The Man Behind the Camera: Meet PONF Founder Raffaello Palandri

In our interview series introducing the different members of the PONF team, you might have started to wonder who was the creator of this ambitious, innovative company. Rest assured, we didn’t forget about Raf, he has just been SO busy behind the scenes in thousands of hours of meetings, strategy development, and research, that we weren’t able to share this interview with you until now, but here it is! Without further ado: introducing PONF’s founder and director, Raffaello Palandri.

A lifelong user of film and digital cameras, Raffaello also brings to PONF many years of wisdom in leading large, complex IT projects. He applies this knowledge of quality, teams and systems to execute his vision and successfully create a camera that many others have talked about for years but never quite managed to bring fully to market. He is busily networking within the photography industry to create a new kind of camera company, one that is a friend and collaborator of all, to create a future for film photography that is sustainable and accessible to all.

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Where are you from, where did you grow up? Where are you living now?

I was born in Florence, Italy (its Italian name is Firenze), but I grew up mostly in Rome. When I started working on the idea of an innovative camera, I had the luck of finding in my best friend, my soulmate, Tiziana. To start the PONF Multiback Open Camera Project we moved to Dunfermline, Scotland, the old Capital of Scotland, before Edinburgh got the job. After the vote on Brexit, we decided to move to Germany, and after a few weeks in search of the perfect spot, we chose Nuremberg, Bavaria (and to be more precise in Middle Franconia).

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What is your earliest memory with photography?

I have memories of me keeping my mum’s Olympus Pen when I was probably only 4 years old. I still have that camera, and I love its silent shutter and the pleasant smell of the leather bag, that reminds me my family and my childhood.

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Describe your first encounter with digital photography.

My first digital camera has been the Konica Minolta Dynax (Maxxum in the USA) 5D. I still use as avatar a selfie taken with that camera. I was amazed by the technology, having always been the guy that disassembled everything he had on his hands. So, I started shooting both film and digital, never leaving film, though.

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What is your favorite film and camera or image making equipment/process?

Apart from PONF? I love 6×6 cameras and, being a collector, I developed a passion for TLRs (twin lens reflex). I love their design, the sound of their shutter.
For image making, 4×5 is a really lovable format. It generates fantastic images, and you can do everything at home, development and printing.

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What has your career been like? What are some of your favorite or most formative past projects or roles?

I had the luck of getting good experience in managing projects, including very large ones. I think I had many different roles on the same ladder. I have always worked in IT related jobs/projects, from really humble roles to managing ones. What I always loved about working in IT is the huge potential computers have in helping us, if we are able not to lose our humanity searching profit. I have been a quality manager, and from that role I have learned how to follow any process in detail, something that now is becoming essential in the development of our camera.

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How did you get involved with PONF?

I had the idea, I did the research, and I bootstrapped the company until now. I have been lucky in finding many people interested in the project, including the many companies and institutions which are supporting us in different ways. We are building up a team, and that’s important. I would like to find our project, in a five years time, deeply rooted in the photographic industry and development. We are investing to help people learn how to make better photographs, how to write with light.

 

Tell us about your role with the project, recent successes, in progress developments, etc.

Formally I am the director of the company that runs the project and the head of R&D. Using less official words, I am one of the team who is developing this amazing camera.
We are generating a lot of interest around the project, making every day steps forward, learning from our mistakes, considering them as opportunities to better learn. We are now teaming up with amazing companies, amazing institutions, amazing people. We can boldly say that we are small, but we are growing strong.

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What are you interested in besides photography?

Well, I am Curiosity with a capital C. I am an avid reader, and I usually read 150 books per year, in addition to those required by my job. I am a tinkerer, I like to touch things and learn how they work to improve them. I love calligraphy and collect writing instruments. Apart from that, I relax practicing meditation (one day I will come back to teach it) and ki development.

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Let’s end with your advice to another photographer but with a twist: Ten words or less or a Haiku.

Follow the light
the one outside you
the one inside

Great Haiku! Thanks Raf. You can drop Raf a line at raffaello@ponfcamera.com, and follow him at his website, Twitter, Instagram, and blog, as well as on the PONF Facebook, Instagram, and newsletter. So many ways to get in touch! 

Design in Mind: Meet Industrial Designer Vincent Bihler

In this interview, we meet Vincent Bihler, another creative with many talents to join the PONF team. Vincent is an award winning industrial designer who’s brought many products to life, all the way from concept to execution and looks forward to applying the many principles on form and function he’s learned along the way to the PONF Camera. He is currently building the first proof of concept for the first analog back of the PONF system.

He brings to the project plenty to experience with cameras as he’s been an avid film photographer since he was introduced to the medium at age 16, just before leaving home to study Industrial Design. Since then, he’s honed these two crafts equally, developing especially an impressive eye for photographic scale and space. When asked to name his favorite film and format, he quickly named several classic, photophile’s dream setups, so we are confident he will deliver nothing but excellence in the creation of the PONF Camera, a new classic standard in analog and digital photography! 

