A lot of my inspirations come from books and zines. But while they can provide great inspirations, they don’t really ever contain information about the photographers; who they are and what they’re about. So one of the things I thought I’d like to do with Rambles is to interview photographers who makes awesome stuff worth collecting. Get to them know a bit more and find out who they are behind their creations. I interviewed Clifton Barker in November and that was super fun and wanted to keep going. I am admittedly taking quite long to get each interview done, but that’s because I’d like to make them personal and so the Q and A are interactive, not just a question list sent for answers. I hope you kind readers enjoy that aspect of it.
So with that, let’s get to this interview! One of my latest acquisitions was Ola Billmont's first book, “A Day At the Races” and I really enjoyed it. So much that I thought it would be really cool to get to know Ola beyond the book because I know that he does plenty of other stuff. I reached out to him for an interview and he was quite happy to chat.
I first met Ola in Stockholm in 2014 though we only spent an hour or so together shooting the street with a few other folks. We talked briefly about his work and projects, but there was no opportunity to really dig deeper into what the man himself was about. I’m happy we finally found the opportunity to do this and to be able to share it as a conversation on Rambles made it even better.
Q. Hello Ola, really nice to have you here with us. Let's start with a heavy question and at the beginning. I was driven into photography by a semi mid-life crisis, what was your excuse? At what point did it come to you that this was something you wanted to commit a lot of your time to?
A. Good to be here! Honestly I can’t really say but I have been saying that it was the gear that got me started. I bought a small digital camera that I liked and started using. But I don’t think that’s the truth. I think it came out of my curiosity for other people that got me started. Now I got a camera to memorize what I see on what I only reflected on before. Oh yeah, almost forgot. I was playing a LOT of poker before I got a camera. Maybe that helped me out on the streets.
Q. Poker? Sounds like you’ve lived another life before you became a photographer! I’m curious now. Who was Ola Billmont before he got the photographer tag next to his name? Let’s go way back. Even before poker. What did you want to be when you grow up? Are there dreams yet to be fulfilled?
A. Ha! I started my first company when I was 22 years old and since then I’ve been involved in a number of start-ups. I would say that I tried a lot of weird hobbies in my life such as sound engineer for a local band in my hometown where I grow up, parachuting, I had a private plane licence, I shot Olympic Trap (clay pigeons), and as I mentioned I played quite a bit of poker before I picked up a camera. Not to mention all the sports I tried as a youngster :)
Q. That’s an interesting list! Like a whole different person! I’ve noticed you travel quite a lot as well, do you find more inspiration when you travel? I find that I’m much more energetic and curious when I’m traveling. I’m walking 15-20km a day and my camera is always in hand. At home I’m admittedly more complacent. Everything else gets in the way.
A. Oh yes, travel is all about the energy and that’s when my curiosity comes out. Seriously I feel I HAVE to leave Stockholm to be able to shoot at all. On the weekends I load my car with a bunch of cameras and I leave the city to shoot, anything. But I travel quite frequently to the US. I’m to have quite a few friends there spread out all over. At this point I’ve done two road trips in the US with a friend from Atlanta, Tyson Kindstrom (a Swedish descent but he does know how to spell this family name, it’s Kindsröm, not an o ;) ). And the most interesting trip was thru Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama.
Q. So where's your drive coming from to keep traveling and shooting? I get the impression you're happy to try a lot of different things from even before you became a photographer. Is there a specific mission you're on and you hope it will come together at some point?
A. First I have to say that if it isn’t fun, the result will not be there. When you do something that comes from within, then you are on the right track. But right now I’m exploring many different things/projects. And about what I shoot, right now I’m going with the flow, curiosity drives me to finding places and events that can deliver what I want. If you seek, you'll find. But I still believe that there is a thread in all my photos.
Q. I truly believe what we shoot is a reflection of ourselves. And along the way the more you shoot the more you figure out about yourself, so I can definitely relate with you on seeing a thread of you in the photographs you take. Let’s talk gear for a minute because I know you have a ton that you use (a little rumor I heard, but I won’t say from where!). Let’s start with the one you currently use most, what is it and what do you use it for?
A. I just love shooting with analog cameras, they deliver small slight surprises and characters all the time. The answer to your question is not easy to answer as I use different cameras for different purposes, and as I shot so many thing parallel I use them all. But my travel cameras and street if you like I use a Voigtländer Bessa GSW 670 III mainly but also a Fuji GW 645. Both have the equivalent of a 28mm fixed lens. But the Bessa is just frekkiin [sic] amazing.
