She may be short and sweet but lets not stick to the stereotypes this time because this gal is packing some serious heat in the creative community. Making film photographer her #1, and her sock addiction #2, Kim Phan tackles the hustle n’ bustle of Sydney’s city streets, capturing smooth curves, light leaks and a little bit of an obsession for cranes. Favouring nature and architecture, Kim boogied her way on a Luckythirtyfive feature and is about to launch the Kooky Camera Club, a mini hub for film photographers to get their dirty mitts on some real neat cams. Kim and I take a coffee break and chat about Sydney’s film community, some of her stitch ups and what we can expect from her.
Why do you film? What is the purpose of filming?
Like as opposed too digital?
Opposed too digital I guess; would you prefer to film analogue or digital?
Well before I started shooting film, I hated photography. So I do a design degree and the first time we had to do a photography project, I was like kicking up a stink like what the heck, I don’t give a flap about photography ’cause nothing about the process interested me. I didn’t like the gear, how expensive it was and I hated the idea on going out on a day, taking like 3000 photos and then going home and scrolling through them all, editing and deleting like a thousand photos that look exactly the same.
I can feel that.
So when I dug up my dad’s old film camera, a Pentax K1000, I think they call it the student camera, it’s like the most basic camera you can have. But it was a nice little camera, and it worked. Something about the way that it like feels and the patience of having to wait for film to come back to you, I would pick over digital any day of the week.
So if you weren’t feeling the photography gig at the start, what were you feeling? Did you create on other mediums?
Yeah so I was into like illustration, or well, use to be before I started taking photos, I’ve kinda taken a sidetrack [from it]. I don’t really know what I was going for when I got into design, it’s a pretty broad subject. Photography just kinda happened to be one of the avenues you can pursue and apply in different ways. Um, yeah I dunno.
I didn’t start taking film photos with the intention of where I was like yeah “I’m gonna go be a photographer!”. The first roll I shot was when I went on holiday to Melbourne, that’s the best way to get around with film anyway, film is best when it’s on a trip cause you don’t get to see all the photos at once, I guess it’s more of a personal hobby.
Cool man. And do you think that film is becoming more of an increasing trend or more popular with our generation?
I definitely think there’s like – I dunno it’s hard to tell cause I’m not a professional and I don’t work in the industry but anecdotally and from my kind of perspective, it does seem like it is. I guess you can kind of look at it in terms of film sales like sales of actual rolls of film. As oppose to like cameras cause now no one produces film cameras anymore, it’s kinda like a redistribution process. The only thing you still need is the perishable part that actually makes it work which is the film. The fact that there’s still a demand for it and there still making professional grade film, like Ilford is still very much in business. Yeah, I think it’s coming back and the more people that should film, the more companies should start producing more stock, and enabling it and making it successful. I think it is but I’m not a professional, I dunno.
Do you have a feeling on why people would be more interested in the raw, analogue feel rather than just taking heaps of photos and then being able to edit them and see them straight away?
Do you feel like there’s a kind of value?
Yeah I guess it’s the same kind of thing like why Instagram came to be in the first place. It kind of had a natural longing for false nostalgia like all the Instagram filters like the original filters, all the ugly ones that no one wants to say that they use anymore. They are all based on the quality, the visual aesthetic of film. Um. Maybe in the face of abundance of resources you can take a photo basically of anything and at all times but sometimes it can be too much, and maybe some people like take a step back and there’s something inherently tactile about it, knowing how a camera works. For me anyway. You look at a circuit board of a DSLR and you’re like I don’t know what the hell is going on here. But cause I spend a lot of time poking around my cameras, I pull them apart cause I break them very often. I kinda like know how they work, not explicitly, I couldn’t build one but yeah if I press this button, this thing triggers and this thing spins and to understand the mechanics of something that like a natural curiosity that’s inherited in all of us. As a kid, you wanna touch things and that’s how you learn and then it becomes a new attachment to a process. I guess that’s a really wanky way to talk about but that’s like a personal view. But I think that’s what draws people towards it I reckon.
That’s an important part, even if you’re a hobby photographer, the process of making an image or a thing, knowing how that came about informs a lot of like why you like it and how you learn to make it or make it mean something else.
Yeah, it seems like a bit of journey; going out and getting the film, taking photos and then getting them developed whereas DSLR it’s kind of like you’ve just got a battery, you’ve got a memory card and you can quickly slip it into your computer and edit straight away. So would you say you have a certain style or vision that you kind of do? Or is it just whatever you feel like?
Not really, every now and then I’ll work on a few personal projects, this is something I’m really interested in, I want to try and make a point in taking photos of it. They all come organically like I never sit down and think of something I set out to do. But I really love the cranes. It’s a fascination that exists outside photography. Like everywhere I go I’ll be like these cranes are hectic.
They’re pretty insane.
I just, how did it get there.
Especially on top of buildings.
Yeah. Because it’s not like a professional practice, I kind of just go around and do what I want. Um, it’s an interesting way to see all my interests manifest and kind of like a documentary process. Mostly it’s just photos of my friends, a go to a lot of shows and bring my camera to gigs and stuff.
I started a project recently, up in the blue mountains where I spend a lot of time hiking and I noticed when you drive around there’s a lot of purple houses. Like all the houses out there are really whack and great and so endearing, I wanna live in all of them. So I’ve been going up and bringing my cameras and taking photos of these houses and maybe turn it into a zine or something.
