More than ever now a camera is a tool to me, just a box with a hole in the front and the mind that looks through it is what really matters. But photography is still my first language. MegaPixel counts and technical advancement seem irrelevant compared with which way somebody decided to look at the corner of a walled building or the angle at which they caught a set of shadows falling into a viewfinder.
I feel it doesn’t so much matter to me how one records an image or indeed with what, and certainly I’m no purist of the analogue versus digital or vice versa wars, but there I’ve always felt there’s something special about photographing with film. It certainly raises logistic challenges on a coastline in the wind when you realise you’ve the wrong tripod thread, and I’ve never been able to say why exactly, but I am drawn to photographing with film still. Perhaps it’s just the repeated waiting to see the images rite of passage, I don’t know. But it’s indescribably special.
Sitting here this morning in a state of global incarceration I realised, waiting for my latest processed negatives to arrive in the post was more than an excitement to see again what was momentarily glanced through a small glass window, but a feeling of revisiting the places recorded on those rolls of celluloid. Not quite as special as having travelled, discovered and pressed the buttons, but lovely nonetheless to be transported back to a place instantly as if by magic. And Photography has always felt like magic to me. Science yes and personal even, but kind of magical. My list of the most incredible human inventions is long and probably similar to many people’s. Helicopters and brain surgery are up there (through personal experience apart from anything) but I’ve always thought to be able to record life and play it back again and again was a magic trick beyond anything. More so in moving images with sound but still, the still photograph is an incredible feat to me. Really it’s magic.
Apart from a brief period of wanting to be a car designer I always wanted to be a writer. From a young age words gripped me more naturally than most things. Then an A-level revue board didn’t agree and I was plucked out of words and dropped into images at art school where there was a remaining place in the photography course. Tens of thousands of negatives later photography has earned a claim to my DNA.
I have since wanted to photograph in a few different arenas over the years as phases or influences decoded. Influenced as one is by peers and heroes, I initially dreamed of making portraits and creating fashion stories then on and off, some more successfully than others, theatres of news, architecture, design, cars, travel and bicycles followed.
I have listened and learned. Been taught, corrected, directed and employed in photography. I’ve assisted a mentor and friend, been travelled and grown personally through adventures with lenses. Collecting snaps from the back seat of a Citroen deep into architectural Europe as a child became following fashion shows across capital cities and running the filmic results to and from labs in the early hours, living off jaffa cakes and chocolate milk as an young assistant. Then that paved the way for being all growed up hanging out with the world pro tour teams in bicycle racing.
Printing in the darkroom has been a treat from the beginning. It has been in turn both educative and employment. I have learned so much in hand printing black and white photographs for myself and other people. It is a particular zone of meditative concentration to me and always has a good soundtrack. That continues now even with a home made digital darkroom that’s not actually dark but filled with mediterranean light, a never ending supply of tea and an iPod filled with the past.
Influencer is a different word these days but those that influenced me with their ways of seeing have stuck in the scrapbook in my mind for decades since I started tearing them out and keeping them. So many interesting minds recording their own snapshot of history have been openly remembered and subconsciously referenced most times I have found myself pushing the buttons. They’ve all played their part in helping me see our world and record it. From the FSA photographers of the 1930s through the new colour realists of the 1960s and ’70s to the portraitists of the modern era, they all have a place in my head and heart. And as Ernest Shakleton realised, when all’s done and gone the only thing left will be the photographs of what we did here.
I have occasionally considered photographs I’ve made good or important and years later looked back to see how naive I was. Not so good perhaps, but personally important sometimes. As for everybody, photographs can stop me in my tracks, wow, scare or enlighten me, and crucially engage in some way.
I remember watching the seismic change of pixel’s arrival first hand. Our news agency processed rolls of film, duplicated and posted them out to 30 countries every day with a written editorial for the next day’s newspapers, then overnight started having them appear slowly one by one into an email inbox then later ISDN and FTP servers and then finally a live web portal. I thought at the time the change over from film to pixels was remarkably fast. Looking back it was a takeover of military precision. In came the new and out went the old overnight.
At least film didn’t die as was predicted from day one. It stabilised and normal became niche, became interesting once more. The old feeling of waiting days to see what moments were captured was to return after the age of immediacy had become mainstream. And it is with those feelings of anticipation and excitement I write this waiting for ten rolls of processed film to arrive in the post box in this village of eleven in the hills of southern France.
And I remember sitting in an office opposite Tower Bridge in London and hearing a disproportionate number of emergency sirens crossing the river before hearing the news there had been terrorist bombings on the day that became known as 7/7. There were no photographs of what had happened available because the cellphone transmitters had been shut down so the first imagery we saw in my news desk was the first imagery almost anyone saw that day as photojournalists brought their cameras back to the office to unload the events caught by chance live. That was a small tragic snapshot of history I remember watching unfold live through a USB cable at my desk.
It’s taken a while, a life changing accident followed by a global shutdown no less, but I now think maybe the most important of my possessions aren’t the cycling niceties or the favourite outfits, cars or bricks and mortar, they are perhaps as simple as the photo books I’ve collected over the years. And the memories that accompany finding them and opening a dialogue with their pages on a shelf in a little hidden book shop somewhere. The Joel Meyerowitz pocket paperback I found in Harvard Square, or the Bettina Rheims, Ellen Von Unwerth and Anton Corbijn journals that spoke to me in Amsterdam. Or even the reason I often had for getting the 73 bus into the west end and walking downstairs at Zwemmer’s book shop in Charing Cross road to a treasure trove of independent low volume pictorial delights. A true destination shop back then. All these memories bound together in pages are cherished more than mere possessions. They’re like a part of what makes me up by proxy.
It always was magical to me. And perhaps having the time and opportunity to bodge together a home made digitising process for the countless bags of negatives sitting amongst a previous life I have still boxed up in our small barn here in rural France, is a way of simply knowing it still is magic.
All images ©Augustus Farmer