During our first semester at Uni (October 2004), we went on a team building trip to Hay-on-Wye (World famous for all of it’s book shops), and we stayed in a large cabin in the Brecon Beacons. We were given challenges each day we were there; for example, ask to take portraits of complete strangers – I have always been a very shy person, so asking a stranger if I could take their photo was huge! But it pushed me, I did it, and I was proud of the portraits I later developed in the darkrooms.
We were also challenged to choose a book, buy it, and take it back to the cabin to tell the rest of the group (about 60 of us), why we chose that book…
Walking about Hay on Wye is an experience. Not only are there the normal second hand book shops, there are also nooks & crannies with books rammed into shelves in outside walls with honesty boxes!! The book shops themselves are like rabbit warrens, rooms upon rooms, corridors winding around and connecting them – all of course filled with books!
So as you can imagine, this challenge was quite daunting too, where were we to start?! However, I soon found a book that I was quickly obsessing about. A book I couldn’t really afford, but a book I equally couldn’t leave behind. I even rang my parents to ask for their advice (!), but in the end, I was the owner of a visual feast of a book. I wanted to stop everything, sit down and look at it, dive in and not surface for a good few hours. But I was with a group of my friends who were also looking for their book to discuss, so on we went. Eventually they all chose one, and I realised that mine was a completely different type of book to everyone else’s, and by being a confused & over analytical teen, I decided to buy one in the same style that they had all chosen.
When we arrived back at the cabins, we all gathered in the dining room with our chosen books under our arms. I was pleased I had chosen a book like everybody else, I wasn’t going to stand out like a sore thumb. One by one the group stood up in front of everyone and told stories about how their books reminded them of their past, their childhoods, their parents, their pets… any kind of memory. When it was my turn, I stood up and told everyone how this lovely book in my hands reminded me of my childhood. It’s called ‘The Complete Collection of Stories. Winnie-the-Pooh. The House at Pooh Corner’ by A.A. Milne. It’s a beautiful hardback book with a bashed up cover, filled with gorgeous illustrations, and I was happy showing it off. But there was something that I saw in my tutors face… disappointment perhaps?
When the final person had sat down after talking about his dog, we all looked towards our tutors with anticipation. And it was then that we heard the words ‘it’s a shame’, ‘I’m disappointed’ and ‘not one of you have used your imagination’… I felt embarrassed. There we were, photography students, people who feed on visuals, and not one of us had chosen to talk about a book on the subject, or a book that inspired us, fed our creativity. But more than anything, I was angry at myself. As I sat there, I knew that on my bed, a matter of metres away, sat a book that excited me, inspired me and fed my creativity!! It is filled with over 2000 photographs, taken by hundreds of people who were exposing snippets of their personal lives, their visions, their worlds. The pages are organised into colours, subjects, shapes, shadows, silhouettes and blue skies with recognisable shapes we know as birds, trees, boat sails and telegraph poles protruding into them. Even now, nearly 9 years on, I still enjoy to delve in, each time I find something new – a photograph of a dog running along a pavement, but the photographer has just missed getting it’s head into shot – what kind of dog is it, it’s identity is lost, where is it, who took the photo, it’s owner or a passerby? In another picture, there’s a man standing there with hardly any teeth, just in his y-fronts. Who is he? Where are his teeth? Who took the photo? Was he happy about it?!
This book is called ‘Don’t Think * Just Shoot’ – Leningradskoye Optiko Mechanichesckoye Obyedinenie – Or just ‘LOMO’ as many of us know of it as! It is a visual diary of the summer of 2001, through the eyes of the Lomo. “It shows the good and the great, the blurs, smudges and accidents of lomography. Some are pure magic, others are utterly mundane, but all of them are true lomographs.”
Both the books I bought in Hay-on-Wye
(Photo taken on my phone as my other cameras are all tucked up for a wedding shoot later on!)
When I look through this book, not only do I often wonder what my tutor might have said about it, but it also proves to me that we should all go with our own instincts. Following others in this creative world, gets us nowhere! So now, when I look through this book, it also reminds me to strive to be a little bit different. And thus, I am constantly excited that I will never reach a creativity ‘plateau’, this world is forever changing, and we must change with it. Never get stuck in a rut, embrace it and challenge yourself with what you can make of it. As Christopher Robin once told Winnie-the-Pooh, “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
This story is important to me, and felt it appropriate to share. I was inspired to write about it yesterday when I purchased a new camera – a Lomo FishEye 2! It obviously made me think about my treasured Lomo book, but I can’t wait to see what I can do with it, and equally, the lessons that IT will teach me in the years to come…
Here are some samples of my very first lomography experience, taken with my old Holga 120…
(I have only just realised that the photos above coincidentally feature a road on the Brecon Beacons, which is next to a photo of one of the out door book shelves in Hay-on-Wye! These were taken in 2009 when I went there for a day trip with my parents for my Dad’s birthday, and were on my first roll of film used in my Holga… oooh that almost gave me tingles!)
I’ve recently dug my Holga out again, and I’ve been shooting on expired film that a man in Hawaii (who I friended on Twitter) sent me! Should be interesting! So watch this space