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I have been taking photos with old film cameras since I was 14, when my Dad gave me his old Russian Zenit to use in art class. I wasn’t a very good art student – I could barely draw – so my teacher recommended I try taking photos and drawing from them. Instead I just started using the photos as my art work.
That Zenit camera has been close to me ever since and during the summer in Cambridge I found that whenever I went out for walks I would take my notebook and my camera. I started taking photos of things that I felt had an atmosphere, or something of interest, and almost simultaneously to pushing the shutter I would have an idea for a story set in that moment.
Since then the two practices of writing and photography have become entwined in my mind and in the way I create things with them. Using film cameras demands that I take time over composing the shots and then waiting for the roll to be finished and then developed before I can appreciate the results. I usually wait before I have six or seven films before developing them which can take anywhere from two weeks to six months. Leaving such a long time between taking the photo and seeing the results invariably creates an almost revelation-like moment, which is often a starting point for a new story.
This is much the same as how I write. I make notes or observations and sometimes write whole stories then usually leave them for a period to percolate in the back of my mind before revisiting them. Often upon revisiting stories I end up having ideas about edition or composition, but occasionally I have a revelation that utterly changes the course of the story or the main character.
Photography has had a valuable influence on my writing and it is something I would recommend to any other writers. Sometimes there is that moment or that observation that you know would be great for a story but for some reason the words aren’t happening or you become overwhelmed and are thinking too much about it to get a clear picture down in words. These are the times that a camera is the perfect back up tool. If you are thinking of trying this I cannot recommend film enough, but if you want to use digital, try not to get too serous about the shot or take too many; just by taking a single photo that you’ve thought about for a little while will lodge it into your brain, even if the photo isn’t wonderful.
The following images have all directly inspired stories which are in my current work; a collection of interconnected stories. They were all taken with film cameras and have had nothing done to them in post production.
All photographs taken by Alex Thornber