I live near the sea in Muizenberg, close to many strange little stores selling old bric-a-brac, china and decaying pieces of outdated technology. When I was small I would wander through these small shops, examining with curiosity the rotary dial telephones, typewriters, old speed lights and binoculars. The cameras were there, but were too intimidating to be more than another object become foreign in its antiquity. What always caught my eye - between the copper-green coins and postcards, were the stacks of old family photos and travel snapshots. Most were undated and untraceable, but every so often on the back there would be a clue: a date, or a place name, or sometimes a small message.
There seemed to me to be something curious and magical about these snapshots, taken in a time before cameras were commonplace and our lives became so over-documented. To me these photos felt archival, somewhat dusty and secretive. My own family photo-books were filled with photos of my mother and her friends against the colourful backdrop of early ‘90s London, and I would spend hours pouring over them. When I was around 7 years old, I was given a disposable camera, and shortly after, my first small digital camera. I took photos of everything, fountains and bricks and tree bark - just wondered around becoming absorbed into what I was seeing and doing.
And then, somehow, I forgot about it for a few years. Unlearned a skill I spent hours researching and understanding. Then, at 17 years old, I made the acquaintance of a girl who spent time finding and collecting old film cameras. The model names and numbers were unusual, and the old lenses with their moving optics and metal frames held a certain weight that spoke of another era. Some lenses were jammed and others were filled with spots of mildew and sand, but in between were pristine 35mm and 50mm that, when looked through were crystalline.
She lent me an old Canon AV-1 and gave me a roll of Fuji 200 ( a cheap film) and I fell right back in love with it. Then another, then black and white. The results were all too exciting. My life had become busy, but here was a small creative endeavor I could pursue in my spare time. Between bar-shifts and writing and a social life. One of my housemates and close friends is also an avid photographer, with a mind like an encyclopedia, and from him I’ve learned and improved rapidly.
Oftentimes life becomes too complex to entertain all of one’s creative ambitions - but finding something small that adds depth and colour to your life is of huge importance. I look around with the intention of seeing the beauty that revolves and unfolds around me.
I look up at buildings and down at the tar between my feet and I feel a little detached from the narrative around me, a little freer to become just an observer. For my mother it’s drawing, for my girlfriend it’s songwriting. For myself I find I move between things, writing, photography, music - but all of them give me a sense of freedom, even if they’re small things.
Sometimes even just a walk in the morning is enough to lift my head a little above the clouds. Sometimes even just cleaning my house, watering the plants or hanging the laundry. But these simple acts are only beautiful when I look for them, notice them.
Find something and learn about it. Ceramics, printmaking, bonsai growing - invest even a small amount of time and money into something that reflects you, and it can make your life a little fuller.