The first roll of film which I put through a camera of my own (an
Olympus OM10) was begun on Christmas Day, 1986. It started with a photo
of the sunrise over the Northwest Arm, and ended sometime later with a
photo of the lights across the arm at night. Given that it was my first
roll, I was mighty pleased with myself that I had made such pretty
photos. I even got a 8"x10" enlargement of the ice photo for my wall. I
used the camera on full automatic for the first couple of months, until I
managed to wade through the "Life Library of Photography" books I
received with the camera, and started to understand how to really use
6x6 cm film
My first creative use of a camera was as a tool in
the creation of my portfolio for entrance to the Nova Scotia College of
Art and Design (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design). One of the
requirements for the portfolio was to depict change in a series of
images. I showed change in the weather, a change of mind and other such
puns. The final images were printed 8"x10" (extravagantly large I
thought at the time) and glued down on black board. The series must have
worked as I did manage to get into the college, though to be honest,
photography was not my intent at this time - I wanted to go to college
to learn how to sculpt in stone.
When I received my first
camera, I also received a number of rolls of black and white film. These
I carefully nursed along over the next months, and had processed at a
photo-lab, for fear of ruining the film. I did print the images myself,
setting up a crude darkroom in the closet of the art room in my high
school. By the time I finished the twelfth grade six months later, I was
comfortable making basic prints, and with processing film, though I had
to ask a friend to load my reels, again for fear of messing my film up.
Over the summer of 1987, I joined the Nova Scotia Photo Co-op,
and used their facilities to continue my explorations of photography.
Much of what I did was guided by the "Life Library of Photography" and
to give those authors credit, much of what I do today is founded on
those very basic tenets which I took from those books.
first summer with a camera I did lots of playing - experimenting with
long exposures, studio
lighting, and special effects filters. It didn't take me too long before
I knew I didn't like the filters - the star filter especially - one
ruined photo was enough to convince me to leave the things in a drawer
(I still have the star-filter one kicking around somewhere). I had fun
though, and slowly learned my way around my camera, and a basic darkroom
In the fall of 1987, I began attending Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. The first term was a foundation session -
with introductions to all areas, and a basic photo course. The entire
term was a struggle for me; being young and arrogant, I thought I knew
all there was to know, and even when something new was revealed, I was
resistant to it. I printed high-contrast, overdeveloped my film, and
generally did everything the way I wasn't supposed to. Reflecting now, I
don't think I could have done it any differently - at the time contrast
and grain were the things I wanted, and I resented being asked to
develop for detail and sharpness, and print for full tone. The fact that
that is now exactly how I work is no accident; I think the
contrast/grain thing was a milestone along the road to where I am now.
If I didn't go through that, I wouldn't be where I am today.
of the things I most wanted to photograph when I first started was
bands - loud, abrasive, alternative rock bands. So I did. Halifax has
never been a hotbed of international bands, so I was pretty much limited
to the few all-ages alternative gigs (I was underage in 1987), but,
when they were bands I liked, I did my best to go out and "capture their
essence on film" (oh, I was so young). I thoroughly enjoyed
photographing concerts though, and eagerly awaited the day I turned 19
and would be able to photograph "real bands" (i.e. alternative bar
One thing that my first term at Nova Scotia College of
Art and Design did for me was open my eye up to larger film formats -
during foundation, at least some of the photographs you make have to be
produced on a medium format camera, a Mamiya twin-lens reflex. These
cameras force you to change the way you see, because the ground-glass
where the image is formed, presents the world reversed left to right.
The other reason for using medium format is to generate a larger
negative, which is (in theory) easier to print and get full tones on.
While I readily accepted the larger negative as easier to print, I also
proved that it could have as few tones and as much contrast as 35mm
My final project for my foundation term at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design was in tune with the remainder of my term. We were to produce 10 final prints, from the body of work we had made over the term. There was to be some unifying theme to the work, but it didn't have to be too formal. The only stipulation was the prints were to be "perfect prints", and the subject was not to be pets, children or graveyards. True to my form of the time (I repeat, I was so young) I shot a roll in a graveyard the week before the project was due, printed good prints of the first ten images on the roll, and handed them in. The Prof. wasn't pleased with the subject of the images, but since I had, in his words, grown, and produced ten full-tone images, he passed me. The funny thing was, one of those ten images I quite liked; it was a statue of the Virgin Mary with her face and features washed off by the rain. I liked a full-tone print. Go figure! On the whole, my first year of photo was a real growth period. The fact I attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, after I had begun learning on my own, was I think a very positive element, grounding my skills in discovery as opposed to revelation.