After being born in Holland, growing up in Switzerland and living in Lebanon, Usamah Khan found himself following in the footsteps of his father, attending McGill University and inheriting one of his old cameras. Having graduated from Civil Engineering in 2014, Usamah now lives and works in the city.
It was a combination of my ignorance about photography and the eerie red hues of Usamah’s photographs that drew me to his works. Was it intentional? How did he do it? I sat down with Usamah to find out.
Jacqueline Hampshire: What is depicted in your photo series?
Usamah Khan: There’s actually not a crazy story to it. I started using my dad’s old film camera that he gave me a while back, and what happened was that the shutter speed dial on it broke and so I went to buy a new body. When I bought the new camera body, the guy had a whole bunch of film, some of it expired, so I just picked up some that looked interesting to me. This is the first roll that I popped into my camera. It was a pretty cold day in March and everything was really barren. I wanted to capture the trees and the outline of the branches. I have a thing for the long alleyways in Montreal. I ended up shooting the whole roll in one day just as a test to see if everything was working. I hadn’t realized that it was red tinted film! So it was a huge accident and I thought, what is going on here?
JH: Would you say that the accident of the film ended up playing an important role in your process?
UK: Yea, a lot of the shots were what I would do when I had a new camera body. The shot inside the apartment was taken to test the camera’s capabilities with a longer shutter speed so I could grab more light inside, where there wasn’t that much light. The ones outside were at a really fast shutter speed. I wanted to see how it differs and if it was exposing correctly on both levels.
The three photos selected from my work were actually three different exposure settings.
JH: In an era of digital photography, what draws you to film and what are the benefits and limitations of the medium?
UK: To be honest I started film photography because my dad had a good camera. I find with film photography you’re a lot more focused with the moment of taking the photo cause you can’t look at what you’ve done. In a situation where you might snap three or four shots like with a phone, with film you don’t have three or four shots to take. You spend time and think about it a little bit more and then you go for it! It’s quite nice to just do something and let go and wait and then come back to it and see what happened. It forces you to be … not a better photographer, but it helps you to be a bit more focused. Learning photography was a lot easier with film because of the big trial and error process.
There’s something nice about getting prints – there’s an organic feel.
JH: Would you consider working with digital?
UK: I do have a digital camera and there are definitely advantages, but at the same time you lose something that makes it…nice…you spend a lot of time looking at the screen. With film…I love cocking the shutter, it’s a nice part of taking the photo…I know now I can move on to the next one. When I’m doing that, I’m in “photo-zone”. When I have my digital camera with me, I’m just shooting.