Hello 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.
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.
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.
Fast 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.
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.
It 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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
All photographs by Katherine Phipps except the first portrait, by Daniel Schaefer, and the instant photograph of Katherine and Al Roker, by Kyle Depew.