Nearly everyone carries a high-definition camera in their front pocket or purse; it feels like we’ve already seen it all—especially augmented by digital editing, the Internet, and ultimately social media. One photograph to another, it’s becoming more and more difficult to decipher what makes a picture, a moment, special in these times, but those who have “an eye” somehow still manage to keep our attention.
William J. Stribling is Blacktop Passages’ most frequent contributor, and his photos accompany a great deal of our fiction and poetry.
Though a writer and filmmaker first and foremost, Will purchased a Nikon FM10 during his freshman year at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for a visual storytelling class, “Frame and Sequence.” After taking up black and white film and slide photography, still photography became a mainstay in his life. If his drive is more than a quick trip to the store, he has his camera.
“I love driving. It’s meditative. We have a pretty cool country that’s really diverse. Sometimes if I’m trying to burn the end of a roll of film and I’m at home, I’ll get in my car and drive around and I know I’m going to find something great.”
Will’s love of the road goes hand-in-hand with his trade. “I travel a lot for film shoots and festivals, and I just like traveling; and being out [in Los Angeles], it’s easy to take trips to Las Vegas and Arizona. I just bring a camera with me, so I’m constantly pulling over to rest stops and snapping photos. That’s where a lot of what I’ve submitted to Blacktop Passages has come from.
“There’s a romantic appeal to traveling. It’s the stories. I don’t like interacting with people that much—people are strange. I don’t necessarily like to go out of my way to have an experience and meet new people. I like to observe. I’d rather just watch what people are doing, and if I have a camera, I’ll take a picture of it if I can too.”
Before his residency at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film & Media Arts, Will drove out to California from New York and he took an abundance of photos stretching everywhere from the streets of NYC to the rest stops of the swampy Southeast to the great dams of Nevada. He caught glimpses of color, culture, nature and technology on his long journey across America and documented anything that carried a story on 35mm film.
“Film is way too expensive now. I rarely shoot on film anymore just because of the cost of it, and then developing.” Appreciating the aesthetic of film, and how it captures light, Stribling recently purchased a new Fujifilm digital camera, with a “great sensor that kind of imitates the look of film.
“But film forces me to take my time. I’m not going to rush it, because I can’t rush it. I have to pay attention to the composition. With film, I like not to fuck with it too much in post. I like to get it right when I’m shooting it. I definitely appreciated having to learn photography on film because, when I’m shooting digital, I try to shoot the same way. I don’t take a thousand shots hoping one of them is good. I try and just get that one shot.
“It’s an aesthetic thing too. There’s nothing better than good film. There’s a physical texture to it, a richness to it—a grain. It looks more like you’re actually there; the most high-resolution image ever, for me, is never going to trick my brain into thinking I’m there in that room, or outside, wherever the photo was taken.
“I got lucky with “End of the Roll,” the colors are the best part of it, the sunset, the Shell sign; those orange and yellows are the same colors you get from the roll blowing out. You can only get something like that from film, obviously. Film connects the person looking at it with me. You can almost recreate the story of what was happening with me at the time. It’s a subconscious reminder that a human being took the time to load the camera, set the shot, and take the photo. It fleshes out the craft—it’s more real; it’s not in a vacuum.”
Beyond camera and format, Will’s most interested in telling a story. “I shoot on my phone too. Granted, most of it ends up looking like it’s more right for Instagram rather than a publication, but in the right situation you can snap a really great photo. The camera is a tool in the same way a paintbrush is a tool. I don’t care if you shoot on an iPhone or a tablet, or 35mm. The end product is the ultimate thing we’re judging, and I don’t care how it got there. But you do have to understand the tool.
“A lot of the photos that I take are of things that are boring, and they may still be boring in the photo, but in the right framing, with the right lighting, if the right things line up, things that were previously mundane—all of a sudden you look at it, and there’s almost a romantic quality to it. I think luck plays into it a lot. A good photo is a large portion of luck. Yeah, you had to know how to take it and when to take it. But sometimes it seems too good to be true, because it is. Sometimes those great photos were just lucky shots.
“I’m into Americana, that’s a genre I appreciate, in a very romantic way. It’s nice to look at something and try and capture things that some people just walk right by; it’s a presentation that may give you my perspective, how I see the world. I just want to give back the things I’m experiencing, with whoever wants to see.”
Will’s first feature film, Lies I Told My Little Sister, recently received national distribution on video-on-demand and DVD. His latest feature, Bear With Us, hits festivals early 2016.
William J. Stribling, illustrated by Bill Plympton.
William Joseph Stribling, a proud contributor to Blacktop Passages, holds degrees in film & TV production and dramatic literature from New York University. He also holds a master’s in screenwriting from Chapman University. His short films Beyond Belief, Break A Leg, and Down in Flames have been official selections of nearly 75 film festivals worldwide, collectively, garnering several awards and nominations. Stribling’s first feature film Lies I Told My Little Sister, which won a dozen film festival awards, has secured distribution through ARC Entertainment. Stribling’s latest feature film, Bear with Us, is currently in post production, as is his latest short film, The Archetypes, which is a collaboration with Orange Grove Dance Company.