There's something special about shooting film, an element of mystery, waiting to see the results of what you captured. When the film has already been used by someone else in a different part of the world the level of mystery ramps up! Welcome to 'film-swaps'.
Earlier this year I had my first experience of a film-swap with Mia BloomBecker, a photographer based in Santa Cruz in California. Mia is passionate about shooting film, and for a while I saw her posting photographs from her film-swaps on Instagram. A film-swap involves photographing a roll of film and then another person shoots over the same roll of film. The results are often a surprise (a bit like a "box of chocolates..."), creating exciting and unexpected double-exposed photographs, overlapping and combining the imagery by both people.
I liked this project so I asked if I could take part, but before I show the results from our film-swaps I want to introduce you to Mia, her photography and other swaps in this blog. Read on to find out what questions I had for her and to learn more about her excellent work and film-swaps...
Andrew: Hello Mia! Firstly could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Mia: Hi! My name is Mia BloomBecker and art has always been an important part of my life. I got my bachelors degree in art therapy and believe in the healing power of art.
How long has photography been an important part of your life?
At the age of 13 I became captivated by photography. My uncle was a prominent fashion photographer in New York in the '50s-70's. He showed me everything he knew, but also gave me the freedom to explore on my own. I suddenly had a way to show the tiny details I always noticed as an observant child, and it opened up my world.
Three years ago I found a lomography camera at a yard sale and I became obsessed with the company. I had been shooting film for 12 years and the discovery made the medium newly exciting. Since then I've fallen in love with the surprisingly thriving film community on Instagram. I don't intend to stop shooting film unless it becomes completely unobtainable.
What do you like to photograph?
I enjoy shooting nature, architecture, decay and street art. I won't click the shutter unless I'm satisfied with the whole frame, and I never want to take the same photo twice.
What type of films and cameras do you like to use?
I adore lomochrome, redscale and Agfa color film. I primarily shoot with a Konica 35mm, but I've amassed quite a collection of lomography cameras. Film soup was another life changing discovery. When you soak your film in citrus, vinegar, soap, bleach etc. the results are fascinating - the landscapes become dreamy, surreal and sometimes spotted.
Where did the idea of film-swaps come from?
I was introduced to film swaps by Beth Maciarowski. We met at Salvation Mountain and she complimented my red Holga.
What do you enjoy most about film-swaps?
I love the unexpected nature of the images created in collaboration with near strangers. It's an act of trust to send a roll of film in the mail. Communication won't always work but the incredible results are worth the risk. I love experiencing different cultures, landscapes and textures. Film swaps allow you to see this without travel.
Your film-swaps have travelled far and wide. What other parts of the world have you sent them to and how many so far?
So far I've shot 40 rolls for swaps in the past year. 25 of those have been completed with people in the U.K., Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Canada, Poland and the US. I was actually surprised - I didn't think it was that many!
Do any film-swaps stand out to you?
My favorite swaps have been unusual mashups - Australia paired with Turkey and Porto with Arizona. However, each swap I've done has some exciting images.
What have you learnt from this experience of sending and receiving photos from people around the world?
Swaps have helped me learn how to let go and trust the process. I can sometimes be very rigid and want to shoot in several locations per roll. This isn't always practical, especially when traveling. I've seen over time that variety doesn't always matter. I am generally a patient person, but when I shoot a roll I can't wait to see the results. This process has forced me to be more patient with seeing the images. People have busy lives, and I understand that shooting isn't always easy. I've also become more attuned to unusual shapes because they can be interesting for double exposures.
Do you have any plans for the swaps in the future?
I hope to have a show of my film swap experiments when the time is right. There are so many fantastic images that it would be hard to choose!
Instagram seems to be your social media platform of choice. What draws you to it and how has using it developed your film-swaps?
Instagram is my social media platform of choice because it's so easy to use and tailor to your interests. The majority of the people I follow shoot film and I like being able to see inspiring images when I choose to scroll through. I have essentially no internet presence aside from Instagram and I'm happy that way. I am cautious of the increased usage of social media and the resulting difficulty with being present. I've written to pen pals for many years, and film collaborations give me a similar joy. You get to connect with people in different parts of the world and see their lived experience. With two exceptions, I have found all of my film swap partners on Instagram. I've had the opportunity to introduce the concept to photographers who are unfamiliar with film swaps, which makes it especially exciting. It's also nice to share the results on Instagram and connect with other people interested in film swaps.
Lastly, what's your Instagram username and where does it come from?
My username is nationale7, named after a song by Stereo Total. They're an adorable German/French band, and I once had the pleasure of dancing with them on stage. I now use the username whenever I can because it's never taken. Occasionally I'm tagged because it's an actual place, and it makes me laugh.
Thanks for answering my questions Mia. I'm looking forward to seeing how our film swaps turn out and good luck for your future swaps!
You're welcome. I appreciated your thoughtful questions. It's great to have a chance to reflect on my photographic journey.
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...and there's your introduction to Mia BloomBecker, her photography and film-swaps. I enjoyed reading her detailed and informative answers and also the stories behind the photos - I hope you did too. Be sure to check out her Instagram profile for more film-photography goodness!
Thanks also to you for reading this. What did you think? All comments are welcomed, so please let us know below and subscribe to my newsletter to see the results of our film-swaps.