I strongly believe that Jerusalem-based Ran Benazra is a photographer that many of us can relate with. Describing himself as a creative whose work is “driven by exploration,” the very photos he shared embody the sense of adventure that we traveling film photographers find ourselves wanting to satiate with a trip every so often. Heeding his own wanderlust’s call, our featured analogue traveler has made it a yearly tradition to travel during the Israeli summer months to take his fill of creative juices. “I find that nature and discovering new places feed my inspiration and the motivation to create,” he said.
For our last Wanderlust story this year, Ran recalls to us his hike in the Swedish Lapland, a province in northernmost Sweden that is home to several scenic national parks. With the sleepy village of Abisko as his starting point, Ran traversed the Kungsleden (The King’s Trail) hiking trail following the Scandinavian mountain range, taking the beautiful photos above with the compact Olympus mju-II along the way.
Read more about his story in our insightful chat with him below!
Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do? How long have you been shooting with film? Anything keeping you busy or inspired aside from film photography?
My name is Ran Benazra and I’m a 25-year-old Visual Communication student at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Israel. My work is driven by exploration – I find that nature and discovering new places feed my inspiration and the motivation to create.
I’ve been shooting with film since I was 15, when I had my first attempts of manual film developing at school. Analog photography is a part of my daily life; I always carry a small point and shoot camera with me. Apart from that, I find interest in cartography, motion design, and traditional print techniques. At the moment I’m at the stage of developing an idea for my graduation project.
Please tell us about the basics of your journey around the Swedish Lapland. When did you visit and how long did you wander around? Was it your first time to make your journey there, and was/were there any special reason/s for choosing it as your destination?
I visited Sweden in July and stayed there for about 3 weeks. Roughly half the time I was immersed in the landscapes of Swedish Lapland. This was my first time visiting this beautiful country.
A couple of years ago, I started a new tradition: I go on vacation during the hot Israeli summer months and hike in new places. I found that this little tradition helps keep my brain running and fill me up with the urge to create. In addition, my birthday is in July, so I see it as a nice birthday gift to myself. Last year, I visited Iceland and I was so captivated that it helped me to make the decision of this year destination — yet another Scandinavian country though totally different.
Starting in Abisko, I hiked the Kungsleden (The King’s Trail) from north to south for 9 days, ending my journey in Nikkaluokta. These nine days were filled with challenges, amazing scenery, reindeers, different kinds of terrain, beautiful glaciers, and mountains – all illuminated by the never setting midnight sun.
You mentioned to us that the major challenge in your visual/design work lies in finding the right balance between the beauty of nature and modern aesthetics. How do you apply this approach to your film photography, especially when you travel?
When I travel, I tend to pack ridiculous amounts of film rolls; I am always taking photos. I know that when I’m back home and get the fresh results from the lab I’ll instantly fall in love with each frame and know that I will use each and every one of them someday. In my work, I use my photography, illustration, notes and memory combined with traditional techniques to develop a piece that will project in the most accurate way the feeling I felt in that given moment during my journey.
Film photography has unique characteristics like colors, depth, grain and feel that are absent in digital photography. I found that this analog way of creation makes for results that are more organic and closer to nature.
The modern design world is overflowing with digital and vector designs that sometimes miss the rough edges of manual work, and that’s my challenge; I’m trying to find the right yet elusive balance.
Please tell us about the analogue arsenal you brought along to document your journey around the Swedish Lapland. Did you find the compact Olympus mju-II enough for the trip or do you now wish you had taken another camera?
For my Iceland journey last year, I took my Canon AE-1 with me in addition to my handy Olympus mju-II. The photos taken with the AE-1 were beautiful but I found the camera to be a bit heavy to carry – especially when carrying a 20kg rucksack. For this trip, I packed lightly as possible. It was my first time hiking for more than four days and the conditions called for a better weatherproof camera.
I think my mju-II captures and document my journeys pretty well, it’s compact size and light weight, it has a fast, sharp lens and all in all, it makes it a good hiking companion. As for the film rolls, I don’t have any favorites; I buy films in bulk. For the Lapland trip I had some Agfas and Fujifilms (200 and 400 ASA).
I’m always tempted to take my Polaroid SX-70 with me because I really like the colors, feel and the instant result. But the film is really sensitive and the camera is not really compact so it usually gets left behind. Recently, I bought a nice Yashica T5 and I can’t wait trying it out.
Seeing your photos now, were there any film photography techniques, tricks, or film + camera combination/s you wanted to do but never got to try? Were there any challenging terrains or setbacks that kept you from taking the photos you wanted?
I think I would have liked experimenting with half frame cameras; basically, trying out the predecessor of the more modern point and shoot cameras, representing a mechanical age going electronic.
Apart from that, high quality medium format has always been an interest of mine. I love paying attention to the details in medium format photography. The ability of doing that is quite different from grabbing a snapshot with my little mju-II. The terrain while hiking always poses a problem; if it’s not the boulders then it’s the marshes or the steep climbs or even the rivers. If you’re trying to take photos on a multi-day hike, you have to factor in other things as well such as weather and basic mental state; there are grey, wet, miserably cold days on which the last thing you think of is reaching for that camera in your pocket. On this trip I remember two occasions that I felt amiss. The first was while hiking up to Kebnekaise’s peak, the icy, almost vertical uphill demanded high concentration and the camera was simply left in my pocket. The second was trying to capture reindeers. In most of my reindeer encounters, they were to far for my fixed lens mju-II to capture. Getting closer was risky due the unstable thawing terrain.
What do you consider to be the highlight of this trip?
The (still) hibernating Tarfala valley which lies beside Kebnekaise (Sweden’s highest peak). A beautiful day hike from the Kebnekaise mountain station led to a magnificent frozen valley. Spring came late this year and the lake was still frozen, the snow covered glaciers all around were sliding down to to the valley, glowing shades of blue through deep crevasses. The air was very cold, and crisp. the only sounds around were the creaking glaciers and numerous small avalanches that echoed through the valley.
Can you give an important piece of travel advice for film photographers like yourself, especially for those who are thinking of bringing along some compact/handy film cameras for hikes and climbs?
Bring as many rolls as you can; one good compact camera is enough. Nature offers lots of amazing things to capture, seek for beautiful clashes between light, rocks and mountains.
Take several pictures in the same place (just like you’ll do with digital camera) because in the end, it will be completely different. That is what I like the most about film.
Lastly, if you could take just one camera and one roll of film to a dream destination, where would it be, which camera and film would you bring, and what will you make sure to take photos of?
I wish to explore as much as I can. A long time wish of mine is to come back to Iceland in winter time and see everything I saw and photographed covered with thick snowy blanket.
Greenland is a dream destination of mine, I would love to hike and explorer this frozen land with my handy Olympus mju-II and Yashica T5. Maybe a medium format camera as well because it will probably help to capture Greenland’s landscapes so I would take a Mamiya RB67 or a good Hasselblad.
To view more of Ran’s work, please head to the links below: