30 Hands in 30 Days by Deen Schroeder

Personal projects are an important aspect of the creative process that is often overlooked. I would define a personal project as something that is very specific and takes a decent amount of time to complete. Having a project that is extremely specific forces you to find the creative opportunities hidden behind restrictions. A personal project should also take you a while to complete because the dedication and motivation required to get through it is something you cannot learn in a day or even a week.

This project was a born out of a random idea that took hold of me whilst I was driving to work one morning. I have been shooting film for a few months and thought that it is time to test myself creatively in this medium. The drive to work takes about 30 minutes and during that time I thought that I love black and white film and I find peoples’ hands absolutely fascinating. The decision to do it over 30 days was a product of the medium because you only get 36 shots on a roll of 35mm film.

I intentended to shoot in the most consistent way possible and offered little to no direction for the subjects whose hands I was photographing. This allowed for the subjects and their hands to visually tell their stories. My aim was to capture them in an interesting and authentic way.

The project was shot on the Nikon N2000 set to aperture priority. I used the Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AI-S lens which I shot wide open for every single shot. The film used was Ilford Delta HP5+ shot at box speed. All the photos below are as the were scanned by the lab. 

One Camera. One Roll of film. 30 sets of hands. 30 days.

FOUND FILM: A WINDOW INTO THE PAST by Deen Schroeder

The first roll of film that I found in a forgotten camera seemed like a lucky coincidence and a reminder of the beauty of film photography. The idea of seeing photos that no one had ever seen before was magical. Sharing that first article on social media led me to find the person who originally took the photographs and I had the opportunity to return those memories to their rightful owner.

Film is a truly incredible technology because it can retain information in celluloid for years and years. Freezing moments in time for generations. This is a decisive advantage that film has over digital. Hard drives crash, computers burn out, the cloud can get hacked, you could lose your passwords and within one generation all your digital photographs will be lost in the cacophony of digital imagery and your grandchildren may not be able to appreciate the world in the same way you once did.

On a recent trip to The Collectors Treasury I decided to rummage through their cabinet of forgotten cameras. Many of the cameras locked in the dusty glass cabinet are not worth much and very few actually function, but I enjoying fiddling with these relics. Old film cameras were built to last, and with a basic understanding of film cameras you can work out how they all work. While I played around with some rusty old Pentax’s, ancient range finders and discarded TLRs, I discovered something very interesting.   

This is the Kodak 1a Autographic Jr which was manufactured in 1915. The camera looked to be in wonderful condition, the bellows looked great, the shutter and aperture still worked wonderfully and interestingly enough I found a roll of film locked in the camera. I carefully prodded my way through the controls and through sheer luck I figured out how to wind up the whole roll, remove it and store it safely away from any harsh light. I decided to buy the camera because even if it didn't work, I thought that it would be a wonderful addition to my growing camera collection.

The film looked very old but I had no clue as to how old it might be. I am not ashamed to admit that I can get seriously nerdy about these details and before long I dove into some research about the camera and the film that I had found. The film that was left in the camera was 116 medium format film, a format that dates back to 1899 and was in use till the late 1980s. The film gives you a 70mm negative which is exactly the same size as the film used to make IMAX films. The 116 format is slightly smaller than the modern 120 medium format film but twice the size of the more common 35mm format.

The next step in this fun adventure was trying to figure out what type of film it was. Inspection of the roll itself and with some clever Googling, I found out that it was Kodak Verichrome Pan. This was a 125 speed black and white film that Kodak manufactured between 1956 and the late 80s. Therefore this film was anywhere between 30 and 60 years old. However, a real film nerd would never be satisfied with such a broad date range, so I tried to do a little more investigation. I turned my attention to the logo on the actual film roll in the hope that the branding gave any indication of the time period. On closer inspection I realized that this specific roll of Kodak Verichrome was only sold between 1961 and 1970.

 The next big question was whether or not there were any pictures on this 50 year old film that I found in a 100 year old relic that I discovered under a pile of dusty old film cameras. I just had to find out, so I took the film to my friends at The RBG Pixel Lab to see if they could help.

They looked at me like I was a total eccentric weirdo for bringing in this ancient film, but they were able to help develop the negatives and even scanned the images with a custom scanning mask that they needed to make for this old format. Amazingly enough, this film survived the last half century and of the 8 images that a roll of 116 film could produce, 6 beautiful images emerged from the celluloid.  

I am still in the process of uncovering as much information about these images as possible but for now, let’s appreciate the magic of film...

