How did you become interested in photography?
TY: I started making videos on YouTube when I was seven in the Apple store. That turned into photography. Spy Kids was my favorite movie, and I always watched it on DVD, so it would skip and pause on weird stills. I would just look at the still and think, “this would be a cool image for a brand,” and my mom was really into clothes, so we had a lot of fashion magazines at a young age, and you could see what is going to sell, so photography was the next thing for me.
LUMIA: I always liked art but didn’t think I had a medium. I was submitting my work to competitions by the time I was 12, and I kept winning and eventually I went to Young Arts for photography. After that I realized I had to do photo.
AMANDLA: I’ve always had an interest in still photography. When I was in high school, I used my friend’s digital camera to take pictures for Facebook. As I got older, I realized I wanted to do something creative, and I thought I wanted to be a writer. I tried doing journalism, but that was not for me, so I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. Then my school told me the film program was closed, but my desire to do film got me to buy my own camera. Once I did that, I started shooting my friends for their Tumblrs, and then eventually I got my first freelance gig!
"I never think about that aspect of control when I’m shooting film. What I shoot is based off of the way I feel. I won’t think about it beforehand, and I won’t think about it until I get the images back." - Lumia Nocito
Why do you choose to shoot on either digital or film?
AMANDLA: I shoot on digital because there’s less of a chance I will get something back that I don’t like. I look at it and I did something wrong, I can decide to do something else, but I don’t have that option with film. That requires you to trust yourself a lot more. I’m a little anxious, so I’m going to think about everything that’s happening. The barriers to entry when it comes to film is the cost, and if I shoot all of this stuff and it doesn’t come out great, and I spent all of this money on it…
LUMIA: I never think about that aspect of control when I’m shooting film. What I shoot is based off of the way I feel. I won’t think about it beforehand, and I won’t think about it until I get the images back. The way that feeling manifests is the way the images manifest. If I have the urge to shoot something, it’s because I’m somewhere where I see something that already exists, and I feel the need to take it and share it with others. I feel I have a responsibility as an artist to show people the things they aren’t able to see.
TY: It goes back to Spy Kids. I’m obsessed with the in-between or how people get ready for a shoot. When I’m doing a fashion editorial, I’m more interested in the models getting ready—the model going through hair and makeup and putting on the clothes. When I was watching Spy Kids and it would pause, you would see the in-between elements like the wind or nature. Everything coming together to make a beautiful image. I shoot digital, because I’m more of a hyperactive person and that goes into my imagery. My imagery is who I am.
LUMIA: That’s interesting because I feel like those in-between moment shots you’re talking about are easiest to get with just a point and shoot camera. If I’m going to the club with my camera, it’s going to be a point and shoot, it’s not going to be a big digital camera.
TY: A lot of people have told me I should try film because of the color, but when I go through my images, I take maybe five in a moment and maybe two of the five include everything I wanted to happen in that moment. It’s easier to do digital because I can choose a moment and with the point and shoot you kind of have to be ready to know what you’re expecting.
AMANDLA: Another thing with film, if there is a moment that you want to catch and you catch it and then you don’t catch it when you get the film back, that sucks!
TY: I feel like a lot of people who use film recreate moments that have happened for them whereas people who shoot digital just capture the moments as they happen.
LUMIA: That’s really interesting. I feel like it depends on the person. That process that you have with digital is the same process I have with film but because of the physical aspect of holding a digital camera it makes it harder for me to just not think about it and just shoot.
"Shooting helps me live through people vicariously. When I shoot at night, I am drawn to people who are having a really good time, and it’s almost because I’m living through them in that moment." - Tyrell Hampton
I really liked what TY said about his style being representative of his personality. Does that apply to the rest of you?
LUMIA: My personal work is about showing the way I feel in certain settings or the way I’m experiencing a moment.
AMANDLA: My work isn’t about my personality so much as it’s about what I think is beautiful. The thing I realize I do, and I do this subconsciously, is I end up shooting people that look like me. I’ll shoot girls that have my complexion. I think it has to do with seeing myself in a certain way. I choose subjects that look like me or represent the culture I am familiar with.
TY: Shooting helps me live through people vicariously. When I shoot at night, I am drawn to people who are having a really good time, and it’s almost because I’m living through them in that moment.
Film is harder and harder to find and fairly price prohibitive. Do you think there will come a time when we move past film or do you think there will come a time when the awe of the digital age will pass and there will be a resurgence of film?
TY: I think people will start using the disposable again. That’s usually my go-to film camera because it’s cheap.
LUMIA: I hope it doesn’t die. I don’t think it will. I heard the other day they closed down the color lab at the school I used to study at. That was where I learned how to color correct physically by making prints in the darkroom. I was so bummed to hear that because I think those things are really important for photographers to have learned. I think more than anything film is really trendy right now and not at all dead. As a film photographer, I see people using film all the time.
AMANDLA: I think it’s really beautiful that when you shoot on film the light that’s reflected is actually hitting the film. I think that’s really poetic, and for that simple reason it is the more authentic medium and for digital it’s just hitting a sensor and assuming the light is there. With film, it’s technically saying this is real. I personally don’t want it to die. I’ve been trying to get more connected with it. I took pictures of my grandmother on film specifically for that reason because I’m like you’re getting old, and I want to be able to shoot you and physically have you with me all the time.
LUMIA: Film is so important because it’s tangible and with digital it’s on a card and you put it on a computer, and I think, at least in the learning of shooting film photography, it’s so important to process your own negatives and work in the darkroom for a really long time. Putting that care into your work is something that’s really important to learn as an artist and learning to value the object. It’s scary to think people will grow up without any exposure to film but such easy access to photography through iPhones where they can shoot thousands of photos in a minute. How do you pass down the art of film photography?
AMANDLA: The scary part is the pace at which things move now. Especially when it comes to advertising and working with brands because everyone wants things so quickly, and they want them to be flawless. I think there’s going to be a lot of film imitation. Capitalism says you have to maximize income and minimize cost, so if you’re a capitalist, if you’re working at a brand, film is not ideal. Digital is ideal. And imitating digital is the best of both worlds.
LUMIA: That’s such a thing right now. Companies will be like, ‘you have to shoot digital but make it look like film.’
AMANDLA: Capitalism and art contradict each other all the time and they always will. Eventually there will be a bubble that bursts, and the people at the brands will be like, we need to do something other than film because it’s too expensive.
"I think it’s really beautiful that when you shoot on film the light that’s reflected is actually hitting the film. I think that’s really poetic, and for that simple reason it is the more authentic medium and for digital it’s just hitting a sensor and assuming the light is there." - Amandla Baraka
There has been an historic lack of diversity within the photo industry. Is that changing? How do you encounter that? What’s your experience?
TY: In the media, you see people of color as subjects, not necessarily the artist, and that’s the role we want to have; to be in the background, helping out with the vision.
AMANDLA: I worked with a DP who was so rude, and when we got on set we were shooting these black boys in Jersey, where I’m from, and after he spent the entire day being a jerk to me, he was so sweet to these little boys, and I was like “I see you. You are accepting them as the subject of this but you can’t accept me as working with you?”
TY: There are so many white male photographers who are living off of people of color’s image. You have this white person who is not from the hood, and they take photos of people who typically look like they’re in the hood. They’re showing someone else’s story, it’s like “no, show your own story.” It gets annoying when you see white men shooting black people or black boys as if they’re saying they’re of the same, and there is probably someone who actually went through this who can get a deeper story or deeper connection as a photographer.
LUMIA: As a young woman, it’s unfair and there are a lot of microaggressions that happen when you’re on set, but I learned how to work professionally from a photographer who was a woman and saw her go through these things that I knew I would also experience. I think you just have to be really tough and if you’re very secure in yourself, you’re able to get over those things. I know a lot of white male photographers who are around my age whose work is good, but I think they get hired because they’re white dudes and get hired by other white dudes. Women and men are not equal at all still.
AMANDLA: My experience has been people reaching out to me when they want to do diverse things, especially when it’s focused on women. And I have to ask myself, “am I in a bubble? Am I boxing myself in somehow?” because I really don’t shoot only black people on purpose. I do that because the moments and opportunities I have to shoot happen to be people who look like me who hire me to do things that look like me. Now I’m starting to get gigs from these magazines and they’re hiring me when they want diversity, and I’ll wear that as a badge of honor, but at the same time that can be limiting because it’s like how often do you seek diversity and is that the only time I can get hired?