Portrait of Athina

My name is Athina and I just think of myself as a person who loves taking, talking and listening about, photos and the stories behind them. You can find me on twitter @NeoAthina and at my website www.athinaneophoto.com.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein.

The story I would like to share with you is how a couple of summers ago I decided I wanted to take a photography course.  The main purpose of this was to take my camera off auto mode.  I looked into a few courses, most of them for digital photography, but somehow I ended up in a beginners photography (film and darkroom) course. Black and white image by Athina shot on Ilford filmTo be honest with you I didn’t know exactly what that meant.  My idea of a dark room was a-not-so-dark room with a red coloured light, and my only previous exposure or interaction with film was when I was a kid and we would go on a holiday with my family, take hundreds of pictures and then my dad would take the film to the photographer and come back with our photos.  That was about it, then digital cameras happened and basically, I never used a film camera again.

The reason I am telling you all this is just to make you understand how amazingly interesting and magical I found this film photography world by the end of the course.  I am not going to describe the course in detail, I am just going to share a few things that I found quite interesting, and I think they would be interesting especially to people who haven’t used film before.Black and White image of Guinness by Athina shot on Ilford filmThe first day of the course I was given a camera and an Ilford HP5 Plus 400 B&W film and was asked to put the film into the camera.  I know it sounds easy, but believe me, it is not that easy.  You have to make sure that the film actually moves across the film plane inside the camera and that you are actually taking pictures when you press the shutter button.  And, yes it happened to me once during the course and I wasted a lovely roll of film. Apparently, it happens, often, and it’s ok!

By the end of the day, we were given our first assignment. It was time to take some pictures.  Exciting.  The whole time, without even realising it, I was looking at the back of my camera to see the picture I had just taken.  Obviously, this was impossible but it made me realise how, nowadays, we are all so used to seeing the picture the moment we take it and getting feedback in that same instance. And, of course, that’s how we probably end up with thousands of photos with only a few worth using.Black and white image of construction by Athina. Shot on ilford filmThis made me slow down a bit and realise that I have only a specific number of clicks, that I need to think before I press that button, that I need to measure the light that is going into my camera, that I have to think about the film I am using, and know my camera, and that I have to imagine the outcome without being able to see it. Overwhelmed but at the same time in awe of the whole thing. It was very intriguing!

And then it was time to develop the film, but before that, you had to take the film out of the canister. Challenge.  The not so dark room I mentioned earlier, at this stage, it was in reality, a very dark (no light at all!) room. The film cannot be exposed to any light before it is processed, and so it is you and the film in the dark. Amazing!

After processing the film it is time to print your photos and this is the part you see in the movies, the dark room with the red light and the trays. Part of this printing procedure I think it was the moment I was waiting for when I enrolled on this course, the moment that you dip the paper in the tray with the developer and you see your picture slowly, slowly coming to life. I saw it and it was as magical as you think it would be and more!Black and white image of a park by Athina shot on Ilford filmPersonally, I feel am very new in anything photography and I am still trying to understand what it works for me best, but what this film and darkroom experience gave to me is the opportunity to not just take a photo but actually create it and see it come to life. A very fulfilling experience.

It also gave me a different perspective on how I see photography, it made me realise that sometimes you just need to take a step back, go back to the basics, slow down and think before you even pick up your camera.  A lesson I will always carry with me.

Probably, for those who have been using film for years, all of the above is old news and their everyday life, but for those who haven’t used film or spent time in the dark room before, I would say, try it, it would be time well spent.

All images ©Athina Neocleous

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