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This "Conversing Cameras" feature I have thoroughly enjoyed! This conversation is packed with a lot - When faced with a life or death Kayaking situation, do you save the Nikon F2? Thoughts on the film in the days of rising film prices and rising developing prices? This week we talk to Robert Chestnut. I've been following his work through Instagram quietly while seeing his camera gear evolve and change. It's been fascinating to see his documentation of his home island on the Outerbanks of North Carolina. I am incredibly excited to get Robert on our series here, chat about what inspires his photography, the gear he loves, and gain some insight that I hope we can all take away and apply to our photography. So without further ado...

About Robert Chestnut:

  • Prek-12 art teacher, artist and photographer
  • @roastchestnuts
  • Ocracoke Island, NC

Q: Your Camera Bag: What kind of gear can be found in your Camera bag today?

A: This seems to be in constant rotation, as I love trying out new cameras. I have been using a few different ones lately like my Nikonos III, but some staples are my Nikon F2SB with either a 28mm F2.8 ais, 105mm F1.8 ais or 180mm F2.8 AIS. A Leica M camera of some kind is usually in my bag with a 35mm summicron v5 or a 28mm summicron V1 (my favorite all time lens), sometimes a 90mm pre ASPH. I love rangefinders as a tool for photographing people candidly.

I also like to use medium format film. My Hasselblad 2000 FCM is an amazing and underrated camera. It has a higher shutter speed than the 500 series and it can use most of Hasselblads V system lenses. It's a great camera. I usually just use the 80mm because of its smaller size but I have a 50mm 2.8 that I bring out in lower light situations or where I need a fast wide angle. If I have my Hasselblad with me, I normally carry 2 film backs; a12 6x6 one; and a 16 645 back. I like to have one back loaded with a black and white film and one back loaded with a color film.

My never sell camera is my trusty M3 single stroke. It's an amazingly well built and unique Leica M camera. It has the highest magnification viewfinder out of all the Leica M cameras. The viewfinder on the M3 is the best for 50mm and 90mm. But I find using an external finder for 28mm is no problem on the M3. I use a 28mm on the M3 often. I am currently trading a Leica M-A and my beat-up black paint MP-240 in for a new to me Leica M10P. I shoot a lot of film and unfortunately it has become almost preventatively expensive in the last year, hence the trade in for a more modern digital M. My favorite film stocks in medium format and 35mm that I carry in my bag usually include Ilford fp4, Kodak portra 160, kodak color plus 200, Cinestill 800t, and kodak trix 400.

Q: Tell us about yourself: Who are you, what is your background?

A: I am an art teacher, photographer, and a professional artist. I have a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from Jacksonville University in Florida, and I have a bachelor’s degree in Art Education from East Carolina University. I am 31 years old. I grew up and currently reside on a small island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks called Ocracoke Island. I work at the same school I attended and am lucky enough to teach all kids Pre-K through 12. Additionally, I recently started a photography club for high school students! I am also recently engaged, and we will be getting married in April of 2023! I have been taking photos since I was 9 years old.

Q: The Begining: What first sparked your interest in photography and Cameras?

A: I think in the beginning I loved the mechanics of old film cameras. I would go to thrift stores to find the coolest ones and started collecting them at a young age. I still have quite a few of them and am always looking for more. The first camera that I actually used as a way to create art was a Minolta SRT101 that I purchased at a thrift store for $5 around 1999. There is a photo of me somewhere using that camera at 10 years old and I still have this camera. I got really into all forms of art in high school, and soon had taken all the classes that were offered. I remember seeing some rich vivid black and white photos from some of the photography books I owned when I was younger that really sparked some interest in creating art from photography. I remember talking about that to my art teacher and she told me I should really talk to our guidance counselor and see if I could take a photography class. I ended up taking an online class through a local college. In that class I learned how to develop my own film and make prints in the darkroom. There is something magical about enlarging photos in a darkroom, that is lost in digital photography. I kept taking photos through college and the rest is history.

Q: Tell us about your work. What kind of photography do you do and enjoy?

A: I like photographing landscapes with human components to them. There is something about capturing people interacting with their environment. Candid portraits have always been a favorite of mine too. Catching a photo of a person showing their truest self is always a goal with these candid photos. Much of my photography is of my hometown: Ocracoke Island, NC. I live in a very seasonal place and this time of the year there are very few people that visit. Because of this lack of people, I end up taking more landscapes in winter. In fact, the beach here has this very moody empty feeling in the winter that is unique to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Q: What's the most fascinating thing to you about photography?