Film is not dead. The photographs have brought to life a time that has been long forgotten and through the wonder that is film, these moments have been able to bridge a 50 year chasm in space and time. 

When Editorial meets Creativity by Deen Schroeder

Photography is widely regarded as an art, within good reason, but there are so many aspiring photographers that want to do professional work and turn their passion into a career. This is a lot more challenging than a private university that offers a photography degree may lead you to believe.

Degrees and diplomas will teach you all the technical aspects of the craft, foster your creativity and motivate you to forge your own path in photography. The student is bombarded by the idealistic view that your creativity will land you the best jobs, and with disciplined, hard work you will be successful.

One thing that they do not prepare you for is the client.

Clients have a subjective view of your craft, one that may not be based on artistic insight or an understanding of creative vision. Clients use photographers as tools to convey their ideal view of the brand or product.

Social media has opened up an entirely new realm of possibility for a photographer to showcase their work and get discovered. Social media also provides instant gratification and the positive comments on Instagram can often over-inflate the egos of young creatives. 

If you want to be great the best thing you can do is to keep your ego in check. Clients are people too, and they appreciate humility and despise any delusions of grandeur.

The focus should not be on landing the next big gig but rather on how you aim to improve your own craft, your vision, and creative process. This set of images was taken on the set of a professional calendar shoot. A friend of mine invited me to come check it out and take a few shots. The opportunity to spend an afternoon at an airplane hangar with some really cool cars was a fun experience. I tried to create some Sin City inspired images.

When you spend time focusing on the craft, understanding what clients are looking for, finding the balance between creativity and editorial then you are on the right track. I hope that this makes sense and if you have any feedback please let me know.

Keep Shooting.

Found Film: Magic In Mystery Part 2 by Deen Schroeder

My previous piece, Found Film: Magic in Mystery, focused on the discovery of a forgotten roll of 35mm film. I wrote about the discovery of the film, the subsequent decision to get it developed and the actual photos that emerged. I suggest that you give it a read before continuing with this article. This is Part 2.

I published the article on my site and shared a link to it on my personal Facebook page in the hopes that perhaps someone would recognize some in the photos. I have always been an eternal optimist and a believer in the internet’s ability to connect people that might seem to have no connection. Realistically I didn't expect too much to happen.

The Facebook post received a few likes, comments and shares but honestly… What are the chances of me finding out who took these images, when they were taken or where?

Mark Banks, a well know South African comedian and one of my Facebook friends commented on the post saying that the elderly lady in the photo looked like his friend Beezy Baily's Mother. The thing about Mr Banks, it is very difficult to know whether or not he is pulling your leg. I decided to see his comment as fact and messaged a person that I found on Facebook that shared the same name. 

No response.

A month passed and still no response and then a couple of days ago, Beezy replied to my message.

This is what happened…

Me:

I know that this is a super random message but recently I found a roll of undeveloped film. I had it developed and posted some of the photos on my site and on Facebook in the hopes of finding their owner. Mark Banks commented and mentioned that one of the photos was the mother of a person with your name. So I am just reaching out and wanted to know if this lady, is indeed your mother and if these are your photos.

Beezy:

Hi Deen , yes it is my mother, how strange, any friend of Mark Banks is a friend of mine. I'm trying to work out where you shot it ? Do you remember?

Me:

Wow, that's amazing! I didn't actually take the photos. I found an old roll of film at an antique store and decided to get it developed to see what photos were taken. The rest of the photos are on my site. (linked him to the article I had written)

maybe you know these people???

Beezy:

It's a mind f**k , it's my son Jasper's roll of film , he was at the David Goldbalt /market theater photography school in Joburg a year ago , the roll was shot on a trip we went on to London and Crete . He's now at film school ,in CT ,having been robbed of his R60 k camera, Apple laptop , iPhone and car in his last month in Joburg. {before we got him out of there , ] I wonder if his stolen camera ended up in the same shop as the film ? I think you should organize an exhibition of them , this is a wonderful story, Jasper is so stoked , I just showed him , you can contact him on... (contact details for Jasper)

I also received an email from a lady named Tessa that confirmed the images were taken by Jasper.

Tessa:

What a lovely story and what really interesting timeless images! They are Jaspers! Love your blog though and will follow it.

My mind was completely blown by the sequence of events and before I knew it, Jasper wrote to me on Facebook.

