The JPN Journal | An Interview with Karim Skalli

Karim Top Image.jpg

Karim Skalli is a British/Moroccan photographer, currently based in Kyoto, Japan. Film photography has always been at the forefront of his practice, and his clear understanding and control of natural lighting within his stills have helped him produce a beautifully crafted portfolio.

Karim’s work has been featured in several group/solo exhibitions, press and commissions - and today, we are here to talk to him about his love of film photography, why it has made a comeback and to discuss his ongoing project - the JPN journal.

Leo White: First up, we love hearing about people's kit choices - naturally. What camera are you using? Can you take us through your kit bag?

Karim Skalli: I primarily shoot on my Rolliflex 3.5 for personal projects. I’ve fallen in love with its simplicity and design. It’s really allowed me to slow my practice down and look at things a little differently due to its square format. I also have a Mamiya RB67 and a Fuji GSW690, both a bit bulky but are great cameras. 

If I’m not shooting medium format, I’ll be using my Olympus OM10 or my Yashika T3 for everyday journaling. The Olympus OM10 is a great starter camera for people looking to get into film photography and who want to get used to the manual settings.


LW: Shooting with film has made an almighty comeback - as a film shooter, why do you think this is? What is it about shooting with film that you love? 

KS: Photography is becoming increasingly more accessible. Sharing photography has never been easier - social media sites such as Instagram allow us to share and view work on a daily basis. It's the main way we view photography today and I think that people want something a little different from this type of photography. Film allows us to slow down due to the restricted number of shots and that idea of ‘every shot counts’ excites people, especially in a world where we have the possibility of taking thousands each day. There’s also the visual quality you get with film that is difficult to emulate digitally. 

Personally, what I love about film is the way it captures light. It has a real softness that suits what it is I’m trying to create. I also love looking through my negatives and seeing what has come out. I usually completely forget what’s on the roll and that adds to the excitement. It’s like reliving the moment all over again. I know some people find it tedious but I really enjoy the scanning process as well and watching my images come to life digitally. Editing my scans is like a form of meditation to me. 

Karim Skalli
Karim Skalli
Karim Skalli

LW: Exploring your past and current projects, it’s clear that you have a love of natural lighting. What is it about natural lighting that allows you to tell your story and how do you approach your image-taking with film?

KS: It’s a difficult one to answer, but I’m just drawn to it. My eye is constantly searching for light and how it interacts with my everyday. I think it has a lot to do with visiting Morocco as a child. I always remember the softness of the light and how it created crazy shaded shapes on the streets, it was magical. I think Morocco and my memories of it have had a huge influence on my work. 

For me, film captures light perfectly. I remember being obsessed with the book ‘Instant light’ by Andrei Tarkovsky whilst at University and how he captured everyday scenes of flowers on the kitchen table and walks in the wood and how the light transformed these everyday scenes into these poetic, mysterious images. That book and others like it really inspired me to explore film photography and my own relationship with light and the everyday.


LW: You’re currently living in Japan and recently released the first part of the “JPN Journal”. Japan has a wealth of expressionist film photographers such as Noguchi Rika and Rinko Kawauchi. To what extent have these photographers and Japanese culture influenced your work?

KS: They had a huge influence on my work when studying photography at University and still do to this day. I was obsessed with the likes of Rinko Kawauchi and Mikiko Hara and how they captured everyday scenes so beautifully and effortlessly, there’s a real stillness to their work which I love. 

Being so inspired by these and many other Japanese photographers definitely played a part in me moving here and progressing my own style and body of work which led to the project JPN Journal. The project was a way of collecting my imagery and creating something that gives an insight into my first year in a new country, home and culture, during the pandemic. I moved to Kyoto, Japan in February 2020, just before the pandemic really hit the country. I felt it was important to record this moment in time, a time like no other, and create a journal of my experience living and observing a country so different from my own.

LW: How do you think you’ve developed as a photographer from each of your projects and commissions? Is there anything you feel you really learned or gained an appreciation for?

KS: I think I have learned to slow down and focus on my own work. A few years ago I fell into the trap of creating work that I thought would get me a lot of attention on social media. I was creating individual images instead of working on meaningful personal work - it wasn’t sustainable or enjoyable. Taking some time away from social media has really allowed me to focus and enjoy the process of making photographs. 

I’ve also learned the beauty of collaborating with other artists. Since being in Japan, I have collaborated with graphic designer, Nicholas Packer, on my Photobook ‘JPN Journal’ which pushed a project that wasn’t really going anywhere to a fully funded physical self-published book. 

I also collaborated with Designer and Illustrator, Jordan Robertson, on his Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games project, combining his beautiful illustrations with my photography. Working with other creatives really allows you to see your work in a different light and realise how photography can be pushed in many different directions.

Karim Skalli
Karim Skalli
Karim Skalli

LW: Are there any photographers or artists who have inspired your photography?

KS: So many. It would take me a long time to list them all but I’m always inspired by new and old artists' work. I think it’s a good idea, especially when you’re feeling a creative block, to check out photographers and artists and see how their work can inspire you and your own work. Some artists I’ve been inspired by recently are; Edward Hopper, Naoya Hatakeyama, Saul Leiter, Robert Doisneau and Gregory Halpern. 


LW: Do you have any advice for aspiring film photographers? Do you have any tips or tricks?

KS: I guess my advice would be to take your time with it and learn from your mistakes. Shooting on film brings great joy but it can be frustrating at times. Understanding the camera, loading film, developing film and scanning can be challenging to begin with but keep going and keep learning. 

I’d also say, find the right camera for you. Experiment with different formats. I’ve had many film cameras over the years that didn’t really match my style of work and it’s taken me a while to find the cameras that work best for me. Most of all, enjoy it!

You can follow all of Karim's current and future projects on his Instagram or through his website here.