Female Film Photographers You Should Know: Beatrice Updegraff
Beatrice Updegraff is a brilliant film photographer originally from London but residing for two years in the beautiful capital of Vietnam, Hanoi.
Her love towards people and her innate desire to share wonderful stories, made Beatrice find her voice in analogue photography. In her current project, Someone I Met Today, she describes the fascinating stories of the residents of the Vietnamese capital through close and warm portraits in order to bring this unique world into our lives
♦ How would you introduce yourself to someone who just met you?
A temporary resident of Hanoi, a street photographer, teacher, writer, dancer and general good time gal. I honestly love talking more than anybody I’ve ever met and like nothing more than being around friends, both old and new.
♦ What is the memory that you most fondly remember from your childhood?
I think going on trips with my family is what I remember the most fondly. My grandparents lived in the borders of Scotland and Louisville, Kentucky respectively; we spent a lot of time driving up the country and occasionally used to fly over the Atlantic to visit them. My summer holidays were always a really happy time and this definitely ignited my love for travel.
♦ Who were the most influential people during your teens and how did they influence you?
My drama teacher during my high school years Mrs Piggott was a huge inspiration to me. I used to be extremely anxious and shy as a teenager (something most people find hard to imagine now!) and she gave me a space to express myself and made me realise I really should be engaging with the arts. She really got me to channel my creative energy into writing and acting which resulted in me studying Drama at university. Also my two best friends Isabel and Ed (who are still my best friends now) who have genuinely never really cared what anybody has ever thought of them. I met them in 2005 – we were all very awkward teenagers but also extremely happy. We just laughed the entire time and I think this beautiful and positive friendship truly shaped the people I spend my time with as an adult.
♦ How did you get in the world of analogue photography?
I worked in the theatre industry when living in London and used to do spots of production photography as a side hustle. Film photography had always been art form I’d wished to pursue but I didn’t shoot my first film roll until October 2019. I had recently moved to Hanoi, Vietnam where there is a brilliant film photography community. I decided to try my hand at it and (after many experiments and overexposed rolls!) I was hooked. I love the lack of certainty on how a shot will develop and the artistry behind composing a shot. Plus, it sounds lame but I always find the twenty-four hour wait for my developed images to arrive in my Dropbox so exciting!
♦How would you describe the photography you do? What is your work focused on?
My work is entirely focused on people. I’ve always loved talking to everyone I meet and in Hanoi there are so many fascinating people I am exposed to each day. I love sharing the story behind each picture and gaining a tiny snapshot into my subject’s life and personality. Living in a country where I don’t speak the same language can make this challenging but thanks to Google translate and the power of gesticulation, my project of learning about Hanoians’ people’s lives has become a reality. I want my work to portray all the things that make us human; spanning pathos and humour, epic stories and small anecdotes, memories and future goals, good days and bad days.
♦ Are you working on any photographic project at the moment?
As always, I’m photographing the good people of Vietnam. I’m currently in the process of collating all my images for an exhibition which I want to put on in Hanoi. It’s still very much in it’s embryonic stage at the moment, but it’s hopefully going to tie together my love for theatre and poetry along with the human photography portfolio I’ve been building.
♦ Is there any photographic project that you would like to do but have not done yet?
In 2018 I spent time volunteering in a refugee camp in Thessaloniki in Greece and loved all of the stories I learned from the many different people I met. I’d love to take Someone I Met Today to a setting such as this. Perhaps in the near future I’ll start experimenting with black and white film photography – I’d like to do a series of portraits using this. I’d also one day love to learn how to develop film for myself through practicing in a dark room.
♦ Which camera and which film do you use the most in your photography and why?
I use a Canon-AV1 for all my photography; it’s quite intuitive to use once you get used to it. It’s also fairly lightweight; I am constantly zipping about on my motorbike with my camera around my neck so I can’t use anything too heavy. Film wise, I usually use Kodak Ultra Max 400 in colour. Hanoi is a very colourful city and I feel this film captures it best out of everything I’ve experimented with.
♦ Who are your biggest influences?
Although his images are often extremely painful to witness, I think Don McCullin’s documenting of conflict through photography has been so important. I’ve been a fan of his work since watching a documentary on him years ago, have attended his lectures and love going back through his collections. I believe he captures the human condition with astounding intricacy and the greatest tenderness imaginable. Without doubt Brandon Stanton (Humans Of New York) is a huge influence for me. I remember years ago discovering his work and spending hours scrolling through his blog and devouring the weird and wonderful stories of the people from New York City. Patti Smith is also a great inspiration to me; I love her early punk poetry as well as her album Horses. I thoroughly recommend reading her autobiography Just Kids about her formative years as an artist.
♦ What’s the best advice you would give yourself when you started in the world of film photography?
Practice, practice and practice some more. It’s notoriously difficult to start with and you will undoubtedly make many mistakes when starting out…and that’s okay! Take your film camera with you everywhere you go; there are many times when I realise something interesting is happening near me and my camera is sat uselessly at home. You never know when you might take what is going to be your best photograph! Also, get yourself a good flash early on. I spent many months without one and having the option to take photos in the dark and changing this has been great.
Find more about Beatrice’s Work👇