Against my father’s advice I took art at GCSE. He had tried to encourage me into more academic subjects, to think about my future etc, failing to grasp the fact that I was not very academic. I wasn’t particularly artistic either to be honest. Neither of these facts however stopped us having the exact same conversation two years later after I barely scraped a C in art and had my heart set on doing it again at A level. On open day, he subtlety and almost desperately tried to guide me towards the science lab while I was solely focused on the photography suite.
Now I know he meant well, he wanted me to be successful in life to ‘live up to my potential’ or whatever, and I get that, but it was also kind of his fault I was so set on continuing in art.
I was not doing well in my art GCSE, mostly because I never practiced drawing, I spent hours making mood boards and generally wasn’t a fan of the conventional art it seemed necessary to replicate in order to succeed. One day my teacher gave me a camera to take pictures of things around me and then use as reference photos to practice drawing with. That was one of the best things that ever happened to my creativity, not however my drawing skills.
I fell in love with photography.
I spent a week walking around taking photos of my friends, of odd textures, places and combed through them on my family computer in all their glorious pre megapixel quality. When I had to return the camera to school I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. I couldn’t afford a digital camera and the one my parents had was too fancy for me to use, a whopping 1.2 megapixels.
This is where my dad comes back into the story. One day shortly after he came down from the loft with a chunky black case and said,
“I used this camera when I was a kid, it uses film if you want it.”
Now, I love my dad to pieces but at this point we did not get on a lot of the time and here he was giving me something not only that used to be his but that was supportive of my new found passion. Looking back I probably should have been more vocal with him about how much this hunk of metal and glass meant to me. He showed me how it worked, we went to Boots to buy some film and the whole thing felt like a kind of approval ceremony.
The process of loading the camera, taking the shots, getting them developed and then flicking through the prints felt like magic, a kind of magic that was old to most people but brand new to me. I walked around with the camera, feeling its weight in my hands and imagined all the things my dad might have taken pictures of with it when he was my age. I felt closer to him just by holding it.
This was the beginning of my love of film photography and old cameras in general.
Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
A few years ago the shutter curtains broke. I took it to a camera shop and the technician told me it was a write off, not worth saving as it was such an old camera. “It will be better to buy a second hand body and just keep the lens,” he said.
I was heartbroken.
I tried to explain my reasons for that not being an option but he didn’t get it. If I replaced any part of it, it just wouldn’t be my dad’s camera anymore, it wouldn’t have the same meaning. I have taken this camera with me everywhere, I have taken pictures of friends I never see anymore, places I moved out of years ago and I even took it to Russia, where it came from, as if on some kind of pilgrimage to it’s birthplace. It was a part of my history, tethered also to that of my dad.
One time I came home for Christmas and took a shot of my youngest brother with it. Having grown up in a world where everyone had smartphones he asked to see the picture, I had to explain to him that he could see it in a few weeks when I finished the roll and had it developed and he almost immediately lost interest. I laughed as he walked off and then my dad and I talked about how I still used it, about everything I had used it for and again, for a few minutes, I felt even more connected to him.
Luckily a family friend who seemingly knew more about this particular camera than the paid technician fixed the shutter curtains within a matter of minutes and I am still using it to this day.
Over the years I have taken up and more or less immediately dropped a number of hobbies and interests, something my parents would often comment on when I was younger, but photography has stuck and I don’t think it is hyperbolic of me to say that it is all thanks to the chunk of metal my dad brought down from the loft one day and handed to me.