There’s a zine fair coming up soon.
Yeah, they usually happen at the beginning of the year. There’s the MCA and the Other Worlds. Yeah, just for fun. Even if I make one copy.
Something to hold. Yeah, cool.
So have you had many stitch ups? Or like broken cameras, exposed films… What’s the worst or memorable one?
This is a topic that’s very sensitive to me cause I’m just like a magnet for disaster and catastrophe. Recently I had a photography assignment and I orchestrated a shot so I like organised these girls to come and meet me and they had specific people at a specific location and they all had things on so it was a lot of work. I had never taken portraits before so I was really nervous, this was a new field for me, I put in all this effort. I shot two rolls of nice, expired Ilford HP5 that got off from a friend. Because it was for uni, I developed it myself. So I go into darkroom, I take the film out of the canisters, put it into a tank and we borrow this black kegs from the lab. So I had the whole lab to myself except this other girl who was leaving when I was coming in. So I was shaking this tank for like an hour, put all the chemicals in, yada yada yada – I get to the end and I open the tank and it’s empty and my film wasn’t in there and I was like you’re kidding me. It was the first time that I’d pulled myself together to start early, get myself organised. Yeah, so my film wasn’t in there – What the heck.
Shit, so where was it?
So the girl that was in there before me who had just finished, she finished drying her tank, all the tanks look the same like black canister tanks. She took my tank, left her tank. And when the tanks get returned to the office, they get opened up and destroyed obviously from the light so I lost these 72 photos.
What did you do?
I had to reshoot. It was a little bit different, not all girls could make it. In the end the photos were fine, I developed them and printed them myself. I turned it into a zine, it’s called how to play the fuckboy game.
Chaos. Disaster. Haha, I’ve screwed up a lot of times. I think I’ve destroyed 4 rolls. No, 5 is my body count.
Have you ever had an accidental exposure that surprisingly turned out okay?
Yeah, I’ve done that a lot. The first roll of film I did, I didn’t understand that I had to wind it all up so that kind of was had half exposed. But the camera I carry with me, it has a bad light leak every now and then. So a lot of photos can get burnt out or red. But, yeah no there like happy accidents that make it what it is.
Do think Sydney has a big filming community?
I think so. I know a fair few people that shoot film. Chris Loutfy, who is the curator at the GoodSpace Gallery. High key my hero, low key not chill about it. He curates the GoodSpace but it also runs a project called Lucky 35 and sells compact camera and features film photographers from Sydney. And I’m always hustling my friends to start shooting film, peer pressuring them to buying cameras. Haha.
It’s a good little hobby.
Yeah, it’s a good way to meet people, document your life.
What would be your favourite camera to shoot on?
I have a little Rollei 35, its actually in repair at the moment, said, attraction to disaster. It’s a tiny German design, fits in my pocket kindo’ thing. But I’m very much a believer that the best camera you have is the one you have with you.
Yeah, totally. I really need to get a compact camera.
You can test one of the Kooky Camera Club, gotta few coming around.
What’s your favourite film?
I’m a student so whatever’s the cheapest. At the moment, I’m a fan of Fuji superior extra 400. Its cheap, I like the colours. Opposed to Kodak gold, which every time I get it back, it is so gold. I like the blues and greens in Fuji superior. Recently I’ve been trying to experiment with expired film. So if I see someone selling some weird looking cams on eBay I’ll just buy some. I’ve got expired Portra 160 sitting at home and a couple rolls of black and white I’ve been given. There’s so many variables which makes it interesting, every single shot you take and every roll you take and camera you work with.
The other week, I started a disposable camera project, a weird time capsule thing. I found a bunch of expired disposable Kodak cameras on gumtree for cheap. I wanted to do something with them so I bought a couple and I’m gonna chuck them in the bottom of my bag everyday and just take photos and not developed them for like 10 years so when I’m 29, so I have like a weird 10-year time capsule of what my life is like and what it means to grow up and be on this precipice of adulthood at 19 and then 29 is meant to be another big milestone. I’d like to see all these weird new perspectives that I may have forgotten about.
I’m way too curious, I’d break before the 10 years.
I mean 10 years is a long time. Maybe I’ll develop them and nothing will come out. But I see it as an ongoing thing and making a point that like yeah 10 years from now, I’ll still be making stuff.
Yeah, as well as especially in the light of like you know how 14 year old’s and 12 year olds have such a strong digital presence, their entire childhood was catalogued online which we didn’t really have. I had a really ugly, embarrassing childhood like everyone. A teeny-bopper emo kid. So much of that was not documented permanently anywhere.
We were lucky.
I am so grateful. But yeah, this is like kind of like a weird alternative way of documenting I guess; not digitally and forever. It’ll be cool, maybe at the end, I’ll turn it into a book or something.
Kim Phan’s work
So what’s next?
Currently, I’m working on a project called the Kooky Camera Club. I spend a lot of time scrolling gumtree and eBay, looking at cameras. I’m always so charmed by the weird collective design of the 80s and 90s. There’s a lot of dumb looking cameras out there. I don’t know why people were like here’s a design we will mass produce and it’ll be like plastic, trashy camera. But I buy these cameras, film test them and then reselling for real cheap. So it’s affordable, accessible and cheerful. I like introducing people to things that I’m really stoked and building like a little community based on that. This is like a week old idea haha. And it’s a good excuse to buy cameras.