Photography has long been part of my life. During my A-Levels in 1998, I completed a night course in 35mm Photography, much to the annoyance of my teachers who thought my time would be better spent on schoolwork. The main thing that attracted me to it was the emphasis on developing and printing.
Getting to spend twice a week in the darkroom had an alchemical quality to it. Seeing the images I had taken a few days previously magically appear before me thrugh the silvery water was a joy. I parlayed this into a job working in a supermarket photo-lab; I certainly didn’t realise it at the time but it was, without doubt, my favourite job ever.
For three days a week, I busied myself behind the customer service desk in a world of canned air, corrosive chemicals, and captured moments. 24 or 36 curated glimpses into over people’s lives. Parties, Weddings, Holidays, Christenings, Christmases, Birthdays, Graduations, Day-Trips; all moments that someone at deemed worthy of a shutter push.
Long before we endlessly shared the most mundane photos in countless WhatsApp groups, before social media, before camera phones. It was a time when photographs were special; items to mounted, framed and treasured.
I left my job in 2003; leaving the tactile world of analogue photography behind me. It was the same year I bought my first digital camera, a Sony Cybershot P50. This two megapixel workhorse, complete with cavernous 64Mb Memory Stick served me well; capturing stag-dos, gigs and even a music video assignment for Universal Music.
However, digital advances came thick and fast and I quickly progressed through the camera ranks. By the late 2000s I had spent a worrying amount over countless credit cards as digital cameras increased in both quality and versatility.
Mobile phone technology changed all of this. As phone cameras improved I all but shed my various cameras and lenses. In the last few years, AI-powered computational photography has made it all but impossible to take a bad photo. Google’s incredible night-sight tech allows you to capture impossible low light scenes, multi-lenses simultaneously allowing for both dreamy bokeh and super-wide shooting. However, it’s also massively distanced anyone from having to think about the photos they are taking.
My wife’s new phone has a setting called Single Take. Hit the button, wave your phone around and it captures a series of stills and videos from its three lenses, then presents you all of the options to choose the perfect shot. Zero thought needed.
She talked passionately about the ‘look’ generated by older CCD sensors; the rich and vibrant colours that could be captured in-camera. I dipped through my older photos, one’s that I hadn’t spent an age tweaking in Photoshop or Lightroom. There was something about them.
They bore a striking resemblance to the photos I used to print in the photolab.
No selfies, no breakfast photos. Instead, considered composition and rich colours; each one a flashbulb memory of when and where the photo was taken. Above, a Newcastle rap night in the long-gone King’s Manor pub. Below, a stunning sunset in Cavtat, Croatia.
Phones are such an intrinsic part of our lives now that they don’t stir up these emotions. Pseudo-documenting each day for countless WhatsApp groups and social media feeds have robbed us of the magic of photography. Imagery is now captured on autopilot.
Going back through my photos made me nostalgic for cameras.
Their singular purpose.
The in-built obsolescence of modern technology means there is a cavalcade of vintage, digital cameras on eBay for very little money. Cameras that cost hundreds of pounds when they were released. Cameras that were purchased with the intention of capturing important moments, that now, sadly, capture only dust. So, I’ve bought some. Rescuing them from drawers, wardrobes and retirement.
My first purchase was this Canon IXUS 960 IS; a titanium bodied 12MP point and shoot with a snappy f2.8–5.8 lens. It arrived, unmarked, in a Canon leather case. It’s beautiful.
I’m hoping this and other cameras will inspire me to be a little more mindful of the world around me, to help me open my eyes and see more. To recapture a hobby I once loved. To create.
I’ve dusted off this blog to let me post images and thoughts, as well as resurrecting my old Flickr account.
I’m excited to see where this takes me.