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The Sweet Smell of 35mm. Photography and the Old School

The following is a guest post by Aby Davis.

When I was 16 I fell in love in a big way. I went to an all-girls school in Bath and when it came for my friends and I to choose our A Level courses, a few of us went for the wildcard and picked the course hosted by the local boys school ( ours didn’t have a darkroom you see…or boys for that matter). It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Hello, my name is Aby and I shoot film.

Firstly I’ll admit to being a bit of a ditz in the tech department. My dream phone is a Nokia 3310, I still don’t know how to use my DVD player and today accidently sent a text message to Orange Wednesdays asking what they wanted for dinner.  However,fear of the 21st century isn’t the only reason I’ve so far stuck with the old school. For me, the joy of photography exists not only in producing little mini-artworks from real life subjects, but in the tangibility of creating them. I’m a sucker for the clunk. Clink. Whiiirrrrr of my Olympus OM10 and 35mm film is one of my favourite smells.

My first years as a budding photographer both in and out of education can effectively be summed up in four categories…


Most photographers know that light is your friend. The position of the sun in the sky, the way it highlights a subject’s face, the shadows it casts up a windswept beach…in film photography it can also be your very worst enemy. Everyone remembers the first time they prematurely opened the back of a camera with a finished reel nestled inside…
Some mistakes are best made with other learners around; a benefit of formal education is that it’s harder to give up when you make one too many!


A first foray into a dark room can be daunting; there are strange smells and odd objects lurking in the gloom.  From the first snap to the final print, shooting with film is basically done with your eyes closed. Once the basics are learnt it’s easy to find your feet, but if it all goes wrong It helps to have someone nearby with a (red bulb-ed) torch!


Shooting film is also an economic decision; my student budget was never able to stretch to digital kit. When I was 18 my parents bought me a second hand Canon EOS (SLR) for around £100, 6 years later you can buy the exact same model for £30 on Ebay. I tell everyone I know who expresses even the vaguest interest in starting photography to pick up an SLR. My Olympus was £12 from a charity shop. I buy film from the pound shop. With a little practise, the quality of image a 20 year old film camera produces will always be better than that of a £100 point and shoot from Tesco. And that’s a brownie guide promise.


Whilst at college we were encouraged to photograph stuff that meant something to us, to make a statement with our images as well as creating things that would look good in a nice frame. It’s easy to forget in our fast-paced society of ever upgrading technologies that the art of photography is really, really old. According to some sources (ahem, Wikipedia) a very early edition of the pin-hole camera was described by Greek mathematicians in the 4th and 5th centuries BC. The teeny weeny camera in your iphone has a whole new significance now, right?  True, there’s only so much practical knowledge one can take in from school text books, but a sparks got to be ignited somewhere! I love learning, and what I love most about those hazy school days of learning is that, 7 years later, they just keep rolling on!

Aby is 23 and lives in Southsea. She is married and recently graduated from the university of Portsmouth with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. She has an A level in Photography and devotes her free time (and spare pennies) to experimenting with both film and digital whilst adding to her eclectic camera collection. Aby’s other passions in life are good books, fine food and culture shocks.

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  • Stgvicar

    I’ve been with digital for 6 years now. Totally different discipline. You end up taking far more shots than you need and then they either ‘rest’ on your computer or they get shared with all and sundry. There used to be that exciting (sometimes satisfying, sometimes disappointing) collecting of your photos from the shop to see what was a true memory and/or a piece of art. If I had the time I’d still like to have my own darkroom. My father used to do his developing in the bathroom. Permanent stains in the bath, much to the dismay of my mother! Can’t bring myself to get rid of my Chinon CE-4 and all the great lenses I collected over the years.

  • http://www.davidwolanski.com Dave

    I learned a lot shooting digital SLRs, but now love shooting with my Holgas and other old school medium format film cameras. I figured out the triangle of shutter speed, iso and aperture in digital with the instant feedback you get, but just like the look of film better. I’m embracing the imperfections of working with film. With digital it seems like perfection is the only thing acceptable. With film and analog, imperfections are acceptable and even embraced as far as  the Holgas go.