Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Life Through a Lens

Last night, on my way back from a big photographic exhibition in Birmingham, I popped in to see my brother in Sutton, also hoping to catch my three-year-old nephew before his bed time. After an initially frosty reception from the little boy - "I'm not talking to her" (he can be a bit of a drama queen sometimes - no idea where he gets it from...), I managed to lure him in by producing a camera (grown-up toys are always so much more interesting), and had the honour of teaching him how to take his first ever photographs. He soon got carried away, announcing, "I'm going to take a picture of daddy's hand...uncle Ant's nose....this wall...etc. etc." and the results were amusingly abstract, but he was totally mesmerised by the experience.

I can distinctly remember the thrill of capturing a moment on film (nowadays I guess it would be on screen) for the first time - when I was given a (sadly soon to be obsolete) Polaroid camera at the age of nine. The instant gratification of this format was particularly inspiring, and I can recall enlisting members of my family, often with various soft toys or long-suffering pets in tow, to pose for me around the house. Restricted by the cost of film for this type of camera, I soon moved on to the classic long thin 110 model - I think I had two of these - which served me well on family holidays and the like for the next few years. When my Nana died, I inherited her 126 Kodak Instamatic, which made a satisfyingly mechanical clunk when you took a picture, and required a separate disposable flashcube. Although this was in many ways a more retro model that either of my 110s, I loved the chunky shape and solid feel of it, and best of all, the cute square prints that also had a wonderfully vivid quality, much like the 'lomo' style, that is currently experiencing something of a renaissance. On my 18th birthday, my brother bought me a Nikon compact - my first 35mm model - which was my main camera for over ten years, and took some fantastic shots. I'd rarely go out without my little Nikon, and as a result have an unrivalled record of my times among my peers - earning me the title 'archivist of things you actually would never want archived' on a Facebook group of ex-theatre colleagues recently.

It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I discovered 'proper' photography, when I was given a second-hand Olympus OM10 SLR as a birthday present. Already a a prolific picture-taker, I now had the power to not only capture a moment on film, but to really get creative with my shots - and it was like a little light switching on inside me when I realised the possibilities. Last year I had to finally replace my trusty Nikon point-and-shoot (still handy for taking on nights out, and when you don't have time to faff about with focusing and metering and such), forcing me kicking and screaming into the digital age, I chose a Canon Powershot as it looked and felt the most like a 'real' camera out of the wide variety of models on offer. Whilst I have grown to appreciate the immediacy and money-saving aspect of digital photography, I really miss the thrill of taking in a film to get developed, never quite knowing what to expect. Many times have I sat laughing to myself on a bench outside Boots as I flicked through the evidence of a drunken weekend, prompting memories which would have otherwise been lost. Which is why I will keep the OM10 going, even though I now also have a digital SLR - a Nikon D40x. It's quite refreshing to be able to go back to the mechanical simplicity of a film SLR after tackling the seemingly endless functions and intimidatingly huge potential of its digital counterpart.

I hope that my nephew, Isaac, will have as much fun with photography as I have over the years - from his initial enthusiasm and impressive dexterity (for a three-year-old) last night, I would say there is a fair chance he'll take to it with the same gusto. Like his exhibitionist auntie, Isaac also enjoys posing in front of the camera - which I maintain is all part of the process of learning to take better pictures. And that's not just me trying to justify my propensity to pose (honest) - feeling comfortable on both sides of the lens allows one to empathise with the subject, and helps build a well-rounded relationship with the camera that can prove invaluable, especially in people photography. Already I am researching 'My First Digital Camera' options, (even though the boy's birthday is not until September) and am amazed at the choices on offer. As the excellent BBC4 series, The Genius of Photography recently demonstrated, we've come a long way since the first permanent photograph was made back in the early nineteenth century, and it's good to know that amongst all the technology and inventions available to today's generation, the good old fashioned (even in its advanced era) camera still has the power to excite and inspire.

A selection of my OM10 shots: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157600364795694/

Some photos from my pre-digital, point-and-shoot era: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157594561981195/

My first foray into compact digital photography: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157600238724322/

A recent set taken on the Nikon D40x DSLR: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157603558215940/

1 comment:

  1. Strictly a film girl myself - so far...mind you I wouldn't mind a Leica full frame digital rangefinder if I ever have a spare couple of grand. The husband does all the digital photography in our house - I prefer poncing around with a 1950s Russian Leica knockoff and Czech Foma black and white film. Mind you if I ever need a shot to look the way I intended I usually just nick one of his Canon digitals.
    It's scary how far things have come in terms of technology. We've still got a box Brownie knocking about somewhere and I remember my first 110 with great affection. I hope the next generation doesn't totally miss out on film though. There's a certain magic in getting film developed especially if you get to mess around with the chemicals yourself - although this probably wouldn't be advisable for your three year old nephew!

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