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Film Friday: a Q&A with large format motorsports photographer, Brandon Faith

Fast cars and large cameras: How Brandon Faith captures motorsports with his Crown Graphic

Fast cars and slow cameras: This is the story of, and a Q&A with, Brandon Faith, better known in the online world as Baggen Photos.

Faith’s introduction to large format photography came from a class he took at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. While he had shot with 35mm and 120 film at a previous school, one of the courses required at the ArtCenter College of Design focused on only taking images with large format cameras. ‘I was in love,’ Faith told DPReview.

However, carrying a view camera alongside a tripod was less than ideal for walking around Los Angeles while taking photos. So, he decided to switch to a smaller large format system, opting for the iconic Crown Graphic. Due to its (relatively) lightweight design, Faith was able to expand his subject matter, including something he had been photographing since he started 35mm and 120 film – cars.

A photograph of Faith with his Crown Graphic in hand at an IndyCar race.

Faith spends time fixing up and modifying a trio of cars, including a Hyundai Genesis coupe, an Audi A3, and a BMW 328i. ‘When I was first building the Genesis I wanted to share progress, so I took to Instagram,’ says Faith. ‘From there I figured if I’m going to take pictures of my car I might as well take good pictures, and that’s where it all started.’

For the next two years, Faith focused his camera (and time) on the tuner car scene, but after catching a Formula 1 race on television, he knew he wanted to cross over into the motorsport scene.

Faith says he’s ‘always said cars are just moving art, and they really only cumulate into one masterpiece at the track.’ So, with his Crown Graphic in hand, Faith started attending motorsports events and the rest, as they say, is history. He’s still young in his artistic endeavors, but his collection already showcases a unique form of photography rarely seen in the world of motorsports.

The following images feature questions by me and answers from Faith, edited at times for brevity and clarity. You can find more of Faith’s work on his website, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

What is your workflow like at the track with your Crown Graphic?

My workflow is pretty simple. The most important thing to me is my shoulder bag which can hold about 8 film holders plus the one I’m shooting which stays in the camera.

Most of the time I find a shot I like instead of seeing one just cause you obviously can’t shoot automatically with the camera. Once I do, I’ll spot meter the area to get a good idea of the light range in the area then set the camera to a middle exposure based on the area. Once I do that, I focus with the rangefinder and pull the dark slide.

Sometimes the shot will quickly change and I will have to reload the dark slide and wait, but most times I take the picture. After I’ve shot the holder, I place the bag down and put my shot holders close to my body and reload the camera. Once I’ve shot all my holders, or the day has ended, I’ll use my film changing bag to put shot film in a ‘shot film’ box and reload at where I am staying.

How many races have you gone to and which one has been your favorite (and why?)

I’ve been to three IndyCar races, two Formula 1 races, a couple historic races like Goodwood Revival, and a couple more local VARA races.

Overall my favorite event I’ve ever been to was this year’s Goodwood revival, mainly because of the atmosphere and the historic racing (historic vehicles are my favorite), but my favorite IndyCar race would have to be Long Beach.

As a photographer, the track is very easy and interesting to shoot while being complex but walkable. It also usually draws multiple types of racing which is what attracts me the most. The atmosphere is amazing with it being so close to downtown, plus it usually draws a great crowd.

Who is your inspiration for your large format motorsports work?

When I first started bringing out the Graflex, I really had no automotive film inspiration. I had been to Rhode Island School of Design for two years by that point, so most of my inspiration came from shooting basically everything but cars.

It might not seem logical, but having all these outside inspirations – such as Gary Winogrand, Diane Arbus and Dorothea Lange – I think allowed me to shoot cars in a much more diverse and different manner than photographers usually do.

If I did have an automotive inspiration at the time, it was Laurent Nivalle out of France. He is still one of my biggest inspirations and someone I would love to meet. After I had the idea about the Graflex I learned about Joshua Paul and Lollipop GP whose work I take great inspiration from as well.

I learned soon after as well that he graduated from the same college I am currently attending. I’ve always looked for inspiration in people who shoot differently. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t been contracted by a major company to shoot a specific car in a specific way yet, but I’ve noticed there tends to be a specific way cars ‘should’ be shot in a setting like that: going for the cool moment, full car in focus, car full in frame etc…

However, the idea with the Graflex was to do something different. I’ve always said I’d rather take an amazing picture of a Prius that I’m proud of than take a picture I’m not proud of showing a cool moment or car.

How much does it cost to shoot a race weekend with the Crown Graphic?

For an event I’ll usually buy a new box of 50 or 100 sheets just to be safe. For B&W (which is what I am usually shooting) it’s about $2.50 a sheet. My camera was $700 and my holders were about $8 a holder. I’m very fortunate on the back end as I currently attend Art Center College of Design which allows me to process film under the cost of tuition at the school.

What’s your setup for digitizing the photographs?

I scan with my home PC and my Epson V750. This is usually adequate if I’m putting them on social media or my website, but if I were to make a print, I would use the drum scanners my school offers for maximum quality.

How do you go about picking races and how do you go about getting access?

Where I’m at right now I’m not really at a luxury to pick where I want to go, so I currently just try to attend as many events as I can because I do love cars and racing of all types. My two favorites are f1 and historic, so that’s the path I hope to follow down in the future.

For credentials, it can vary drastically based on the event. Some events just require you to write an email down and you’re approved. The higher-level events usually require a full application that almost anyone can fill out except for the accreditation letter (a letter from a reputable company or publication) saying they want the photographer to shoot the event for them.

I do this through the company I work for, Auto Conduct. We are an automotive culture center in downtown Los Angeles focusing on automotive storage, events, and media. Besides the letter, everything is else is simple logistics. I also always look or email before an event to see if there is a media application. And with smaller events, as long as you are kind and respectful to the marshals and fans and do not get in anyone’s way, then many times people will be gracious to you.