For many people, starting a YouTube channel can be a creative outlet, an opportunity to educate, or a job. For Matt it was a chance to share his thoughts and opinions about something he loved – the lasting impact on the film community was just a bonus.
“I will never be able to repay the film community for the support they’ve given me over the years.” Any chance to talk to Matt Day is a lesson in what it means to be humble. In this third and final article in a short series of interviews with film photographers, I sat down with Matt on a Thursday afternoon to discuss how he started his YouTube channel and the ways in which he has impacted the film photography community. If you haven’t caught the previous two interviews, the first was with celebrity photographer Jesse Dittmar and the second was with Jason Hunt, one of the co-founders of one of the most successful film photography hubs on Instagram, Restore From Backup. The common thread among these three was, of course, that they are all film photographers. Perhaps more importantly, they have each contributed to the film community in their own way. Matt, in particular, has made film photography more approachable through offering free content on a range of topics in the film world.
Starting a YouTube Channel
The biggest pieces of advice Matt has for anyone looking to start a YouTube channel, be it photography or not, is to develop some thick skin and be true to yourself when it comes to how and what you create. That is, don’t create content that you think people are going to like just for the sake of trying to get people to like it. Instead, think through why you really want to create YouTube content and make videos that you care about and something you can be proud of.
When Matt started up his YouTube channel in 2014, there was no template on how to create good film photography content. Since then, however, he (metaphorically) made the template and has supported the growth of other photographers making the dive into the world of YouTube. Matt started his channel to fill a void. His thinking was simply that he was interested in film cameras and film stocks but there was next to nothing out there to learn from other than bickering on forums and reading old user manuals if they could even be found. For someone who wanted to see what a particular camera looked like, acted like, or how to load the film, a visual medium was needed. He is, after all a photographer. YouTube, it seemed like, was the natural choice to look for such information but alas, it did not yet exist. Under the impression that there existed other photographers like him who would also appreciate that information, Matt decided to take the plunge. He acquired camera after camera, learning how to use each of them, shoot through enough film to formulate thoughts and opinions on the cameras, ultimately producing content for the next person to learn from.
Going Full Time
Much like that of a movie or book, if you were to go back through Matt’s entire collection of videos from 2014 to present day, you’ll see 6 years of his life go by. You’ll see Matt in the early days of his marriage to him becoming a father to him deciding to sell off his business and pursue, full time, his YouTube channel dedicated to film photography. A couple years ago Matt had a health scare that resulted in his inability to work at his business. At that time a father to two children, Matt had to be hospitalized hours away from his home and family without knowing whether or not he’d ever be able to go back to work. Coupled with mounting medical bills, Matt and his family were under a great deal of stress. It was at that time that the film community – which was still very much in its early stages of making the comeback of where it is today – came together to offer their support. Someone who was a complete stranger to Matt at the time but a dedicated viewer of his channel made a Go Fund Me page to help him and his family through the tough time.
For Matt, his channel almost served as a public service announcement on how to use various film cameras which were packaged up with his opinions on how the camera fit into his own life. For the subscribers of his channel, it was something else altogether. His channel acted as an open door to his life, giving anyone who watched his videos a sense friendship and candor. His viewers repaid the favor by supporting him and his family both emotionally and financially through what was hands down one of the most trying experiences of their lives.
Eventually Matt was able to return to work but found that in his experience he found his calling – to promote film photography and foster a sense of community across the spectrum of photographers: from portrait photographers to landscape photographers, from photographers who just finished their first roll to photographers who haven’t stopped shooting film for decades. When Jason Hunter was looking to promote the one-year anniversary of Restore From Backup, Matt was there to supply them with gift cards to give away and published their promotions on his accounts. When COVID-19 hit and his community was going through a rough time, Matt was published a zine where all profits went to his local food bank.
In the summer of 2019 Matt transitioned to creating content full time. He publishes new videos every Monday AM [EST] and occasionally one other during the week. Though the frequency of his posts has changed, the content is still much of the same. Matt still posts about various cameras he uses, provides sample photographs from his everyday life, and describes how that piece of gear or film fits into his personal life.
Who Is Matt, Really?
Trying to get Matt to talk about himself was like getting blood from a stone. In proper Midwestern fashion, any question I asked about himself quickly turned into an answer about other people and how great they are. Ask Matt how he’s made an impact on the film world and he’ll proceed to tell you how the film world has made an impact on him. Ask Matt how his own YouTube channel has influenced some of the newer channels which could be viewed as his competition, he will tell you that he isn’t sure that he’s influenced them but rather, they have really made an impact on his own work (he also considers them great friends). Having met Matt a few times now, I know more about his family than I do him. I suppose that’s what you get from a Midwesterner who loves being a father and husband.
The film photography definitely owes a great debt to Matt (and Jesse and Jason for that matter) for providing support, fostering a sense of community, and inspiring photographers to pick up a film camera for the first or 100th time. “Document Your Life.”