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Where are you from, where did you grow up? Where are you living now?

I am from France and grew up in Elsass, very close to the German and Swiss borders. I then moved to the region of Bordeaux, where the famous wine is produced. I also lived in north of France, in Sweden, then back in Paris, and now Lyon… So many places have built the person I am.

What is your earliest memory with photography?

I was offered my first camera at age 16, it all started from there. A little bit later, I found a beautiful Canon AE1 in a flea market, early in the morning. I could not stop shooting with these nice cameras!

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Describe your first encounter with digital photography.

Digital came later. I tried Fuji cameras at first to keep the film look, then I used Nikons for paid studio work. I think their versatility is king there.

What is your favorite film and camera or image making equipment/process?

Easy… Portra 400 and Rolleiflex 2.8F… Or Ilford Delta 100 and Leica M4 + Summicron 35 iv King of Bokeh… Or Trix and 21 Skopar f4 ? … Or Pentax 6×7 with whatever?!

What has your career been like? What are some of your favorite or most formative past projects or roles?

I’ve been mostly working as a product and industrial designer. For 4 years I worked at a French tech company called Parrot. I developed some of their latest products to date from scratch: first drawings, ergonomical and usage considerations, shape intentions to the industrialisation with many trips to Hong-Kong Shenzhen for quality controls on the production line. I now have joined a product and industrial design firm (entreautre.com) where I am leading the development of several innovative projects.

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How did you decide to become an industrial designer? Can you say a little bit about what it’s like to follow all the steps in the process of creating a thing from idea to execution?

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been thinking of stuff I could build to fulfill my needs. I built a whole guitar at age 15, because I needed something versatile enough to play different kinds of music with a single instrument. That story actually is quite similar to PONF, right? During my studies (mechanical engineering) I had the opportunity to take several design courses which led me to a specialization in that field for my last year. I went to Sweden where I tried to catch this legendary Scandinavian influence… I was then hired at my first job as an industrial designer after the 2013 James Dyson Awards. I participated with a good friend and won the National 1st prize.

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How did you get involved with PONF?

I contacted Raffaello after having seen that they were looking for people that would like to get involved in the development of the PONF Camera. It was great timing! 😊

Tell us about your role with the project, recent successes, in progress developments, etc.

I’m in charge of industrial and mechanical design. We’re currently building a first proof of concept, which is a very simple mechanism that allows us to prove how practical the product will be.

Are you working on analog or digital components or both?

Right now, I am working on analog “mechanical” components. But these will be useful for the digital back also.

Have you always wanted to design a camera or have you ever designed a camera before? Can you talk a bit about what you’re taking into consideration?

5I’ve been thinking about something similar for a long time, but so far, the tech wasn’t ready. My considerations about this project: I don’t think we can fit everyone’s needs with a single object. This is a simple ergonomic rule. Designing a whole ecosystem that leads to strong products clearly different from one to another and that will fit a precise application is the key. I will make no compromise in that direction. We don’t want to see another Frankencamera that is too cumbersome for street photography, nor a Coolpix lacking flexibility for studio shooting…

What are you interested in besides photography?

Design! I love that. I have been playing guitar for a while now… Oh, and film photography rocks.

Let’s end with your advice to another photographer but with a twist: Ten words or less or a Haiku.

Less is more 😉

Thanks Vincent! To see more of Vincent’s work, visit his website or follow him on Instagram.

A Camera For All: An Open Letter to the PONF Community

KPhipps-10Hello PONF, I’m Katherine Phipps, nice to meet you. I’m pleased to introduce myself to the growing community as the new PONF Marketing and Communications Director. I’ve been shooting photographs for nearly a decade now, and have been working in and around the photography industry since 2015 when I graduated from Pratt Institute with a BFA in Photography. When I first heard of the PONF Fellowship, I was enthusiastic to get involved with an organization which is so committed to creating a camera which is meant to suit the needs of all photographers, no matter which side of the imaginary digital vs. analog line they fall on. In fact, I find the need to decide one versus the other to be arbitrary and limiting as they both have their own distinct place in the modern world as a way to make photographs, in art, in professional photography, and perhaps most importantly, in  photographic education.

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I fell madly in love with photography when I was 16 and let me be honest in saying that it has been the longest standing, most healthy relationship of my life. I shot, processed, and printed hundreds of rolls of 35mm and 120 (shot exclusively in my Holga) black and white film in my two years of amazing photographic education under the loving guidance of Nicole Croy, who has since been recognized as one of the best photography teachers in the United States by the Society of Photography Education. In 2011, I was awarded a Regional Gold Key for my photography portfolio and a National Silver Medal for a photograph in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. I then decided to pursue photography and art as a career and moved to New York for art school.

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The hybridization of analog and digital photography is fascinating to me because it quite literally offers unlimited possibilities in image making to artists. When I was a sophomore in college and preparing to transfer from a tiny upstate art school to the school of my dreams, Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, the then-new department chair Stephen Hilger visited the group of incoming students and described the method of working he was introducing into his curriculum. It involved taking photos on film and then using incredibly high resolution scanners and large format printers to make a final print.  Where the more purist students guffawed at the idea of editing their precious negatives in Photoshop rather than meticulously c-printing them, I saw reference to my beloved darkroom process in every step and began to transition my workflow to include digital editing and printing processes.

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Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 3.41.05 PM.pngFast forward to senior year of art school. I wasn’t working in the darkroom much anymore, but I was incredibly prolific: I was shooting exclusively large and medium format now for my art and making large prints on rag paper. I was also developing a style I really liked in silkscreen, which informed a gum bichromate print that I worked on for 30 hours and really loved. I was making books and preparing my gallery show. I’d also began working for a wedding photographer and was not only editing high volumes of images for him but also learning to make photographs that I liked with a DSLR at weddings and in the studio. I will admit that as a film shooter accustomed to extreme contemplation in my photographic process, it took me a lot of practice before I was able to use my digital camera intuitively, fast enough to capture every moment the way I could see it unfolding before my eyes. I missed a lot of times but I was able to see my mistakes in real time: missing focus, botched exposure. That instant feedback was valuable. Now, my clients trust me to document some of the most important moments in their lives, to accurately translate their intimate experiences into art, and I am confident that I can do it, because not only have I found an equipment setup that really works for me, I know that camera inside and out from experience.

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Once I left school I was hit with a massive realization I had not expected: for the first time in six years, I didn’t have access to a darkroom or the expensive medium format cameras I had been using, and my photography process had to change. However, I was using my digital camera a lot, as I had managed to secure a steady stream of small shooting and editing gigs which was really thrilling until I dropped a hard drive and had to experience both client frustration and a gut wrenching six weeks of anxiety while I waited for the miracle of data recovery to be performed. I learned an important lesson about the impermanence of pixels and my desire to shoot film was stronger than ever, but I had a silly misconception that serious artists didn’t shoot 35mm film and thus I was resistant to using the Canon Rebel K2 I’d carried everywhere with me in high school. Even more so the Holga I’d once bragged about in my Photo 101 class, much to the chagrin of my artsy professors keen to teach exposure and contrast.

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 3.53.41 PM.pngIt all changed when my friend told me, after listening to me lament my hard drive woes, that Lomography was hiring for customer service in their NYC office, a position I held only briefly before my role expanded to Online Marketing, PR, and Community Manager for USA and Canada. My time at Lomography was deeply formative and I acknowledge with gratitude that I unlearned every pretentious idea I ever had about photography: that it wasn’t for everyone, that we shouldn’t document our lives intimately with selfies and snapshots and every kind of picture in between, that there is any sort of hierarchy in equipment or format. I was fortunate to work with many artists, students, journalists, educators, curators, musicians, and best of all, the creative geniuses on the Lomography team around the world in my years there and was inspired by all of it. I learned to trust the process and not worry about the outcome, in order to produce a something better than you could have imagined. This is the beauty of analog, the magic of the latent image. But above all, I would say my greatest takeaway is that everyone has something meaningful to express and capture through photographs if given the opportunity.

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The other really important thing that I learned at Lomography is that in general people do not only love film in the so-called “digital age”, they crave an interaction with something tangible and are definitely willing to experiment with cameras aside from their smartphone. Instant cameras and mobile instant printers saw a huge jump in popularity between 2016-2017, and major media outlets like TIME and the Today Show touted the resurgence of analog among consumers, while Wired and Wall Street Journal wrote guides about which cameras to buy. Proudly declaring that film was not dead, many companies released new cameras as well as new film emulsions and formats, much to the delight of film shooters, who for years had only heard news of camera stores and film factories shuttering their doors. I can confidently say that whereas early in my career in art school my colleagues and I worried about the sustainability of our love for film, this is clearly not a problem anymore as there is an evident, renewed interest in analog. The 2000s digital pro-sumer popularity boom is waning, once again making space for a bright future for film photography.

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All of this to say, my experience in photography is a number of things: academic, professional, artistic, democratic, experimental, fluid, but most of all, driven by a love of pictures and a recognition of their importance in our lives. Everything I’ve learned so far has lead me to believe that the more photographers connect with one another as a community, and connect with and refer to analog, alternative, and even antiquated photographic processes as a medium, the possibilities for photography in the coming age are limitless. There is an integral place for digital photography and digital workflow in the modern world, and there is no reason that the two forms of photography cannot exist side by side as I personally see them both as necessary and important tools in my practice of photography. This is why I’m pleased to be on the team bring PONF to life. I’m passionate about photography, and photography on film. 

One of the first things I worked on was updating the website with more information about the PONF project. What do you think of the new design? Do you have questions or thoughts to share? We want to hear from you.

Comment below or drop me a line: katherine@ponfcamera.com

All photographs by Katherine Phipps except the first portrait, by Daniel Schaefer, and the instant photograph of Katherine and Al Roker, by Kyle Depew.

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