I started being interested in and exploring photography my senior year in high school, while traveling through the East Coast on my history tour that year. It was truly inspiring to visit Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C.: all the places where U.S. history unfolded. The buildings, the architecture, everything was amazing. And with just a tiny point and shoot camera, I managed to capture some good shots, and found some potential in myself I didn’t know I had.
Freshman year in college, I enrolled in Photography 101. It was one of the best classes I’ve taken. From critiquing in class, to learning how every camera works through the use of a pinhole camera, to shooting, developing, and printing my film with my own hands. Some of my best photography memories are standing in total darkness disassembling rolls of film and placing them on the reel, feeling my way through the whole process, then standing by the sink shaking the developing tank with sun streaming in through the old-fashioned windows, a blue towel sticking out of my back pocket. I liked the calm, quiet atmosphere of the darkroom, safe lights glowing softly over the chemical pans, and focusing each negative to the photographic paper, framing each carefully. There was a skill and craft to film photography that intrigued me, and I enjoyed the entire process.
One summer, I spent nearly the entire three months either reading photography blogs, shooting photos, developing film in my bathtub with a dark bag and my own chemicals, and experimenting with a Holga that I bought that summer. I learned about 120 film on my own, stumbling my way along with film I’d ordered on Amazon and trying different methods. It excited me to find that we still had a photography store in town, and went there a few times to buy film and chat with the knowledgeable owner.
Somewhere along the way, things fell off track. I’m not sure what happened, whether it was the pressure that I put on myself to learn quickly enough to become professional, to have the idea in my head that I’d like to do photography as a career, or spending too much time with a digital camera shooting projects that didn’t particularly interest me. My photography suffered, and I would look back at my photos that I really enjoyed and wonder what happened. Most of them were landscape/sunset photos, portraits of people I cared about, macro photography and most importantly, film photos. I had especially enjoyed shooting with my Holga, no holds-barred, no settings, no control, just carefree, simple photography joy.
For a long time, I rarely touched my cameras, save for my iPhone with Instagram. The heavy, bulky nature of the cameras around my neck, and the lack of inspiration just kept me away from them. They sat in my closet rather than around my neck, and I felt worse and worse about not touching them. iPhoneography helped keep my eye going, but it wasn’t the same way as choosing settings and experimenting with exposures, especially with film. I tried taking photos for my job of completed landscape projects, but each photograph I took seemed uninspired, inaccurate, badly angled, etc. The list of shortcomings I felt could go on and on.
Finally, on a whim last month, I surfed eBay for a Rolleiflex. I’d been wanting one ever since my photography-filled summer, and the idea of using a TLR with a waist level viewfinder and 120 (medium format) film intrigued me. I found a Rolleiflex Automat 6×6 M4A, and won it for a little under $300. I waited impatiently for it to arrive in the mail, and put a roll of film in it as soon as I could to begin shooting photos. It was hard at first to get back in the swing of things. I’m not sure how much of my first roll will come out correctly, a lot of it might be overexposed or underexposed, as the camera does not have a working light meter and my solution to that problem with an iPhone light meter hasn’t quite worked out yet. I’m very slow at setting everything for a shot, especially with moving subjects. But I feel better about the outcome, the excitement of mailing in my film to receive the shots back, a lot of them which are over a year old and I have no idea what’s even on them anymore. I feel like I’m breathing new life into my photography, and am feeling encouraged and inspired again. It’s amazing how much better it makes me feel, to actually stop if I see something I feel is photo-worthy, to take time out in my day to go shooting just for the fun of it, and use the medium that I enjoy most.
From here, I’m hoping to start developing my film again, if possible. I would like to gain access again to the photo lab/darkroom at my alma mater, the place where my photography journey started. (I also basically live down the street.) I’ll continue working with my cameras, and who knows, I might start going through my list of cameras I want and acquire them as I go. I’ve learned that if it’s not fun anymore, I should figure out why and then do what I can to fix it, instead of unhappily remaining stagnant for far too long. This is something I want to do with my time, and so I should make a habit of it. It’s part of figuring out my path to success, after all.
Do you take photographs or have an interest in photography? Have you ever felt discouraged and not touched your camera for an extended period of time? Tell me about it in the comments.