Photography has been a part of my life for 47 years. I was a quiet, science minded child in a competitive all-sports school. Appreciating my difficulty fitting in, a teacher suggested that I join the newspaper/yearbook committee as a photographer. I fell in love with everything photography had to offer: the feel of the camera, the thrill of capturing a moment, the smell of the darkroom. After school I entered the emergency health care profession, but photography continued to be an important part of my personal life. By that time I had acquired my first real camera, a beautiful Contax 139 with Carl Zeiss optics, and we were inseparable.
The hospital I worked at, here in Vancouver, was both a major trauma centre and a teaching hospital. This meant that many of our staff were either in the midst of, or finishing, their education. In addition to these professional accomplishments, many people were also celebrating personal milestones like getting married. One day, being aware of my interest in photography, a surgical resident asked me if I would photograph her wedding. I did, and when it was all said and done the couple were very happy with the results.
Word quickly spread, and before long I found all my days off occupied by the tasks that arise from running a wedding photography business. I was busy, even shooting multiple weddings in one day, and before I knew it 3 years and well over 100 weddings had gone by. It is worth noting that this was all done in addition to my “real career”, and after 3 years my love for the camera was just... gone. Photography had shifted from a wonderful hobby that I loved, to something that I came to resent. I was done! My camera was put on a shelf, eventually sold, and my life moved in a different direction.
It was about ten years later and my work had evolved to where I was now teaching in the emergency health care field. I encountered a work associate one day at a local Canada Day event. He was a photographer, and I was immediately intrigued by the little camera that he wore at his side (it was the Fujifilm X100). The camera had a single fixed lens, wonderfully tactile controls, and it felt like an old school film camera (despite being a modern digital camera). That X100 re-ignited something in me, and I soon found myself with my own Fujifilm X100T.
For the first time in years photography was exciting again, and I soon found myself exploring genres such as street, landscape and still life. I had no clients, there were no expectations or obligations, and the simplicity of the X100T meant that I didn’t even need to carry a camera bag! This was the type of photography that I loved when I used to shoot with my old Contax 139, and I was in heaven! There is no doubt that my little Fujifilm camera put the fun back into photography for me. Coming back fresh, after such a long break, also helped define what I would and wouldn’t shoot now. Today, if someone asks me to shoot their wedding, I only laugh and say “not a chance”!
The story doesn’t end there, however, because a few years ago I re-discovered the old Contax 139. Not the actual camera that I used to own, but I bought one that was in beautiful shape with the intention of making it a display item. I can remember holding that camera in my hands one day, reminiscing and enjoying the feel of it, when I suddenly thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun, just once, to shoot another roll of film? Wait, can I even buy film anymore? What about processing it?”
I soon learned that film and processing was readily available locally, so I loaded the camera and shot a roll of black & white film. It felt effortless, like old times, and my hands moved smoothly from task to task as I operated the camera. I remember practically trembling with anticipation as I picked up the film from the lab a few days later. It was magic: seeing my images, feeling the images in my hands, appreciating the pure joy of holding a physical print instead of viewing images on a computer screen.
I shot more and more film from that point on, and soon started doing my own developing because it was so easy and inexpensive (processing film doesn’t even require a darkroom, just a dark bag for loading film into a daylight developing tank). Soon my collection of film cameras began to grow, with everything from my Leica M6 to my 1939 Graflex Speed Graphic. All of my cameras are working tools, not museum pieces. Yes, I always have my Fujifilm X100T with me when I shoot. I love shooting digital but film has an important place in my photography!
A few years ago, as I was shooting with my Contax, a young fellow approached me and hesitatingly asked, “Is that a film camera”? I explained that it was and he said he had never seen one before. His name was Tad and he was a graphic arts student at a nearby university, and was fascinated by this mysterious type of photography that he had only read about. I let him shoot a few frames that day and, as promised, I sent him digital copies of the film photos he had taken. Tad was thrilled and became enthralled with film photography, which led to me loaning him one of my cameras and us shooting together several times. That was several years ago and we’ve stayed in touch. Today, living near Toronto, Tad is a very active film photographer and proudly told me that he recently built a darkroom in his new home.
This experience mirrored something that I had been noticing more and more lately: film photography has been rapidly gaining popularity, especially with a younger generation who had grown up with digital. Film can be such a different experience, and I knew that there must be other people out there who want to explore this amazing art form. I am a long time educator by profession, now retired, so I’ve created a Film Experience program that provides the opportunity for people like Tad to learn what film is all about and to experience it first-hand. I will always love digital photography, I’m definitely not trying to convince people to switch from digital to film. Film photography allows us to simplify, slow down and create art in a much more personal and tactile manner. This medium offers so much and I love having the opportunity to give back to the photographic community with my workshop program.
My life has gone full circle in a way, and I couldn’t be happier.