Why is it that nerdy people like to collect things? When I say ‘nerdy’ I don't just mean comics, Star Wars and computer games kind of nerds; to me a nerd is someone who has a passion and knowledge for something that goes past enjoyment or appreciation and into the realms of obsession.
As for me, I collect moments in time (or ‘photographs,’ as they are more traditionally known). Photography is my way of recording my life experiences – but through my own unique creative process. Being dyslexic, photography and drawing presented the natural way for me to do this in the most effective way possible. When I see an image the memory of that time and place comes back vividly, with a wealth of detail.
The Catch 22 about taking photos is that you need something to photograph – and I don't really do still life or landscape. Which was kind of a pity. Coming from rural North Yorkshire there was a huge opportunity to photograph stunning landscapes: rolling hills and the old, crumbling industry of the dales and moors. The landscapes did little to inspire me however. Why? I think because they have an ageless and changeless quality to them. They will look the same in 20 years, there isn't a ‘moment’ there… it's more of a spectacle and a photo by me will do it little justice or create something that is what I would call unique.
For me it's all about people. People are what I like to photograph. People change very quickly in mood and appearance. Depending on what time it is and where you take it all combine to make each and every photo unique and special.
The desire to take this kind of photograph has probably made me a more outgoing person, as I learned that the right events, venues and people would bring the right mix for a good shot. I admired the energy and gritty cinematic feel to the images I was drawn to. They felt real.
My admiration of street photography also influenced the camera I used – for example, it had to be a film camera. I got my first real camera on my 16th birthday – a Pentax 90 that weighed a ton! Despite dropping it (and having to duct-tape the latch as a result) it gave me my first real photo. I loved the black and white, grainy feel of the street photographer image I had craved for so long. Even the damaged latch gave something to the images: light entered through the smallest gap, giving the images a haunted, ghostly quality but it was totally erratic and impossible to plan for. That just made it even more unique – an effect like that would be nearly impossible to recreate.
This love for the unplanned lead me to lomography, their plastic lens cameras and multiple exposure capabilities, giving more opportunity for a unique image. Offputtingly light in weight, these toy cameras had very few constraints and gave very little guarantee that you would produce anything – and most of the time I didn’t!
The massive lunch box-sized Holga has 16 exposure on 120mm and with its rotating multi-coloured disco flash (powered by double AA batteries) it made an off-putting whine when switched on. Then there’s the cigarette packet-sized mini Diana, which uses 35mm film giving the option to split (but mostly shred) each frame, giving a 36 exposure film the potential for 74 photos.
Actually, ‘potential’ is a great word for analogue photography. With a digital camera you have a limitless amount of images which can be uploaded in minutes. The camera can be set to work in the dark and the light, to photograph fast objects and very small and of course also has the ability to review an image as you take the photos, which gives that warm feeling of reassurance. With a film camera on the other hand you will never know until it's developed whether you got what you planned for, or something you couldn't plan for in a million years. And that right there is what, to me, makes all the difference.
As I said before, nerds like to collect and with film cameras you get an image that you can hold in your hand, with a white border and matt finish and no option to copy and paste. In this day and age this probably sounds pointless and expensive – why pile them up or categorise them, taking up space? Why not keep it digital and be able to share it on Facebook, Flickr or Instagram in an instant? And I do agree that on the face of it, with the cloud and streaming the need to hold the physical does seem quaint.
I guess in the end it's easier for me to get an emotional connection to a thing I can physically hold. I feel there is more weight and legacy attached to an old box of photos than forwarding a USB or URL.
Call me nerdy. But in this digital age of super speed and social media, there’s something kind of nice about doing things the old-fashioned way.