Jasper:

Hey man my Dad just sent me a link to the "Magic in Mystery" story on your blog and I'm very glad to say those are my photos! I lived in Johannesburg at the end of 2013 and most of 2014, I purchased the Pentax also from the analog gold mine that is Collectors Treasury while I was staying in Maboneng after a few months it was stolen along with the rest of my gear from a place I was staying in Melville. In the time I'd had it I'd taken it back to Cape Town, where I shot most of the roll, Then to London (img 13-16) and finally to Greece (last two frames) what I find fascinating is that I distinctly remember shooting one roll on it and then it broke, such a nice surprise to see another roll I'd completely forgotten about until seeing the pics. If you can just WeTransfer the hi res jpgs. that would be sweet as im currently in Cape Town then can hopefully collect the negs when im back in the north. All the best J

I hoped for these images to be returned to their owner, but I really didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. I developed the roll of film out of pure curiosity and felt an urge to share this untold story in the best way I know how. 

The really is magic in mystery. 

 

Found Film: Magic In Mystery by Deen Schroeder

I started shooting 35mm film in March of this year and a few months ago I discovered a roll of used film in a barely functional Pentax K1000. The camera was found hidden beneath a pile of other old dusty cameras at The Collectors Treasury in Maboneng - a place that is renowned for the millions of old books and countless old world goodies. It is the biggest second-hand bookstore in South Africa. I asked the store owner if I could buy it and he graciously let me have it without charging me a cent. I am sure that he had a bit of a chuckle to himself as I proudly walked out of the shop with something that had little to no value. I was so excited because a used roll of film is a time capsule or a window into memories that have never been seen by anyone. There is some magic in the mystery.

I didn't know what to expect. Potentially, the roll of film could be filled with 36 wondrous images of glamorous times, secret military plans, and beautiful shots of places that I have never seen. Conversely, I was worried that the roll would be completely devoid of images. I didn’t know how long that roll of film was in that little Pentax on its shelf at the Collectors Treasury, or that the person using the film even knew how to shoot film.

The roll of film sat on my bookshelf for months and I kept avoiding it, convincing myself that it would be a waste of money to have it developed. Last week, I got it developed and paid the R120 in the hopes that the roll would unlock long lost memories.

I got the negatives back from the developer and saw that those 35mm frames contained what looked like useable images. I was extremely excited to see what the scans looked like on my computer and hopefully make sense of it all. I felt like a bit of a detective.

The images that came out of that roll were interesting and even more mysterious than I could have ever imagined. The images don’t give any clear indication of time or location but I do suspect that many aren’t from South Africa. The people in the photos look like they are in their 20s but it is not clear if these photos were taken last week, last year or 10 years ago. Receiving these images and seeing them for the first time was a truly magical experience but the mystery is amplified because I would really love to find out the stories behind these photos.

I hope that the photographs might get back to their rightful owners; wherever they may be in the world. Please share this article on your social media pages and let’s try find these people and return their memories to them.

Is photography Story Telling? by Deen Schroeder

Photography is not storytelling and we should stop pretending that it is. Can a picture really be worth a thousand words in the age of quick burst selfies on the latest smartphone? Can a single photograph truly convey a story?  Have we forgotten what storytelling actually is?

Photography is a wonderful medium because it can convey information in a visceral way and can evoke real emotional reactions from the viewer. Nothing is more moving for me than the incredible images that come from War Photographers who dive head first into the most dangerous spaces in the world to illuminate the atrocities of the human condition. The images may be incredibly moving but can any single one of those images convey a story? No.

Let me explain why I think photography, in its simplest form, is not storytelling.

The basics of any story include a ‘start’, ‘middle’ and an ‘end’… the three components to every single narrative arc. A photograph cannot include these three elements because a photograph is a frozen moment in time and does not give any context beyond that frame. The context that I am referring to here is time; photographs do not show the progression of time.

There are areas of photography that do explore narratives in a more meaningful ways. They are often referred to as photo essays. Publications such as LIFE were famous for this type of storytelling. The narrative is brought to life through a sequential series of photographs captured over time; following world events, famous individuals or cultural phenomena.

The ability to tell stories is one of the oldest means of conveying information from one person to another. A moment cannot tell a story and I wonder if people refer to their photography as storytelling to give it more significance than it deserves. Why do so many people do this? Why did I?

I did it because I didn’t fully appreciate what storytelling actually meant. I also felt like I needed the crutch of storytelling to give my photography some degree of gravitas. It was superficial and inauthentic.   

A single moment can carry significant emotional weight. A decisive moment captured by a photographer can be meaningful and move you to tears or raise you to the heights of joy. The moment is simply that; a powerful moment. The moment is not the story and the story is not the moment.

