FACES: WILLIAM SHEEPSKIN

You meet people in the most unlikely places. William and I are in a gaming clan together. Yes, we sit in our separate spaces, connected to the internet, playing videogames with (or against) each other... that was how we met. It's our origin story.

Years later, after I had moved to Cape Town and eventually cranked my console into operation, we started speaking again. Then one night we met at Fiction - the nerves of meeting a fellow gamer in real life - is this what a Tinder feels like?

By this time we had already established that our mutual love of photography would bind our friendship - I mean, videogames AND photography? Might as well send the lyrics to Lana Del Rey right now! William creates the kind of images that feel immediately familiar, and nostalgic all at the same time. You've seen these places, the experiences evoke similar echoes in your memories, and the grain - ah, the gran - it feels like yesteryear.

William sent me a few of his favourite images and took the time to give me a few insights into his motivation, ethic, and observations. This is the story (so far)...

For a while everyone was chanting the mantra: "digital is the way to go", despite the fact that it is perhaps much easier - and even more accessible - what is the allure of film photography for you?

I honestly just can't seem to make the images I want when I use digital, part of the analog process for me is envisioning what I want in my mind's eye, and hoping that that’s what I end up getting out of the film (I secretly think that if I picture the image I want clearly enough before the film has been processed it’ll change what’s on the negative, and give me what I’m looking for haha). Not being able to see what I’ve made while I’m making it also forces me to rely more on my mental interpretation of what the images might end up looking like, and I feel like that adds a lot to what I end up getting done overall. The flipside to that of course is that there are times where nothing comes out the way I wanted it to, but that happens less-and-less frequently now as my workflow develops.

How did your time outside of South Africa shape the way that you see the world - and more importantly what you capture? What would you say have been your main influences?

I think growing up in various cultures impacted the way I perceive the norms of whichever society I find myself in at the time, this in turn probably influences the way I interpret my surroundings visually. I think there’s a sense of magic when a person is first introduced to a foreign culture, and having moved around so much in my childhood I’d like to think I can access that feeling on demand and use it as a drive for my perception of a place or person. In terms of my main influences I’d say they come from the people I interact with. Odd things that I pick up in a conversation can plant a little seed in my head for an idea and end up being a picture haha. My girlfriend Maya brought home a Kokedama (Hanging plant) one day and I was so obsessed with it I designed a whole photo series around the plant and what it could be. (Hopefully the set will be published sometime this millennium) I am also pretty obsessed with sci-fi stuff. My favorite stuff to make is sci-fi, even if it isn’t explicitly sci-fi, just weird looking out of place stuff, that’s my jam haha.

I'm sure that the irony of film photography being displayed on digital platforms is not lost on you but the current climate necessitates it's use. Have you had much interaction through social media? What have you found the response to be like to your work? 

Ooh the irony is so potent haha, especially when you rely on someone scanning your film for you – It makes a big difference and I am yet to be properly pleased with the work of a scanner in Cape Town. I have a fair amount of interaction on social media I’d say, I use it mainly as a platform to see what’s out there and hopefully make some good connections. Come to think of it I have met the majority of my photographic friends through social media so it’s a valuable, if sometimes fickle, asset to me. The response to my work varies, the nudes are probably the most controversial thing on my page – they get reported and taken down, but there are also quite a few people that get in touch with me just to let me know that they really love them. (In an artistic, empowering sense). I’m still trying to find my feet properly in terms of the place the rest of my work has. There’s a bunch of stuff that I don’t put on social media, I am a big fan of photobooks and zines so I make small numbers of those when I can afford to.

While there aren't that many professional film photographers in South Africa (looking at the brand ambassadors it's obviously digital); you do keep pretty esteemed company on your off-days. Do those engagements affect your aesthetic in any way?

I think the main thing I’ve learnt from friends I have that might be considered esteemed is modesty and humility. So not necessarily an aesthetic influence, but an important one nonetheless.

Looking at your images; nature has become a prevailing backdrop for your subjects. Why has this relationship become more prevalent?

I’ve always liked nature as a backdrop, especially for nudes and such since there’s a distinct correlation between a persons natural form and being out in nature. I spent the majority of my childhood building treehouses, climbing coconut trees and accidentally sticking knives through various parts of my body so I like being in nature. I think it’s become more prevalent of late as a result of the amount of time I spend in London, there are a bunch of parks and such out there but I don’t like man-made nature. I like going out to somewhere and feeling the vibe of a place. With the potential to get really lost, there’s just an excitement to it really.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect about shooting film in a "digital" age? Have you had trouble networking or is it easy enough for you to reach out and make contact?

I think the most challenging aspect of using the analog process in the digital age is just being able to have it properly rendered. Scanning is a crucial part of converting analog to a digital form but it’s a very specific science that few people know how to do properly anymore. I wasn’t really aware of it before but having used some of the best labs in the world in London, the quality of scans in Cape Town are generally abysmal and its very frustrating to be spending a bunch of money, only to have to retouch a photo for hours to try and get the picture to look right. In terms of networking, I think I’ve been fortunate in that I seldom fail to receive a response from someone I have reached out to. Of course the responses are seldom what I want to hear, but having a response at all is quite a big deal to me. I think the easiest misconception there is to have about networking is that it’s a fast thing. I’ve had emails back from people I want to assist 8 months after I emailed them asking if I’m available to work the next day. I think the most important part of it is just putting yourself out there and being patient.

Do you remember the first image that you captured?

I think I do, when I was around 9 years old my dad came back from a trip to somewhere and he’d always bring us little gifts. This time it was this odd-looking red stick shaped thing with a teeny lens on the front. It was some sort of digital camera, I’ve tried to find out what it was but have never managed. Anyway I took a picture of a bean plant I’d been growing in the garden, that’s the earliest photograph I remember making.

Find more of William's work on willysheepskin.com or Instagram