30 Questions With Photographer Chris Aragon Etzel

If you’ve caught the first installment of my “30 Questions with…” project, you remember that I’m asking photographers I admire to answer 30 questions about themselves and their photography. I also ask them to share some of their work. I’m hoping you find their answers and their photography as interesting as I do.

In this installment, I would like to introduce you to Chris Aragon Etzel (or simply Aragon, as he’s know in our household).

I first met Chris in August 2018 at the Film Photography Project Walking Workshop in Findlay Ohio. We were staying in the same hotel and met up with each other at the bar after the Friday meet and greet at the Jones Mansion. While grabbing a late bite to eat, Chris and I, along with some other photographers staying at the same hotel, discussed cameras, film photography, and the gear we brought to shoot at the weekend workshop.

Chris and I met up the next morning and hung out most of the day at the Walking Workshop.

Chris visiting the Film Photography Project’s merchandise table (you always need more film). (Photo by Sam Warner)

Chris visiting the Film Photography Project’s merchandise table (you always need more film). (Photo by Sam Warner)

After the Saturday workshops concluded, Chris and I joined some other photographers for a “short” (a “15 minute walk” turned into an hour long trek) photowalk to the fairgrounds, where a steam equipment show was taking place.

Chris (second from the right) and I (second from the left) met at the Film Photography Walking Workshop. (Photo courtesy of Mark O’Brien)

Chris (second from the right) and I (second from the left) met at the Film Photography Walking Workshop. (Photo courtesy of Mark O’Brien)

After the Film Photography Walking Workshop, Chris and I stayed in touch and became great friends. We talk on an almost daily basis about photography, music, and life in general. Chris introduced me to the joys of good rangefinders, proper beard care, the various ways to greet a friend using “bro” (e.g., “Bro-nica”, “Brocycle”, “Brotholomew”, etc) and bulk rolling Kentmere 400 film.

Here’s what Chris has to say about his photography.

Q: What is your name and where do you live?

A: Chris Aragon Etzel. Memphis, Tennessee.

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

Q: How can people contact you?

A: The best way to contact me is through my website at www.aragonseye.com. I’m also on Instagram at @aragons_eye.

Q: If we’ve met, how do we know each other?

A: Sam and I met in Findlay, Ohio in August of 2018 at the Film Photography Project’s Walking Workshop.

Q: What is your earliest memory of taking a photograph?

A: When I was in my early twenties, my dad gave me his Sears T.L.S. with a 55mm lens and a roll of Kodak color 200. I quickly found out there was $0.99 Black and White film and bought a few rolls. I used it a few times and put it down. I didn’t pick it back up again until 2014 – like 20 years later.

Q: Of the cameras you currently own, what is your favorite (you may choose one of each format if applicable?

A: 35mm: Canon F1n 120mm: Holga 120 (Although my Bronica ETRS is a close second)

Q: Is there a camera you’ve always lusted after and hope to acquire someday? What makes you desire this camera?

A: Well, I really want an Epson R-D1 as it was the first digital rangefinder, but for film cameras, I want a Nikon 28Ti. It has such a beautiful Bauhaus look and the analog dials on the top are just sexy. It gets mixed reviews because it’s slow and has a tiny viewfinder, but who cares. It just looks so cool.

Q: Is there a camera you no longer have that you miss?

A: Yes, my Fujifilm Klasse. It was a fantastic camera and instead of really using it, I kept it as a “backup” camera. That was my mistake. It was a perfectly capable point-and-shoot that had a decent set of manual control dials, a quiet operation, and the amazing Fujinon coated lens. I still regret selling it.

Q: What type of photographs do you most enjoy taking (portraits, landscapes, street, etc) and why?

A: If you view my website, you’ll see I’m kind of all over the place, but I do like to shoot photos of textures and signs. I work in Downtown Memphis, so I like taking pictures of the aging buildings and other interesting street objects. Sometimes I do some street photography, but mostly it’s “parts” of buildings or lamps, signs, letters, numbers. I also enjoy statues and cemeteries.

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

Q: While most of us shoot both digital and film, I believe we all have a tendency to prefer one over the other. What do you prefer and why?

A: This is a fantastic question! I prefer the process of film photography. I like being part of my images; loading, shooting, developing, scanning, sharing. This is a very tactile experience for me. I also enjoy the softer look I get from film. When I shoot digital, I’m usually ISO 1600-3200 auto so I get the softness, although it’s not totally the same. But I really, really love my Fujifilm digital cameras. I’ve had an X-Pro1, X100T, and now an X-T20. I love the Fujinon glass and the Fujifilm in-camera emulations.

