Q+A with Nikonos Project

We've been a fan of Nikonos Project since it's inception. The Nikonos camera is a fully submersible 35 mm film camera made between the years 1963-2001 by Nikon. Brandon Jennings, the man behind the project, took the time to sit down with us at Vissla.

Name, age, place of residence, occupation?
Brandon Jennings, 30ish, San Clemente CA, Food Broker.

How did Nikonos Project start?
The Nikonos Project started as a little glimmer of hope in a world of digital haze. Digital feeds were jam packed of (in my opinion) over edited and over saturated images. Future photographers were so caught up in the Instagram wave craze, they were blowing their money in SPL & Aquatech. Everyone felt the pressure of needing better gear, more frames per second, more megapixels. I hit a point when I had enough. Simple is better. There is no need to max out credit cards over a ego boosting hobby. So I sold a mountain of digital gear & housings and started the Nikonos Project.

When were you introduced to the Nikonos Camera?
After a few years of swimming & shooting mainly Trestles & Laguna Beach I noticed the influx of photographers as i’m sure everyone has. It began as a challenge / joke with myself, I wanted to see what i could do with a roll of film. I bought myself a Nikonos III and a few rolls of Velvia 50 and hit the beaches of Laguna Beach. After receiving my first slides back i was hooked. Picking up a digital water set up just felt like cheating.

How were you introduced to photographing surfing?
Well that is going to take us back a bunch of years. I was raised in Northern Utah where epic skiing and rock climbing is just a 5 minute drive. At a young age i found myself drawn to the mountains. I took every chance I could get to escape to a rock face or backcountry slope. Work brought me to Southern California a number of years ago and dropped me into a office chair for 8-10 hours a day. Office jobs for people like me are tough. Adult ADHD coupled with a wanderers imagination I searched for a distraction from work. Photography became my release. I’d take 10 minute breaks to shoot Aliso Creek & West Street in Laguna Beach. I’d take lunch breaks at Salt creek swimming & documenting the world as i saw it.

Why a Nikonos instead of a digital set up?
I feel that Nikonos’ create art. Digital cameras are a great tool to document and share one’s view with others, but i don't consider it an art. I know non film photographers hate it when us film guys romanticize film. But its true. My personal Nikonos III has been with me from the beginning, I’ve rebuilt her insides twice now. I roll my own film, I develop, then print images in my dark room. There is something to the process of picture making that is more sincere. I’m happy to debate this claim, its a simple debate. Pickup a nikonos and try it, You’ll understand.

Do you process your own film?
I process most of my film. When I shoot a extremely stellar session on color film i’ll either drop it of at Costco or send it to a Lab.
I’m not totally comfortable with my color developing skills, i’ve had some great results and some horrible failures.
All of my Black & white is processed at home with Ilford products.

Favorite film stock and why?
Ilford Delta 100. Super sharp, fine consistent grain, who could ask for more. I’ve also been known to burn through quite a bit of Ilford Delta 3200 when conditions require it.

What does process mean to you?
Hmm. Well my initial thought would be a set path to accomplish a desired result. But with that said there always are alternative process’s that are meant to get you close to the same result. I’m that kind of guy. I like the scenic route. Why follow in someone else's footsteps when you can make your own and still succeed at what you are shooting for.

If you could take any camera into the water besides a Nikonos what camera would that be?
I’d love to swim with my Pentax 67ii & 300mm. Know anyone with a housing?

What advice do you have for someone who wants to work with a Nikonos?
Do it! They are cheap online. I wish I had more to loan out & faster but I’m a bit booked at the moment. They are always available at decent prices on ebay.
Often times people are intimidated by the prospect of learning film & shooting in the water. We have some amazing friends all over the world who are happy to help out & teach.

nikonosproject.com Instagram / @nikonos_project

Interview by Kenny Hurtado
Images by Greg Swanson, Brigid Lall, Brooks Sterling, Keoki Saguibo, Jockum Klene, Stephen Milner, Sebastian Robison, John Hook