Pandemic Photography

It’s been a bit of a weird time, hasn’t it? This might be as good a time as any for me to reflect back on the last three years (how has it been that long?) of life being nothing like we expected.

At the start of 2020, Australia was about half way through one of the worst bushfire seasons we, and perhaps the world, had ever seen. Enormous tracts of forest on the east coast were burned, with fires stretching from Victoria to Queensland and hundreds of kilometres inland. Some areas burned twice, as the first fires through moved so quickly through the forest canopy that they left enough fuel for a second pass only a few weeks later. I read that billions of animals were killed. Bushfire smoke choked the skies for months and got us a little bit used to the idea of facemasks. Life was more pleasant indoors, because the air outside was routinely poor; even when the wind blew in from the sea, it would often be blowing the smoke from a few hundred kilometres down the coast back inland. Our family Christmas in Canberra was shrouded in thick smoke that blew in from the coast and settled in the valley, and our return to Sydney ran the gauntlet between two enormous and fast-moving fires. When the rains came in February and the fires were finally doused, the relief was more than welcome, and just in time for our still-anxious minds to turn to the virus that was starting to raise concerns overseas.

Canberra bushfire smoke, Christmas 2019
Bushfire smoke settled in Tuggeranong Valley, Canberra, around Christmas 2019. There is usually a very clear view of the distant Brindabella Ranges from this vantage. Nikon FG, Series E 50mm f/1.8, Lomography CN 800.

For the first few weeks of the covid lockdown, I never took a camera out. At that point, the health advice was that washing hands was the best protection – it wasn’t yet known to be airborne – but cameras are harder to sterilise than hands, so taking them out seemed like a risk. And with a boisterous toddler inside, fascinated by everything in his parents’ hands, there was little chance to document indoors life. After a few weeks inside, with the shock of the situation subsiding, the lack of the hobby felt more and more pronounced.

Stuck inside, 2020
Lockdowns involved a lot of inside play and video calls. Minolta XE-5, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7, Arista.EDU 100.

As the months passed, lockdowns came and went in response to outbreaks here and there, between which the closed borders and quarantines kept the health impact of covid comparatively small. The social impact was much, much larger. As we realised the virus was airborne, the local parks and public spaces became an extension of the home (even when the playgrounds remained closed). A council clean-up early on was like a street party, a bazaar of all the large and unusual things our neighbours had put out on the street for garbage collection; everyone had ample time to clean out their cupboards and sheds, and it was the first time we had legally seen masses of people near each other in months. I scored a couple of non-working cameras from a box one of the neighbours put on the street. Anyway, along with getting outside more, I started taking more photos.

Pandemic playground, Sydney, 2020
Closed playgrounds meant our time in parks was spent exploring the woods and gardens and lawns. Not all bad. Minolta XE-5, Rokkor 50mm f/1.7, Arista.EDU 100.

When we finally got vaccines after various procurement blunders had been ironed out, and we could start to see people again, we did so cautiously at first, but gladly. Then our daughter came along and life got yet busier, just as our state government changed, opened everything up, and covid rates took off. Lockdown became a matter of personal preference, and I did prefer it for a while. But over time, by degrees, I am getting used to getting out.

Getting out again
Getting out again. Nikon FG, Series E 50mm f/1.8, Arista.EDU 200.

That seems like a drastic abbreviation of the last two years, but the time since things started to open up has blurred into a new and normal routine, and the concerns of the pandemic have (mostly) made way for the concerns of parenthood. Life is busier and more cautious, but a bit less acutely threatening. Work and home life are good, and while they afford less time and space for hobbies, or even for taking photos of the day to day, I think that’s normal for this phase.

On the road again
On the road. Nikon FG, Series E 50mm f/1.8, Kodak Ektar 100.

Stay safe, everyone. And don’t forget to take your camera.

My Dad and my Son

This Canon FT QL was my dad’s camera. My dad passed away when I was 14. The camera is one of the few items of Dad’s that I’ve kept with me as I’ve moved around. It is the camera that I remember him using throughout my childhood, and it captured many of my early moments. Like my scrunched-up face when I ate some orange peel when I was about one, or when I put on one of Dad’s t-shirts and looked like a monk when I was about two.

I started using it a couple of years after Dad passed away, and I learned the real techniques of film photography on this camera. It is fully manual, so it was a steep learning curve, but I borrowed books from the library and looked up websites (few and far between back then) to piece things together. I bought a wide angle lens and a flash to broaden my capabilities (while working a part-time job and couch surfing… I miss the pre-hipster film photography market). Later, the film market dwindled and processing labs became more scarce, but I shot the odd roll of film and went hunting for extant labs. When I first left uni, got a job, and found the still-depressed vintage camera market a little more accessible, I shot with Dad’s camera regularly alongside newer acquisitions.

Even as I still call it, and think of it, as Dad’s camera, it is probably the possession that has most influenced who I am. It is a little hard to describe the significance of an object that both represents and facilitates a shared experience with someone who is gone. I know that Dad looked through the same finder, adjusted the same shutter speed dial and aperture ring, and pressed the same shutter button. I am on the other side of the lens now, but it is the same machine. And the photos he took, even the seemingly unimportant photos of flowers and leaves tucked into the family photo archives (I was very glad to be present when they were discovered, they were so nearly thrown out), reveal thought processes so similar to my own, and now so impossible to deduce through observation or conversation. The experience shared is not just of using the same small machine, but of seeing the world in a similar way. I record shadows of my times and places, and I am simultaneously living out a shadow of Dad recording his times and places, many years before.

My son was born early on an autumn morning. After the midwives had left, my wife and son and I rested for a while. We were exhausted, but we were, for the first time, together as a little family. As every new dad does in this moment, I took out a camera to take photos of my amazing wife holding our newborn. I took out Dad’s camera.

I had been thinking, in the weeks leading up to my son’s birth, that it would be nice to use his camera as a tangible representation of my dad, present in the early moments of my son’s life that I would have shared with him if he was here. So I had bought some fast film that would work well indoors and loaded it up weeks in advance, ready to sling the camera bag over my shoulder in a potential midnight dash to the hospital. And in those moments after we met my son, exhausted and happy in equal measure, I recorded some shadows of a beautiful time. I photographed my son with his extended family as they gleefully came to meet him. I took some photos of my wife and son as we sat with him in our hospital room, stunned, adoring, and weary. I took more when we left the hospital and settled him into our home, his home, as part of our little family.

Dad couldn’t be among the family members who came to meet my son and to help us settle in. It meant a lot to me, though, that I could include him by recording those times in much the same way he would have when he became a father. Looking through the same finder, adjusting the same settings, pressing the same shutter button, allowing a flicker of light to pass through the same lens as when I was a baby and Dad was the exhausted young father full of joy. Twenty years after he passed away, we have shared a new experience: celebrating and documenting the new life of a son.

Hello world!

This blog is going to detail my adventures with cameras.

I have a few interests in photography:

  • Film photography: I have a bunch of old film cameras, and I enjoy keeping the analogue skills alive. Sometimes I develop my own black and white film, though this is on hiatus until I can move into a house/apartment with a laundry/darkroom.
  • Astrophotography: I love space, and taking photos of space is cool. I’m not great at it but it’s fun.
  • Camera repair: Part of keeping the analogue skills alive is keeping the analogue cameras alive. I’m learning (mostly by trial, error, and Google) how to repair these old and beautiful machines.
  • Photography in general: I’m not great but I love it. It’s a different way to look at and think about the world.


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Thanks for reading!