Craig “CPL” Levers Interview


The use of the internet is such a great tool to discover and be inspired by other creatives throughout the world. This is definitely the case for me as I interview international award winning photographer Craig “CPL” Levers. I discovered his work via IG and we have been corresponding for close to two years now. Craig’s work is dynamic and his use of film spot on. With time, I was able to ask Craig to do this interview with us at Snapshot. So enjoy our latest conversation with another special photographer.

Introduce yourself to the Snapshot readers? Who you are, where you from and what you do?

Hi, my name is Craig Levers and I come from the bottom of the world. I’m from New Zealand and I live about 40 minutes out of the biggest city, Auckland, on a west coast surf beach called Piha. It’s famous for drowning people and it’s black iron ore sand. Piha is surrounded by lush sub tropical rain forest in a protected parkland called the Waitakere Ranges. It’s a spectacular and inspiring place to live.

My work is based around New Zealand’s surf culture and community. I’ve surfed my whole life and I’ve been a part of the local surf industry my whole career. I come from a magazine publishing background but for the last 8 years I’ve been making hardcover books. NZ surf and beach books. I shoot film, especially 617 panoramas on Fuji Velvia. I use these images in my books and retail the images online and once a year in exhibitions.

What is the current film and camera combo that you are currently working with?

LOVE my Fujifilm GSW69, it’s so fricken sharp, it with a combo of Kodak Extar is just gnarly gnarly good. But for panos the new Fotoman 617 with my Schneider SA 75mm fitted with a centre filter is an amazing bit of kit. The Fotoman is milled out of a block of aircraft grade aluminum…. it’s so solid. But then the combo of the Schneider SA with Velvia 100 asa film overexposed a ¼ to ½ stop… you’re getting pretty sweet shadow detail and retaining enough in the highlights.

I myself have never used a panoramic camera. How did you get into shooting with one?

I’ve always been fascinated with the 1 to 3 ratio. Even in analogue days I had a Horizon 35mm Pano camera and then a Widelux F7…I regret ever trading that one in. I’ve always coveted the Linhoff Technicas. But what hit home when I was making the first of the three New Zealand beach books was that there was terrible distortion trying to fit the whole beach in- even with a Mamiya RBZ. I didn’t want to walk back to fit the beach in because I felt that distanced the viewer from the scene. So getting the medium format 6×17 pano seemed like the answer. And it is still to a large degree. The following two books definitely are better for having film panos in them. The latest book, the panos work super well.

How long have you been a photographer? How did you get into photography?

I started taking photos 27 years ago. Well no, I started way before that. But 27 years ago I got my first SLR and a couple of lenses. It was a Ricoh Kr 10 with a 50mm and a 70-210mm – 2nd hand for a couple of hundred bucks. And that was that, I was hooked, I was fascinated with the concept of controlling and conveying movement and light; of recording moments in time.

I ended up being the senior photographer for the national Surfing magazine for 15 years. Of course the first 2/3’s of that was all shooting on film. I most certainly come from a background of being a professional film shooter, where films like Fuji Velvia and Neopan were our working tools.

Then as digital capture became viable for pages in a magazine, about 2004, we seized the opportunity to remove scanning from the process. We did jump on the digital train a bit too soon. The depth wasn’t there. The images looked very ‘clinical’ for the first few issues. They, [digital files] lacked the life and warmth of transparency film.

I personally have a background in print media. Photography and print are such different worlds from when you and I started.. Do you think that theses young photographers are missing a step or three with this digital/screen age?

That’s a tough question to answer without sounding like an old dinosaur I reckon. My thoughts are that digital natives are probably quite content with digitally viewed images and sharing them on digital platforms for the most part. Unless it’s a spectacular file they decide they need printed. So why do we even need to worry about the extra stages. You and I are conversant in bromides, actual cut’n’paste and color separations, 4/c film…but dude, remember those days and the nightmare of manual color mark up, plates out of register. Or spending hours gassing yourself with toxins in the darkroom. Evolve or die. Now we get to hybrid our analogue-ness. We have the best of both mediums in our hands.

How would you describe the photographic landscape in your country? Is it a digital world or is film making a comeback. Give us your thoughts and perspective.

