I’m a wedding photographer that lives in Portland, OR with my husband and two cats. I like to joke that I have three boring names and one awesome life… But it isn’t much of a joke, really. I grew up in Northern California, graduated from Humboldt State University in 2009 and have been enjoying easy living in the PNW ever since. Each year, I try to make it a point to travel somewhere new and take my film cameras along for the ride. For the rest of the year I just happily shoot whatever is around me while simultaneously petting all of the cats. Making art makes me happy.
How did you get into instant photography?
I studied photography in college and had a handful of alternative process and instant film lessons, which is where I first witnessed the magic of a peel-apart. But back then, instant photography was pretty elusive and I was very much a darkroom kid at the time. It wasn’t until I moved to Portland, OR after graduating that I really got to know people in the Polaroid community and started following their work via Flickr. I was too scared to dive right in when the Impossible
Project was still figuring things out, but after sitting on the sidelines for some years I finally caved and bought a Spectra with some expired classic Polaroid film; it was love at first click!
What is your favorite camera used for instant photography?
Hands down, the SX70 is my go-to camera for instant film. I couldn’t be happier that the Spectra was my gateway drug, but the SX70 affords you so much more control and ability to make what you see in your head match what comes out of the camera. Being super compact is a plus, too, as I always bring film with me whenever I travel and I’m a bit notorious for packing light.
What instant camera have you not shot with, but would love to try?
I would die a happy woman if I could spend even one afternoon behind a large format camera loaded up with instant film.
What’s your favorite Impossible film or pack film type?
I mostly shoot the Impossible Project’s Color Protection film — it’s so consistent and easy to manipulate to get the colors you want. In the past I tried my luck with the Silver Shade films but found them really hard to expose for. Most packs ended in disappointment. Recently I picked up the new generation of Impossible’s B&W film and am yet to hit any major bummers!
How have you incorporated instant film into your regular workflow?
Three and a half years ago I quit my day job in order to go full time as a wedding photographer, and I feel like that was the real impetus for falling in love with instant photography. I spend so much of my time behind a computer editing digital photos already, that when it comes time to create my personal work I’m more likely than ever to reach for an instant camera. There’s no futzing or fixing it in post — just one click, boom!
How would you describe your voice or vision with instant photography? (does it differ from your other work?)
My subject matter will always be the same — I’m a moment junkie, through and through, and love to tell stories. Whether that involves traveling to distant lands, a night out with friends or the simple pleasures of homebody life, there’s always going to be this part of me that needs to have it documented from start to finish for posterity. With instant film, though, I find myself searching more for that one scene that will capture the whole arc. The shot that I can look back on in months or years and have total recall of what I was doing and whom I was with. While I may whine from time to time about the expense behind instant photography, there’s no doubt it’s made me a better photographer simply by slowing me down and sharpening my roaming eye.
Any personal projects we should know about?
Last summer I spent 30 days in Iceland and am just about to wrap up a coffee table book of photos from the trip. My husband, his bandmate and I traveled around the entire Ring Road and wandered into the interior a bit, getting to know the land, the culture, and of course the horses and sheep! It was one of the most incredible trips I’ve ever been on and I shot over 13 packs of Impossible film and 18 rolls of medium format film! You can see a selection of digital photos on my blog to get an idea of what will be in the book. (Link: http://www.kimsmithmiller.com/
This Fall I’m going to be traveling all over SE Asia to celebrate my 30th birthday with my SX70 in tow, and will be making a book out of the resulting work, as well.
Over the last year I’ve been experimenting with enlargements of original Polaroid images, which are just so majestic! Definitely recommend blowing up your ‘roids to anyone with a decent scanner and a trusted print lab.
My own Polaroid enlargements are for sale on my Etsy shop, which is where the coffee table books will be when they’re finished. (Link: https://www.etsy.com/people/
What other photographers do you look up too?
I have to admit that I don’t spend much time doing my homework, as it were. I own maybe three books of photography– one of them is Cats in the Sun, the other is Maddie On Things (because duh) and the third is anyone’s guess. For me, my influences have more to do with how someone is shaped by what they do and their relationship to what they make rather than the actual output. That said, there certainly isn’t any shortage of admirable photographers and other creative folks here in Portland. I’m continually floored by those I’m lucky enough to spend time with, who allow me to learn from their process.
What advice would you give to someone just getting into instant photography?
Don’t be afraid of the little blue square! When I finally got my mitts on my first pack of Impossible film, I had a lot of friends who went above and beyond to help guide me while I dove head first into the rabbit hole. Unfortunately, none of them ever told me my pictures would initially come out blue before they fully developed, so I stupidly thought the photos were screw-ups. My first half-pack of film went to complete waste lying face-up on the kitchen table!
In all seriousness, though, I always recommend keeping detailed notes on your exposures when first starting out with film of any kind. I firmly believe it’s the best way to learn from your mistakes, as well as your victories. In the past I used one of those thin, paperback Moleskines and jotted down things like the subject matter, lighting conditions and camera settings. These days I use the Pocket Light Meter app which will give you a reading and let you “log” the settings with a screencap and any additional notes. It was the biggest help in making me feel comfortable shooting Polaroids in any kind of light.
Where does your inspiration come from? Do you seek it out or wait
till it finds you?
I strongly believe inspiration comes from within. You can’t force yourself to make art any more than you can force a cat to take a bath, and often times seeking out inspiration only serves to make you feel deflated (Hello, Pinterest!). When I feel a slump coming on, I take a step back and ask myself what makes me happy — and I go do that. Inevitably, inspiration will be riding on the coattails of whatever wagon I’ve jumped onto.