A: The most interesting thing to me is that you can capture time, and you can create art out of moments in time. I find it magical that years later you can look at a photo and see a scene frozen in time.

Q: Do you like to shoot film or digital?

A: Both.

For almost 15 years I only shot film. I learned how to be a photographer using film and I feel like not as many people can say that today. I also prefer shooting film. However, I am starting to shoot more digital out of necessity, because these days I am struggling with the prices of film. People will always say “ohh you can develop and scan yourself to save money” (which I do), but my favorite film was $2.99 per roll three years ago and now it is at $12.99 per roll. Then you add on the fact that processing in a lab often costs $15 for basic scans and negatives now. I did the math and I can buy a lot of cool lenses or lots of gas money for adventures for the price of 100 rolls of film and processing. I will still shoot film, but I have changed my approach to shooting film and shooting digital. Luckily, I feel like the limitations of digital are less than they were 10 years ago. I won't make this a film vs. digital debate because both have their merits in my opinion.

In the end, I love shooting film. And I will shoot film until I can’t buy film anymore.

Q: Who is your favorite photographer?

A: Larry Burrows or Dorothea Lange.

Larry Burrows had an eye for catching emotions and action and turning that into an amazing composition. He took some truly awesome photos under the pressure of combat.

Something about how Dorothea Lange captures the human story, and how each photo seems to tell a story that is truly fascinating. I could look at her work all day.

Q: Do you have any favorite quotes about photography?

A: “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.”
Robert Frank

Q: Who are some of your favorite Instagram photographers?

A: @Peter_jeffrey_ His landscapes are amazing.

@Breakfast1 is another one that enjoy the work of.

Q: What’s your favorite camera? Why?

A: Such a difficult question! I have 2 favorites: my Nikon F2SB and my Leica M3.

My F2 camera and I have been on lots of adventures together. I survived a kayak trip gone bad with that camera; one where the coast guard had to rescue us. It was a life-or-death situation and I remember having to bail out my kayak with a Nalgene bottle, and to reduce weight I threw every bit of camp gear out to lighten the boat. The only reason I did not throw the Nikon F2 out was because I could not reach it. Looking back on it, I am glad I did not throw that camera overboard because I got some of the best sunrise photos I’ve ever seen on that roll of film. It also fell off a cliff once and didn't even get a dent.

The Leica M3 has always held a special place in my heart because it was my first Leica M camera, and it changed the way I shoot photos. I had wanted an M3 since I saw one in an antique store when I was 10. Of course, I could not have purchased the $300 M3 at 10 years old, but I remember a project in art class where I drew one too. I have tried and owned many Leica M cameras (it’s become a hobby of mine), and none have really spoken to me the way the M3 has. The only M camera I have not sold or traded in the last 8 years has been my M3. It is easier to for me to count the cameras I have NOT been able to use yet: M5, M4P, and the MP are the only ones I have not owned.

Both the Nikon F2SB and my Leica M3 feel just right, they are not distracting or overly featured and they don't get in the way of me taking photos.

Q: You’re heading on an adventure for a week and can only take one camera & one lens. What is it? Tell us about your most minimal setup.

A: I never just take one! Just ask my fiancé! But if you forced me to, I would be happy with just my Leica M3, a 28mm finder, some Trix 400 and the 28mm summicron V1. I can do most things with that setup, except maybe wildlife photography. Most people would think shooting the M3 with wide lenses would be tough, but I’ve found that the 28mm Leica SLOOZ finder is easier to use when zone focusing and it is excellent for seeing the frame lines compared to the in camera frame lines on most Leica M cameras (save for the M6TTL, MP, or M7 with the .58 finder). Most importantly the M3 does not require me to have a wall outlet for the adventure I go on. No battery no problem!

Q: What next: If you could add anything to your camera bag what would it be?

A: I would love to have a vintage steel rim 35mm Summilux M. I don't think that will ever happen though haha. I have been getting into vintage lenses lately. After years of really wanting the best optically from Leica and owning a few of them, I have realized I like the flaws in older lenses. Sometimes I feel like my photos look sterile without some of these flaws. This might be the art teacher/artist in me. I tell my students all the time to not be perfectionists and to add more textures to your brush strokes. Realistically in the future I plan on adding more to my lens collection than my camera collection. I plan on a 21mm lens (probably a 3.4 super angulon) and possibly a 50mm Elmar M Collapsible lens. I had a brief stint with the Leica 28mm summaron f5.6 but sold it unfortunately and now I regret that decision. I think I’ll look into getting another.