From Church, Charity Shop to a Coastal City in China

5 min read by Lee Webb.
Published on . Updated on .

If you’re reading this, you probably have some interest in film photography.

You may shoot film yourself. If you do, you’ve probably been doing so for longer than me.

I started less than a year ago, which makes me evidence that there’s always someone thinking about picking up a film camera for the first time.

This piece is my origin story. Where I bought my first film camera(s), why, and how some early shots turned out.

The church and the charity shop.

My story starts in a church in Nottingham, England.

If we’re being specific, the High Pavement Unitarian Chapel. However, it’s more commonly known amongst locals as the Pitcher & Piano.

For the uninitiated, that means it’s a pub.

Having taken an immaculate lunch of two pints of lager and a bowl of chilli cheese fries, my partner and I headed off to scour a few of the city’s charity shops.

Coming from a Chinese society where second-hand stuff is not valued but value for money certainly is, they were a constant source of curiosity for her.

The enthusiasm waned a little when I pointed out that might be a dead lady’s blouse she’s trying on, but I digress.

Sitting on a shelf in one of the shops were four film cameras. Not the kind that would get you any hipster points, though.

Just point ‘n’ shoots old enough to look dated but not old enough to look cool.

To buy or not. I wasn’t sure. Against a backdrop of crockery and Catherine Cookson books, they had caught my eye. I’d just never really considered trying film photography before.

Call it divine intervention, but I believe the time spent in the church helped me decide.

Alcohol will do that to you.

And thinking about it now, those pints of lager actually cost more than the Canon Sure Shot AF-7 and the Olympus Supertrip I left the shop with.

A small coastal city in China.

Just over a month later, I found myself in the small coastal city of Yuhuan, in China.

Having bought the Canon Sure Shot AF-7 during my partner’s visit to my hometown over the Christmas period, it felt fitting to shoot with it during a Chinese New Year’s visit to hers.

Everything everyone always says about film photography was true for me on that trip.

The cautious approach so as not to waste any exposures, the excitement when you think you’ve nailed one, the anticipation when waiting to see if you really have, the joy when you find out you did with some, and the disappointment when you find out you didn’t with all.

But they’re all just feelings.

The thing I took most from shooting film on that trip was the tangible improvement of a skill.

Whenever I shot monochrome with a digital camera, I could see how the shot would look in monochrome beforehand. Not so when shooting the monochrome Ilford PAN 400 film.

Looking through the optical viewfinder instead of at an LCD screen meant trying to visualise a colour scene in monochrome. It meant looking for scenes that I thought would translate well, which meant looking for good light, contrasts and shapes.

Reviewing the images now, this seems to have pushed me towards finding isolated shapes, which in turn led to me painting a certain picture of Yuhuan.

Believe me, it really isn’t as desolate as it may look.

Caring for the Community

One thing I’ve noticed about the film community is how inclusive and supportive it is.

I’ve seen no elitism, no superiority complexes, and no disparaging of other people’s work.

Sharing this - the whole publication, not just this article - with someone you know would like to become part of that would be good for both the future of the community and the creative potential of the individual.

They don’t have to day-drink to get started, but they might have to stop daydreaming.

Maybe one day they’ll tell of how reading a passed-on article helped them pick up their first film camera too.