The camera & I

In this article, I reflect on the peculiar role that a vintage camera played in transforming a hobby into a life mission and learning journey that continues to attract unexpected twists and turns.

The time capsule

I honestly can't remember what prompted me to buy it in the first place, but I do remember it took quite a while to arrive from California. I would soon discover many charming sides of going retro: the thrill of the wait, where "weeks" was the currency for time, and the mood of the lab – one of only two in Toronto still processing Super 8mm film at the time – the timekeeper. It's the kind of wait that generations here today and still to come may never know.

I found it on eBay. An early production Canon Auto Zoom 814, which is a steel and leather adorned feat of rugged engineering that chews through 50-foot cartridges of silent film as quickly as the cash it takes to feed the habit. Because I wasn't even born when this camera was manufactured in the late ‘60s, I decided I would use the transit time to get “acclimatized” to the format and the era that gave birth to it.

Dog-eared pages

It started with a book, something I stumbled upon in the basement of a surplus bookstore that would have an unexpected impact on my worldview: Amos Vogel’s “Film as Subversive Art.” It was a veritable encyclopedia of influential and sometimes obscure avant-garde films, including some of the first ever moving pictures from the turn of the 19th Century. For me, a new acquaintance to the history of cinema, Vogel’s accounts blew my mind – not solely for what was said about the films themselves, but also for the context that surrounded them.

He described how technology, film and political expression moved in lockstep – how at times modes of filmic storytelling reflected reality and at times served to change it. It was a page-turner that awoken this film newbie to the wonderfully interconnected world of art, technology, politics and culture.

Other books quickly followed. I also found myself dusting off forgotten films from dark corners of video stores, which unbeknownst to many of the Blockbuster and Netflix generation – myself included – were the forefathers of modern cinema. I was moved, shocked, and so often surprised by how inventive and daring early film pioneers were by contemporary standards.

The fast crawl

I suppose I wasn’t a total foreigner to lens-based contraptions. I recall cultivating an interest in photography at a young age and still remember one particular morning while on a family vacation, when I snuck out to catch the sun rising over lake Okanagan in my native province of British Columbia; my dad’s old Nikon in tow. The photo that started it all was a lucky grab-shot taken that very morning.

One still frame, bathed in perfect light and shadow, sparked a fascination in the storytelling potential of this two-dimensional medium. And if a picture is worth a thousand words as they say, how many more layers of meaning, feeling and impact could be injected with the addition of motion, sound and words themselves?

Once my camera arrived, a more contemporary model soon followed and “that old school camera” – as my bemused friends on the other side of the lens would call it – became my default travel companion. Along with pocket audio recorders I’d use to augment my silent filming, I would capture and cut together little stories about moments, big and small, in the lives of people around me.

Today, I’m shooting on modern high definition DSLRs that are capable of doing more than I ever imagined possible with consumer-grade technology. I’m editing projects on software that is planetary leaps ahead of my early high school camcorder forays, which saw me stitching VHS frames together with multiple VCRs. And while I never went to film school or had formal training of the sort, I feel like I’ve found a seat in class among the simply awesome community of bloggers, hobbyists and industry trailblazers eager and generous enough to share their experiences and learning online.

Worlds collide

Today’s renaissance in amateur and guerrilla filmmaking is like an unwritten chapter from Vogel’s book, where technological advances are sparking, or perhaps just providing a missing outlet for latent creative talent. “Subversion” rears its head in the form of ever more creative approaches for telling ever more diverse stories, through the eyes of ever more unexpected creators.

I've spent the last decade of my life as a consultant and entrepreneur, exercising lessons from a pair of business degrees to guide companies along more environmentally and socially responsible paths. My parallel interest in film – as the law of attraction would have it – put me on a collision course with talented visual communicators and kindred spirits who I’m now finding ways to collaborate with professionally.

Almost without me noticing, film has become more than just a pastime, and it seems many others are sharing the same affliction. Every time I hear the genuine wonderment in the voice behind a shaky YouTube test video, or swap gear through Craigslist and catch the twinkle of excitement in the eye of a fellow shooter – foreshadowing hours of play to come – I can't help but think how lucky I am to be part of this truly seismic shift in the democratization of visual storytelling.

For me, it curiously took taking a technological leap backwards. But on the winding path that often leads to life’s best adventures, I can't imagine scripting it any other way.