Light and Purity

A conversation with black-and-white photographer John Ciamillo about his working methods and mixing portrait and street photography.
Words: Ger Ger Images: John Ciamillo

"My favorite part of a woman's body is her hair. I'm always looking for people with great hair, whether it's really nicely taken care of or a dirty mess."

John Ciamillo is an American portrait and documentary photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in suburban New Jersey and holds a bachelor's degree in fine art photography from Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Ciamillo solely works with film: Kodak Tri-X 400 processed in XTOL.

"Most of my models are friends or just out in the world. [I'm] basically street casting everyday people going about their lives."

Today Ciamillo works almost only with rangefinders, Mamiya 7s and Leica M6s. For travel, he tells us, he recently picked up a Fujifilm GF670 since this camera helps him lighten his bag without sacrificing image quality. For the Mamiya, Ciamillo uses an 80mm or 65mm lens and for the Leica a 35mm lens.
"The cameras are always out and in use. Everyday is different, sometimes I have a specific place or area I would like to explore, other times I'll just wander around wherever I am looking for nice light."

"I take photographs all the time. How I would feel about not taking pictures for weeks or months? Lost. It's how I view the world. I see pictures everywhere and try to capture them as they happen."

"I do not have a real routine. I wake up early, at around 6.30 am every day. If I'm at home in New York, I'm mostly processing film or printing in the mornings and try to take some pictures in the afternoons/evenings.
If I'm traveling, I'm out the door early and make my way through the world photographing. Usually, I'm taking a break for lunch while the light is bad and I'm back at it in the afternoon until sunset."

"I photograph a lot and generally let time pass before I process film and edit contact sheets. I don't want to let my emotions about a picture get in the way of selecting a photograph I'm just emotionally attached to because of the way I felt taking it."

"I'm always trying new things while photographing. In terms of exposure and darkroom work, I rarely stray from my formula. I have it worked out to give me the best negative for a nice print."

"There are times I don't take a single picture I'm happy with for a while, but that's the fun in it. Otherwise it would be boring and stagnant. There are also constantly pictures untaken. It happens but I just keep moving, looking, and photographing."

"I really love to watch people going about their everyday lives. I also find my inspiration in traveling. I just visited Japan for the first time this fall and would really love to return for a longer stay to further explore."

"Beauty for me is nice light. My favorite season is fall."

"My wish would be just to have more time. I have six ongoing projects at the moment and there is nothing I really want to photograph that I'm not already taking pictures of. But to have more time to work on these projects would be a dream.

What intimacy means to me? Being completely open with another person." — John Ciamillo