The last few years have been a little up and down for me when it comes to photography. I’ve gone from not shooting, to shooting a little, to getting majorly inspired for a couple of weeks and then having that inspiration and excitement wane for a few weeks after that. In a nutshell it’s been up and down but more often than not, down.
However I think I’ve finally realised what it is I’ve been looking for within photography to draw me back in and get me focused and just excited again.
A little background though before I get into that…
I started taking pictures around fifteen years ago when I was given a camera gifted to my parents from a family friend. My friends who were in a band at the time were playing a gig in a local community center and I offered to take pictures for them. Now I didn’t know anything about film, ISO, f stops, any of that. I put a roll of film in the camera (whose make and model I forget), went to the gig and pressed the button.
The twenty-four hour wait to get my pictures back was torture and I can still remember how disappointed I felt when I opened up the envelope to see every single picture was a blurry, out of focus, unreadable mess. Just a mess of orange light and nothing else.
In fact, on a recent trip home I found the contact print from those pictures (the actual pictures are long gone I believe) and it was amazing just how awful and unusable they were.
But, that experience pushed me to pursue photography more and to want to learn more about it.
Over the next few years I would join photography classes, printing classes, portfolio courses and complete a BA in photographic media at college. I would spend close to a year in Philadelphia working as a staff photographer for a media company before coming home to Ireland. I got a job in retail and my camera mostly stayed in the drawer.
It was around a year after this (and not much photography) that I ended up moving to Vietnam to teach English. When I arrived I had a lot of big ideas about teaching, continuing to pursue photography and carving out a little niche for myself here. But teaching took over and after about eighteen months I found myself managing a center of thirteen hundred students and over forty staff. My cameras were gathering dust.
Through some other photography blogs and YouTube channels I started to find that interest again, after months of not shooting anything, and so I bought a new Nikon. A new Nikon which quickly ended up in a drawer to gather dust. ‘It’s too heavy. It’s hot out. I’ll go out tomorrow.’
I traded it in, took the loss on it and got a Fujifilm X100T. ‘It’s small, light, it’s perfect. I’ll shoot everyday!’ It’s gathering dust as I type this.
I couldn’t figure out what it was that I was missing. Something about taking pictures just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.
Cutting back to three years ago when I moved to Saigon, I was looking for a darkroom to rent so I could shoot film (I brought a film camera with me) and there simply wasn’t one. After a few days searching I gave up and focused back on digital. A few weeks back though it just popped into my head to try to find a darkroom again. Amazingly I found one within about ten seconds of searching on Google. And it had been open a year. That evening after work I went and bought their last roll of Tri-X400 and shot it.
That’s when I found what I’d been missing.
- That slowness that comes with shooting film. With digital I would shoot hundreds of shots, machine gunning scenes. And I would spend hours editing after. With film it’s 36 shots per roll and that’s it. I can go out with two rolls and I know I have 72 shots and that’s IT. Make them count. Think more. Slow down.
- The wait for my film to be developed and scanned. That nervousness on the drive home wondering how things were going to look. Would I have anything useable? And that relief and excitement when I found I had something I was happy with.
- The hands on approach to photography. Shooting film. Developing the film. Printing.
- The grain! For years I had been trying to recreate grain in photoshop and yet it was always there, in those boxes of film I stopped buying.
So now here I am in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, with a terrible film SLR (Phenix DC303N) that gets the job done but really, is pretty awful, and a desire to start working with film again.
And so the idea behind this blog is really recording my move back into shooting film. I’ve recently taken a step back from work to allow me some more free time to focus on this and I’m going to set myself some goals for the next year, specific to photography, and within that, film photography. I’ll also use this blog to post any and all interesting bits and pieces I find about film photography online.
My goals this year are fairly simple.
- Buy a new film camera
- Start developing at home
- Put on an exhibition of my work with all prints having been hand printed in the darkroom
I think it will make for a good year.