my number one spot. It has to be. It’s the pinnacle of the roadside attraction. I grew up going to Walt Disney World in Florida, but only recently had the pleasure of going to the older, smaller, California park. Disneyland is a time machine. Whereas “the World” promptly and completely updates its attractions in a race to stay relevant, Disneyland is a veritable archive of the 1960s.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I love the mom and pop places, and especially ones that are either labors of love, or just holdovers from another time. Bedrock City, the Thing? (AZ), The Buckhorn Museum (TX), Spongearama, The Burt Reynolds Museum (FL), The Black Hole (Los Alamos, NM)… As a post script, I’m a huge fan of space travel, so Kennedy Space Center, Houston Space Center, Stennis Space Center, Griffith Observatory, and even SpaceX’s testing facility in Texas (where I got chased away by a security guard) have all been on my itinerary.
Whats on your agenda/ what do you want to accomplish next?
I came to Texas with a mythical vision of what Austin should be, and although my imagination and willpower is vivid enough to live as if that myth were true, Austin is a small place, and its almost time to move on. I figure the next myth to live is California. I am working out the logistics of relocating to Los Angeles. I feel I can spend a few years enjoying and photographing its vast beauty and history. After that, who knows?
What band/musical artist is currently in constant rotation?
I currently have an unnatural obsession with Annette Funicello. She has a kind of imperfect perfection that embodies a lot of what I love. I mean, honestly, she wasn’t the world’s greatest singer, but I can’t stop listening to her.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I have hinted, but I have not really hit directly on the real question: Why do I insist on film? The ephemeral vs the eternal. We live in a throwaway culture, and I refuse to be part of that. Film is tangible, and archival. A well-preserved Kodachrome slide will still be viewable 100, maybe 200 years from now or longer, but who knows if we will be able to read a jpeg file even fifty years from now.
For more of Chad’s work, check out his website: