Film Folk: Jim Ryce

Location: Toronto, Canada
Genre: Travel, Portrait
Camera count: 5
Film stock of choice: Portra 400

Tell us about your path to becoming a photographer.
My first introduction to photography was as a kid, my mother had a Practika and I was taken with how cool it looked, I actually still have it. She saw that I was interested and let me use it. I can’t remember what I would shoot back then, but I do recall joining the high school year book committee and covering events with it. I studied graphic design in college and photography was part of the program and I got interested in it a bit more and had the opportunity to develop and make prints.

After college I really didn’t take it too seriously and would just casually shoot images on trips. Fast forward a few years and I was working with several non-profit clients with limited budgets so I had an opportunity to do some portrait work for a few projects and I really enjoyed it. At the same time, I was following more photo blogs and photographers on-line and started seeing more work shot on film, so that got me interested in going back to film after shooting digital for several years. I was shooting with a Leica M9 and decided to purchase a Leica M6 and my interest grew from there. I loved the way the film looked and enjoyed the entire process from buying the different film stocks to the way it made me think more about the images I was making. I then tried a few different medium format cameras before I settled on the Mamiya 7. In 2012, I decided to leave my design business and work freelance, splitting my time between design and photography. What do you primarily shoot with and why is it your weapon of choice?
My camera of choice is my Mamiya 7. I find it to be the perfect camera. I love working with rangefinder cameras, being able to see outside the frame lines is the main reason as I find it helps me compose the shot better. The size of the camera body is perfect and feels great in hand. The lenses are extremely sharp, I work with the 65 and 80mm. It’s also a really easy camera to use, from loading the film to having a fairly reliable built in meter – it makes it my go-to.

Are you a hybrid photographer?
Hybrid in the sense that I shoot both digital and film. It depends on the project but I tend to shoot corporate work on digital and editorial on film. I usually take my film camera on all shoots and try and take a film portrait even when I’m shooting digital.

What’s your favourite film stock? Why?
Kodak Portra 400 is what I like to work with best. The colour palette and warm tones really appeal to me and gives my images a consistency that I like. I tend to shoot my landscapes in the bright sunlight and prefer the look that the film provides, the images are nice and bright with deep shadows. When using it for portraits it gives really nice skin tones as well. It also has a great latitude, I tend to overexpose it by one stop.Tell us about the most interesting person/place you’ve photographed or project you’ve worked on.
In 2015 I rented a camper van and spent five days in Slab City, a decommissioned military base in Southern California. The area is spread out over about 600 acres and is home to approximately 250 people depending on the time of year. There’s no running water or electricity but people from all walks of life come and spend time living in the self-described last free place in America. I spent time documenting the community and the people that live there. I’ve been back another two times as the area changes so much as people tend to come and go. It was an amazing experience and I met many great people.

I see you’re based in Toronto and yet it’s nowhere to be seen on your website. Is there any reason for this?
A good question, Toronto is such a great diverse city with so many amazing places to shoot but I have never really explored it as much as I have with my other travel work. I’ve been working on a very rough idea of making images along a street that is very close to my home. I’ve made a few images but at this point I’m not really sure where to take it. The street has both Little India and one of our two Chinatown communities on it, so I definitely think there is something interesting to capture. Hopefully in the future I can figure it out.

You have quite an extensive list of clients on your website, in this digital era do you find that shooting film is something that you need to explain to your clients?
It depends on the project whether I use digital or film. For corporate work I use digital but for editorial work I use film. Often when I’m hired for a project they usually refer to work they’ve seen on my site and I mention that it is shot on film. Who is your preferred lab or do you self develop/scan? Why?
All my film is processed and scanned at Downtown Camera here in Toronto. I’ve done my own scanning in the past but was never happy with the results. The consistency in the scans that the lab is able to provide just makes it a better solution for me at this point.

Who are your three favourite photographers and why do they inspire you?
Hard to pick just three. I would probably have to go with Richard Avedon and his series In the American West. The portraits are so simple and beautifully made. The connection that he made with his subjects really comes through in the images. I have the book but I would love to see the prints, I can only image how incredible they would be to see in person.

Next, I would choose Stephen Shore. I love his Uncommon Places work. I remember first seeing this work and it really changed how I thought and looked at photography and what is possible. The observational style to the work really made me look at what is around me. I was fortunate to see the Stephen Shore exhibit at the MOMA last year that included this work.

My final choice would be Alec Soth, both his series Niagara and Sleeping by the Mississippi are amazing. They’re filled with so many amazing portraits and landscapes as well as simple detail shots. I would recommend the documentary Somewhere to Disappear, it gives you a great insight into his process.

There are so many amazing photographers whose work I’m inspired by but I specifically selected these three because all the bodies of work that I’ve referenced have the aspect of travel and documenting to them and I really find this approach interesting and would love to do more of myself. If you don’t have a camera in your hand, what would we find you doing?
Work-wise when I don’t have photography projects I’m working on design. My design projects range from corporate reports to identity work.

Show us the favourite photo you’ve ever taken and let us know why it’s your #1.
This was a really tough one to answer as I’ve never really thought about what would be my favourite image that I’ve made. I really had to think about it. So I’m not sure this is necessarily my favourite but I think the image that I choose represents a turning point for me in how I started to make images. The image I selected is from my series on Slab City. The image is of a man sitting watching TV. I had asked if I could take his portrait and he agreed but said after he had finished watching the news. As I sat and waited I realized the shot was right in front of me and was way better than what I could have planned for.You can only shoot with one camera, one lens and one film stock for the rest of your life. Which do you choose?
This is one of the easier questions for me to answer. That would be my Mamiya 7 with the 80mm and Portra 400.

Mac or PC? Mac
Kodak or Fuji? Kodak
Colour or B/W? Colour
Frontier or Noritsu? The lab uses Noritsu
Self-Develop or Lab? Lab
Portrait or Landscape? Landscape
Lightroom or Darkroom? Film – Photoshop. Digital – Lightroom.
35mm or Medium Format? Medium Format
External or In-Built Light Meter? Both, depending on the situation and camera.

Check out more of Jim’s work on his website and follow him on Instagram.

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