I think film made a massive return here in NZ over the last 5 years. Of course there were the hipster fucks that were buying second hand 35mm cameras and twisting the back hinges to light leak their shots. But I think there was also a realization that there was a lot of things digital capture still struggled with. Super long exposures with no ugly noise, and panoramic’s with movement in them are two examples where film still beats digital.

It meant there was a resurgence back to film for serious photographers too. But not a ‘ohhh I’m only a film shooter’… more a ‘hey actually, here’s this great tool I’ve got in my arsenal that will address that challenge real well’.

Instagram is how I discovered your work. What part has social media played in your photography career?

I dunno bro, I’m kind of frustrated with Insty at the moment. At first, in 2012, when it was smaller I loved that we all tapped onto each other’s work. I’d found your feed or vice versa and was totally inspired by the connection and stoked out that here was a community of film shooters that was worldwide. Like honestly, I’d be looking at your posts going – whoa this guy is shooting some gritty stuff in DTLA, that’s a gnarly place to be walking around at night man.

It’s only natural that Instagram would evolve. But there was a sweet spot where a whole bunch of film photographers from around the world discovered and vibed out on each other’s work. That was inspiring. I loved that here was a great way of finding photographer doing different stuff- and actually connecting. At it’s best I know it influenced me positively.

Now I kind of think people curate their Instagram feeds so hard… ‘how do I get followers’ ‘what will my followers like’ … I’m guilty of this too.

Rant over.

Serious answer, all social media helps me professionally. I directly gain sales from posts of Facebook and Instagram. When a new book is about to drop I put it out there via social media first. We get good pre sales and really helps with the financial burden of being a small publisher.

Now that is inspiring. Please tell us about that book. Give us all the details. Book name, what inspired it and how can we get a glimpse of it?

Well I’ve made 6 books in the last 8 years. They all have a significant amount of film shots in them, but I’m not claiming them as such. The film images are in the books on their pictorial merit. This is probably a defining undertone with my film shooting- I’m not claiming to be a ‘film shooter’ I’m using film as a very valid and current medium to get the job done in the best way.

The new book is kind of a touristy souvenir book…wait, lets be blunt…it’s totally pitched at that market. It’s called The Big Little Beach Book- Loved New Zealand Beaches. It’s big ‘cos it has over 200 pages of text and images, it’s little ‘cos it’s only A5 landscape… it’s a little nugget. Here’s where you can get and idea of it… http://www.photocpl.co.nz/the-big-littlebeach-book

Do you get questions about film photography from younger photographers? What do you tell them? Any advice for our readers.

Yeah I do, it’s cool to be asked and I love helping out. I say shoot film and master film, because everything you do with film is a building block to being a better photographer. Make mistakes, debrief and learn, enjoy the mistakes. Shoot on lots of different emulsions. Hahaha and of course just hand over your credit card to the film processing house- they own you now.

Have you ever visited the States? If so where? How long? What did you enjoy or not enjoy about it?

Yep, I love the States. I’ve been to Cali a lot. One of my closest and oldest friends is a San Diego native. I met Rob Hansen while he was on a surf trip to New Zealand in 1989. He’s also a film photographer, he shoots a lot of 4×5 sheet.

I briefly toyed with the idea of living in LaLa land, I spent two months based in Santa Monica in 2008. I was struck by how creatively encouraging everyone was. I love the cultural diversity and melding of all those cultures. I freak out [in a good way] about how goddam big and grand the landscapes and cityscapes are. I also realized that New Zealand would always be home… and our surf is way better than yours! Heheheh

Don’t get me started about Trump, healthcare [we have an amazing state funded care system in NZ], your banking system, GM, gun [no] control or general foreign policy though…what are you Americans thinking!!!

Snapshot and I wanna thank you for your time in doing this interview. Any last words for our readers?

Last words… I remember when we’d drop 40 rolls of film off at the Lab after a photoshoot for the magazine back in the 90’s. Then 2 hours later we’d be driving back to pick up the developed E6. There’d literally be butterflies in your stomach you’d be so excited to see what came out. That excitement is still there today. I just reckon shooting on film is so less clinical, you don’t know REALLY what you’re going to get and that makes for wonderful surprises [and occasional shocks ]. But there’s nothing quite like seeing a large bright color transparency on a light box for the first time.

Snapshot wants to thank Craig for his time and effort in working with us on this interview. Visit his website, www.photocpl.co.nz, and check out his gallery of work, books and blog. Lastly give him a follow on Instagram via @photocpl.