Q: How often/much do you shoot photographs (rolls per week, month, etc)?

A: I tend to shoot in batches and then I don’t shoot for a while. I’ll decide to go somewhere and make photos and take 3-5 rolls with me fully intending to stay until I’ve shot all the rolls. I have a lot of cameras, so I also take them out to shoot them and review them, which lends to this burst-mode of shooting. I also load my own film, so when I run out, I’ll shoot digital until the new stuff comes in.

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

Q: Do you prefer to photograph with other people, or would you rather shoot alone? Please explain.

A: I really enjoy shooting with others because I like to interact. I’m really introverted unless I’m out with a group of like-minded photographers. When they come across something they think is interesting, I may not agree, but it’s really cool that others see beauty or interest where I don’t. A group also sees things that I would miss on my own. Plus, I love cameras! Groups have lots of cameras to lust after.

Q: What is your favorite black and white film right now and why?

A: Kentmere 400. It’s cheap, has decent latitude which is good for me because I am way too lazy with my metering. It’s also got a nice tone to it. It works well with Rodinal stand development and D-76, it has no curl so it fits in my scanner trays properly, and did I mention it’s cheap ?

Q: What is your favorite color film right now and why?

A: I might sound like a broken record, or a fanboy with an endorsement contract, but I really love Fujifilm, and for film it’s Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 400. I am in love with the cooler blues and greens and the subdued reds and browns. My favorite color photos in my collection were all shot on Superia X-TRA 400.

Q: Complete the following sentence: “I am a photographer because…”. What do YOU get from photography?

A: …”I love the mechanical beauty of a camera.” I often look at my collection and I am amazed at the innovation that went on during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. The steampunk look of the Argus C3 or the Ricoh-35, the Flash Gordon look of the Kodak Retinette IA, the “Leather and Metal” look of the 1970’s SLR’s from Canon and Nikon, and the marriage of manual and automatic with the 1990’s premium point-and-shoot cameras. There was just so much going on and so many companies experimenting.

Q: Best experience while taking photographs?

A: When I first started shooting street photography in 2015, I had a Zorki 4K with a Jupiter 8 50mm f/2 lens and some Kentmere 400. I was walking around downtown on a gloomy, chilly day and I’d decided I wanted to try my hand at shooting wide-open. Right as I’d set my lens to f/2 and adjusted my shutter speed, a guy in a hoodie walked right toward me and I snapped a portrait of him. He even smiled and kept walking.

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

Q: Most emotional experience while taking photographs?

A: After the FPP workshop was over last August, I drove from Findlay to Niagra Falls. At the falls I was totally in awe over the power of the water, the sounds of the falls and the overall beauty. I couldn’t shoot enough rolls. I had the Bronica ETRS and 9 rolls of Fujifilm Velvia and Provia 100, and my Fujifilm Klasse with Superia X-TRA 400. I used up every roll I had and was so excited to get back home and develop the film, only to realize in my eagerness to start snapping away, I’d left my darkslide partially engaged. All 9 rolls from the session were blank.

Q: Worst experience while taking photographs.

A: This spring I took my family to the Memphis Zoo and my 8 year old son wanted to shoot film. I lent him my Minolta AF-2. The counter was at 12 and I remembered using color film in it, so I told him to use it and shoot the remaining 24 shots. While we walked the zoo, he would snap shots and tell me how many were used. “Thirty three, dad.” “Thirty five…, thirty six… thirty seven.” I thought he’d gotten a an extra frame out of it due to my frugal loading. When he said “Thirty nine…” I knew in my heart his camera was empty. I popped the back on it and sure enough there was nothing in it. He started to cry and said “All those shots I took,” paused between tears and sternly demanded “Next time we come to the zoo I want a digital camera.” I felt so bad for him, but totally understood.

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

Q: Tell me about something related to photography you want to learn.

A: I really want to learn how to properly meter. I am way too guilty of leaning on exposure latitude to cover my butt when I’m out shooting. Most of the time it works out in my favor, but some of the neutral grey black and white photos I’ve taken remind me that I have a deficiency. I’m getting better, but I would love to get great at it.

Q: Tell me about something NOT related to photography you want to learn.

A: I want to learn to speak Spanish fluently. I live in the United States, the second largest Spanishspeaking country in the world. I know that sounds weird, but really it’s true. We are blessed that we’re not only bordered by two different countries and cultures, but that we’re not at war with either. The Mexican people have a beautiful culture and are beautiful people, and I think it’s only fair that I speak their language – they’re willing to speak mine.