Q. Man, those are some heavy tools, I know you’ve got quite a lot of gears in your bag, and probably more at home. Care to share a list of the gears you are proudest to own?
A. My main gear are different medium format cameras. For street I normally use a Voigtländer Bessa GSW 670 III or a Fuji GW 645 like I explained in the previous answer. But I also shoot 6x6 with a Rolleiflex 3.5 F, possibly the best Rollei out there. Then I got a Hasselblad 501c with a few lenses ranging from 40mm to 100mm. I used to have a Mamiya 645 AFD III (auto focus) but I sold it for an old Mamiya 645 1000´s with manual focus lenses. Did not like AF :) I got three 35mm cameras, a Nikon F100 (best camera ever made) with a 28mm 2.8 Ais lens (also best and sharpest lens made), and a Leica M6 with a 28mm and then a Nikon 35AF3 point'n shoot. But I have to say that nothing beats shooting a 8x10 camera. I just love it. If you do everything right you'll end up with amazing effects that is just adding to to picture. Right now I got two bodies, one Tachihara field camera in wood and a Toyo 810M in solid metal. Toyo is much sturdier when you are shooting outdoors. I got three lenses, one 210mm (30mm), one 360mm (52mm) and a 480mm (70mm).
Q. Woah, that’s a warchest! I’ll have to google some of those cameras up after this! Before I turn this interview into gear talk (I swear it was not my intention!!) I’m going to divert the attention elsewhere. Though before we’re done here I’ll make you promise to let me try some of those equipments the next time I’m in Stockholm. I see your work ranges from street photography to portrait shoots with lights to photographing houses in Detroit, what style of photography do you enjoy shooting most? If you had to pick just one to do for the next 10 years, what would it be?
A. That’s like choosing one dish, impossible. But to humor your question I’d say portraits.
Q. I was guessing you were going to say street photography since I came to know of you and your work through that community. Tell me a bit of about your street photography anyway. Are you still big on flash and how often do you “walk the streets” these days?
A. Well, there isn’t a lot I would call street photography in my life anymore. I do use flash and I do shoot candid but then it’s within a project I’m working on. But I would say that nine out of ten shots are without flash. And when I shoot portraits I primarily use fixed light of different kinds. But I love additional light in a photo.
Q. I can understand your sentiments on street photography for sure. Speaking of projects, you had one that became a book last year. It was the reason why I contacted you in the first place because I really enjoyed it. I love working on projects and felt like I could connect with yours. When did you know it was going to become a book?
A. Well, I suppose that it came to by accident as most things do in life, “it just happened”. I started shooting in 2012 and in June that same year I went the first time to the trotting (horse racing) event with my brother. I wasn’t interested in the sport at all but a few of my “old” poker buddies gambled on horses so I went. And I had just swapped my digital Olympus for a Canon QIII compact camera so that’s also when I started shooting film (all black and white). I loved shooting at this event, there was so much stuff happening so I went the year after again 2013 and the 2014 again. After that year I took a closer look at what I got, I didn’t see it a a series before that, it was just a fun event to shoot at. And I was surprised of what I got and I felt that I have do something with this so that’s when I decided to make a small book. I went back one last year and took some “missing” shots.
Q. I like how it organically happened, that’s the best feeling when you just grow into things without really having to force it. Do you have a favorite shot from the book? And why do you like it?
A. I think the one with the two women, one facing the camera and on holding a phone to take a photo. Why? Not sure, just like it a lot :)
Q. What did you shoot the project with? It was shot over a few years, so did you change gears mid way and were all the photographs shot on film?
A. First with the Canon compact camera but the last 3 years with a Nikon F100 a 28mm lens, a flash and Ilford FP4 film.
Q. Are there plans to keep going back? Or are you done with it?
A. All done, finito.
Q. I read somewhere that this was just the beginning for you and you had more stuff planned.What’s the plans for your work? Can you give us a sneak preview of something you’re working on that you are considering turning into an exhibition or another book?
A. I’m all done with Octoberfest series. I will also end the “Raggare” series this year as well as my Sweden project. I hope that all of them will be books, but when and where, I don’t know.
Q. It’ll just happen as you said it I suppose! It was really nice chatting with you Ola. Thank you for taking the time out to chat about your work and your inspirations. Before we go, where can people see your work? Leave as many links as you wish!
A. Thank you Rammy, it was a pleasure!
Links to check out Ola's work and his website where you can also find his book and his other works:
Some of Ola’s street shots can also be found here: www.flickr.com/photos/anotherswede
Photographs from Ola's various works: