During my lockdown experience at home in Banbury, I’ve been thinking about how my hobby of film photography has been theraputic as well as motivating for the long strange wait we’ve all had to experience.
For a long time I’ve been a slow photographer. That is, my approach to taking photos on film is very different to the instant gratification of digital photography, and in particular the “I’m here right now!” flavour of posting images to social media direct from your phone. Of course I share my photos on film via social media, but the pictures I post today are usually from about nine months ago.
When you take a photograph on 35mm film there’s usually no gratification from the images on the day of shooting, unless you develop the film the same day, and that’s something I rarely do. A delay is built-in to the technique, and over time I’ve come to appreciate that the moments I try to capture on film are actually made of many things.
Maybe it is the first link in a chain, for example, wanting to take photos was the reason I went out in the first place. Or maybe it’s incidental, because I was carrying a camera and I was out and about and something caught my eye. Or maybe, I went out somewhere and…didn’t actually take any photos, because whilst the camera can capture many moments, maybe not everything has to be documented, and maybe the day wasn’t one I wanted to remember anyway.
Compared to digital photography, even when I am working at my fastest, really long gaps take place between me taking photos and getting the films developed. Then there can be even longer gaps until I decide to share them via the internet. The instant gratification of digital is replaced by a re-acquaintance with actions and memories that are pulled back into consciousness by the emergence of the photos.
Before lockdown, I could be homeward bound at the end of a trip abroad and my cameras would be packed into luggage for safe travelling. With film I can’t review the best photos whilst waiting at the airport for a flight home. There’s no blogging or posting to “soc med” there-and-then when you’ve been taking photos on film.
Even when home, the films have to wait whilst bags are unpacked and laundry is done. They’ve often waited until I’d settled back into the day job. They may even have waited until I pulled on my trainers again and had to shake out the sand of a faraway beach. But when the pictures do “come back”, so often the memories have matured and the moments become richer.
I look back at moments I chose to capture and am reminded of how quickly so much of what we carry out fades away in the constant replenishment of experience. Memories are jogged back into life by seeing pictures of places, and of course as is so often the case, things turn up in the image that were not apparent whilst you were there. A stranger stands out in a photo you thought you were taking of a building. A group of people you walked past whilst framing a shot turn up in the distance of a landscape rendered like ants against the scale of nature. A wave crashing on the shore in a still image somehow captures all the motion and emotion of the tide.
In the lockdown I’ve been posting photos to Instagram from last year, sifting through a time where recent events were unfathomable. But I’ve also been taking photos of my life at the moment. A hour of exercise a day settled into a routine of walking around the neighbourhood and of course I loaded my cameras with film, because going out meant being able to take photographs, and taking photographs was a reason to get out of the house.
At the slow pace that I take my hobby I know it will be a while before the images emerge, both from the film and then out into the world via the internet, and maybe then the photos will tell me something about the lockdown that I won’t realise right now.
Although if the lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that slowing down was something we all had to get used to. So I like to think when I do share an image that’s been on a slow journey from the shutter to a website that it doesn’t really matter how much time passed between me taking the pictures and sharing them.
One step at a time, one link in the chain, one place in the queue. We will all get there in the end, and maybe then we will look back and see something different in the photos, and feel something different too.