Q: What does your family/loved ones think/feel about your photography?

A: My family is very supportive of my hobby. My kids love jumping in the car to go out on photographic adventures. I recently bought my wife an underwater camera, my daughter has one of our older digital cameras, and my son, well, he still likes film. If he sees me heading out the door with a camera, he’s running to the camera shelves to pick on so he can go with me.

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

Q: What is the last photography related book you’ve acquired?

A: The most recent photography book I’ve acquired is 2 ¼ by William Eggleston. Bill is, by far, my favorite color photographer. I love his work for its style, it’s color tone, and the fact that he can take the “mundane” and make it “interesting.” The book cover has a half of a 1960s Ford Mustang on it. He was just in a parking lot and took a photo of cars. Regular cars, not exotic cars. Yet the photo drew me to the book and what is inside is just as fascinating.

Q: Name one of your favorite accounts on Instagram and explain what draws you to this photographer.

A: Photographer Colten Allen, a.k.a. “daiku_san” is an amazing photographer. He suffers from ALS, and is in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop him from making the most amazing photos. His style very much reminds me of William Eggleston, and I have yet to see a photo I didn’t just love. His perspective is from a seated position and it’s another thing that makes it stand out among the IG crowd. If there was a photographer I would love to go shooting with, it would be Colten Allen.

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

Q: Have you ever sold or have thought about selling any of your photographs? Would you do it again? Any advice for others thinking of selling their photographs?

A: have not sold any of my work because it seems like such a hassle. If I had a darkroom, maybe I’d make some prints and throw up an Etsy page, but I like Eric Kim’s old “Open Source Photography” philosophy and I share that ideal. If people like my work, just ask for a copy to print. If you want to share it on a website, give me a shout out. Just don’t steal it. As for advice, remember there are a million other photographers out there doing the same thing, so the field is saturated. Don’t expect to make it a full-time job.

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

(Photo by Chris Etzel)

Q: Are there any photography related projects you’re working on that you’d like to tell us about?

A: I am not really on any projects right now. I’d love suggestions! I really enjoy the work of the Frugal Film Photography project and hope to get my name in the hat for that one year. They have amazing work on cheap cameras.

Q: Are there any non-photographic related projects you’re working on that you’d like to tell us about?

A: Nope. I’m pretty basic.

Q: Where is your favorite location to shoot (specific place or type of place)?

A: .Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis (https://dixongallery.org). It’s an old private residence that was converted to an impressionist art gallery and public gardens. Last fall/winter they planted over 100,000 tulip bulbs that bloomed in May this year. It was a beautiful sight.

Q: Is there a specific object you’ve found yourself photographing over and over again? If so, why?

A: There is, actually, an object I have photographed with nearly every camera I own. It's a little sign above my stove in the kitchen that reads "this house runs on love, laughter and lots of strong coffee".

It is in a place that is lit by a florescent bulb but also a place that doesn't have great lighting, so I use it to test the low light abilities of new lenses, and the white balance of my digital cameras. I also know it's exactly 2.5m from the kitchen sink, so I can test the close focus accuracy of my old rangefinder cameras.

Q: Favorite thing about the photographic community?

A: I like the film photography community. They tend to be low-key folks willing to share, swap, teach, learn and keep in touch. I haven’t had much luck with digital photography groups. For those, a camera is a camera. It’s Nikon or Canon. I got bullied by a retired photographer for shooting a film Leica in the group!

Q: What do you think the photographic community is missing?

A: More daylight.

Q: Biggest photography related pet peeve?

A: Watermarks. You’re not as famous as you think, and if you were you’d know you don’t need a watermark. They ruin a beautiful image.

Q: What do you hope your photographic legacy will be?

A: I’d love for folks to look back and say, “He was a great photographer and shared his talent and love freely with others.”

Q: Who is the one person (living or dead) that you’d like to photograph and why? Describe the type of portrait you’d shoot, and the message you’d want this portrait to communicate about this person.

A: I think I’d like to get a good portrait session with my dad. He doesn’t like getting his photo taken, but he has great facial lines that are accentuated as he ages. He looks like he’s hardened even though he’s a gentle man. I would take his portrait against a black backdrop while he’s sitting in behind a big wooden ship’s wheel. He’d be in jeans, Sperry topsiders, and a white t-shirt. I’d use my Bronica ETRS and a couple rolls of Tri-X, pushed.

As you can see from the photos Chris has shared, he’s a very talented photographer. I’m very excited to see the photos Chris shares with us in the future.

Head on over to www.aragonseye.com or @aragons_eye on Instagram and connect with Chris.