Chris Carnel began his career photographing the skateboarders and snowboarders of Tahoe. Action sports photography has taken him all over the world. He’s contributed to influential magazines like Trans-World Snowboarding and Thrasher. Since the end of January, Carnel has been displaying a different collection of works at Bibo Coffee Co. on Record Street.
The show, titled Sandwich Meat Not Obsolete, is a collaboration between Carnel, long-time associate Antonius “Toad” Dintcho and artist Liz Peto. It features photographs taken on notoriously lo-tech plastic cameras.
“In this show, almost everything is Holgas and Dianas,” said Carnel of the brands of cameras used in the show. “Those are 120 [millimeter], and there’s stuff that was shot on 35 millimeter film.”
Plastic cameras don’t allow for precision control of exposures, and they’re prone to distortions and quirks like discoloration, lens flaring and vignettes—aspects of film that Carnel likens to distorting an electric guitar.
Carnel started out his career shooting film, not digital, and film still resonates with him. With plastic-lens cameras, he said, “You’ve got things fogging, you’ve got overlapping exposures, and it’s just kind of weird, and you use those weird kind of—I guess you could say fuck ups—to your advantage.”
The photographs in this show are almost entirely of rural landscapes and structures and objects in various stages of rust and decay. The collection, Carnel said, spans decades, and many were taken while on the road between action shoots. They have a kind of “road trip” aesthetic that he curated from a backlog of his and the other artists’ prints.
“These were the types of photos that were kind of shot in my brain, in between doing the action stuff,” Carnel said.
The narrative of the collection became apparent after the fact, he said, as he curated it to fit the wall space instead of focusing on any specific photos. The title of the show, however, offers a kind of artist’s statement about the enduring place of film cameras in a digital world.
“Sandwich meat kind of fits in there because there will always be sandwich meat,” Carnel said. “It’s kind of a solid staple.”
He’s struggled in the past with the implications of the digital age of photography. The analog distortions in his prints are artifacts of the printing and developing process—readily replicated through digital filters on platforms like Instagram—and he believes there’s value in knowing that process.
Even though digital photography has prevailed since the advent of the camera phone, Carnel has noted a resurgence in shooting film, led by photographers like skateboarder-turned-filmmaker Jason Lee and small independent companies manufacturing film in the place of industry mainstays like Kodak.
“I’m not hardcore, like, shoot film or die—people can do whatever,” Carnel said. “I think [Lee] is exposing a whole different audience to that type of thing. I think that’s cool that people are interested in that and maybe are starting to understand the process of that.”