85mm Interview with Abinyah Walker

85mm: When did you start taking photos?
Abinyah Walker: I have been taking photos since 1992 starting with my Minolta SR-T 101 and a 50mm lens.

85mm: Did you like photography from the moment you picked up a camera?
A: Back then you had to wait for film to be developed and that sometimes took a long time. I didn't have much money, so it was a really long time; often months. Wasn't sure if photography was for me because I didn't get feedback from the images I shot, for sometimes a year. After a few years, and a body of work started to collect, that I realized I enjoyed it and the way it made people feel and the conversations my photography would start.

85mm: Did you always get the effect you wanted?
A: Often I simply did not have the equipment needed to get the shot. Wrong lens, no flash or simply the wrong kind of film.

85mm: That must have been frustrating. What did you do to get the shot you wanted?
A: Looking back now I realize that frustration was a positive. A learned about different kinds of film and the first upgrade I made to my setup was the film I used. I like black and white, but I honestly preferred colour film hands down. I chose Kodak Portra during the day, while for higher ISO Fuji Neopan 1600 was my go to. I didn't like the grain of 1600 film, but I learned to use it and work it into my urban night shot aesthetic. 

85mm: Very different kinds of film. Did they help make you a better photographer?
A: Both kinds of film give a completely different effect. But realizing that film is only canvas for painting with light forced me to change my shooting style. I ultimately settled on Kodak Ektachrome. Some say slide film is hard to shoot with, but its rigidity brought out my style. I also learned to pretty much always shoot with spot metering. Matrix or evaluative metering doesn't work for me. I rather follow zone metering with spot. I'd buy the entire Ektachrome line and stay away from digital if I could.

85mm: You have a good collection of film photography on the site. Do you do all the scans yourself?
A: I use a Nikon Coolscan V ED, which outputs about 22 megapixels a scan. Can't go wrong with such a large file size, especially for archiving. Often the lab averages your entire roll and batch scans. Meaning any one picture your customized with specific settings are not represented on the scan or print. You have to redo the scan. The problem being that I am conservative with my film and have a wide range of setting for each shot. I didn't realize that many of my pictures did actually come out the way I wanted them to until I started scanning my own photos. They were bang on, but from the lab they always looked wrong. Lesson number 1, Don't trust the machine. That's one of the reasons I switched to slide film.

85mm: So do you still shoot with a 50mm?
A: I started out with a 50mm, but when I moved to Nikon, my first automatic camera, I went with a 28-105 macro zoom. To be honest I wanted to experiment with my style because I didn't know what it was at the time. I make some great shots with my 50. The first being my baby cousin across the picnic table when we all went to Niagara Falls to the day. I still remember the exact settings, film, time of day, that's how I discovered the meaning of depth of field. From then on I understood the relationship between film speed, aperture and depth of field. It became a fluid equation in my mind from then on. The zoom lens was suggested to my by a nice sales man at Henry's on Queen street in Toronto. He was the first sales person to bring me over to an F100, rather than show me some beat up used camera when I told them I was looking to buy a new camera! Sign of respect goes a long way when dealing with customers. I told him what camera I had been using already, that I've already been shooting film for eight years and was looking to expand my horizons.

85mm: So I guess the answer is no?
A: Actually, years later I picked up a 50mm 1.8D, very inexpensive. It was like falling in love again. I had forgotten how much easier shooting with a 50mm is. I shelved my 28-105 for more than a year after that.

85mm: Why the sudden nostalgia for the 50mm?
A: 50 forces you to look with your eyes rather than with a zoom. That probably doesn't make sense, but learning to shoot with a 50 is what makes a photographer.

85mm: So the 50mm is the best lens in your opinion?
A: No, but that all depends on what you are shooting. The 50mm angle of view is great for most photographs. With digital cameras like the D2 or a D3 you can adjust the magnification and framing options. So a 50 can sit on your camera all day for urban shooting and portraits.

85mm: Is 50mm is your lens of choice for all your work?
A: I do like the 50, don't get me wrong, but it isn't always the best choice. I love to do nature photography but love portraits even more. My favorite lens so far is the Planar T* 85mm by Carl Zeiss . Dude, I shot with that, and even though it was manual, I could care less. It was like painting with a brush, tactile, brilliant and precise. The sweet spot for me is the 85mm range. Your subjects feel like your there, but more that they see themselves in the lens almost. They want to give you the shot and the Zeiss wants to take it. My job is just to get it.

85mm: So you are a portrait guy.
A: To be honest will all the other lenses I use, I think I always image my subject in 85mm. I frame for 85 and I want it all at F1.4. Sure I can stop it down a few notches, but precision, its the precision. 85 rules.

85mm: Well I'm glad you had the time to answer some of our questions. Any last comments?
A: My pleasure. Just remember photography is a story. Plot, setting, character make for the best stories.