We need to be conscious of is how we attach our own stories to the images we see. The photographer’s intention may be very different to your interpretation of an image and its message. This is another reason why photography, in essence, is not storytelling – novelists create characters and scenarios with the aims of pushing the characters forward through the narrative itself. A single photograph cannot do this but it can show you the decisive moment in all its majesty.

We are in a golden age of storytelling and it is largely due to the power of digital platforms. Photography has been completely democratized and decentralized. Contemporary society is better recorded than any other time in our history as a species. As photographers, I believe that we have a responsibility to tell better stories through the photos we take.

A photograph cannot tell a story, but photographs can.

Why Instagrammers Should Write More by Deen Schroeder

I have been using Instagram for about 4 years now and in the last year, it has transformed into something that I invest a lot of time and effort into. What used to be a place for “cool” images coupled with witty captions and terribly lame jokes has become a place for me to explore my love affair with photography. The urge to post silly puns and bad jokes was probably the result of the amount of time I used to spend on Twitter where silliness and wit was celebrated. Looking back at my Instagram feed from 4 years ago, it is kind of embarrassing.

The purpose of this post is to explain why I think Instagrammers should start writing more substantial captions and not rely solely on the quality of the imagery to push your personal brand and other brands. This is my opinion but it is from the perspective of a marketer that understands both sides of the influencer conversation.

I have watched many videos, read many articles and chatted to content creators that spend an inordinate amount of time refining their Instagram profiles and personas in order to make their accounts more attractive to brands in the hopes that brand partnerships will emerge and the money will flow. Instagrammers also spend a massive amount of time tweaking and refining their photography and editing styles. They seek out gimmicks that may distinguish their accounts from the rest of the millions of people on the platform. And they painstakingly look at their Instagram feed to ensure that it seamlessly flows in some coherent and meaningful way.

But how long do Instagrammers spend crafting captions?

Many Instagrammers would argue that their images are visual stories in their own regard and that most people spend time looking at beautiful images rather than reading captions. I do agree that people are far more visually inclined, but at the same time, how do we truly engage audiences through pretty pictures. Instagrammers that have done massive brand collaborations tend to be quite specific about the creative freedom that they have in the way they visually portray the brand, but those same people spend about 30 seconds crafting a caption that really doesn’t say that much beyond the branded hashtags and brand mentions.

Is this driving the right actions? And is there actual value for the client in this approach?

I don’t think that this is enough because fundamentally pretty pictures that are not overtly branded will not drive brand awareness in audiences and does not lend itself to brand resonance. (Brand resonance refers to how well a brand message resonates with a specific target audience and their ability to recall the messaging in that piece of advertising).  A picture of a beautiful landscape will tempt my wanderlust but where exactly did you take that photograph and how would the company that paid for this post get me closer to that exact experience. How does a moody portrait in an abandoned building tempt me into buying the sneakers? And how does a clothing brand benefit when an editing style overwhelms the colours of the actual garment?

This is why I think Instagrammers should start writing. Captions can add so much context to images and if you spend time crafting well-worded copy, you can activate your audiences in meaningful ways. You have 2 200 characters to play with on Instagram which means that you really can go wild. And if the prevailing thought about people not reading captions is true, then why do we include instructions for campaigns in the captions, what is the point of hashtags and fundamentally where is the value to the brand and the audience.

Not every photographer is a writer but you do not need to craft the best captions in the world. I can speak from personal experience that if you start writing more, people will start engaging with your photographs in new and often wonderful ways. When it comes to brand work, more people will actually read your captions, there is a higher chance that they will engage with the brand messages and in turn, drive much higher brand resonance.

This it just my opinion on Instagram and how I think aspiring Instagrammers should approach their content in order to increase relevance for the brands that they work with. 

Lesser Known Somebodies by Deen Schroeder

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with my good friend Simmi Areff to chat about photography and Instagram on Africa's 8th best podcast - Lesser Known Somebodies. We have best friends for over a decade and been on numerous adventures of varying degrees of ridiculousness. In this podcast we chat about my Instagram journey from my very first post, to why Instagram is happier than Twitter,  exploration of Johannesburg, the Breadcrumbs Squad, my mom, Parkour, stunt work and a whole lot more. 

Simmi has created a really great podcast series in which he chats to really interesting people about their most passionate pursuits. I only got onto the podcast because I pulled the friendship card on him. Subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast and enjoy Africa's 8th best podcast.