I’m Laura, also known as @hassywonderland on Instagram and this is an introduction to me and my journey through photography that’s led to my current style of shooting analogue. It’s also my first article so expect a bit of colour, a touch of humour and a LOT of words.
My photography beginning is in the days before digital. My first camera was one that took 110 film, the easiest of all the films, open the back, throw it in and bob’s your uncle. At some point I also remember having a build your own pinhole camera kit with small bottles of chemicals and everything but it was totally impossible to make the little 3 inch piece of flimsy red film fit over the 3ft strip light in my parents bathroom so it was a bit of a non starter. But the 110 film camera did the job just fine for me. Later I remember buying a 35mm camera with my own money from Argos in Meadowhall, which I then accidentally left in a bag at an information point. Luckily it was still there when I realised I’d forgotten it, although it had been opened and inspected in a minor bomb alert, thankfully they hadn’t blown it up in the process.
I remember photographing absolutely EVERYTHING, nothing of any sort of artistic value but I loved it. Starting with that 110 camera i’ve had a camera of sorts in my hand ever since, whether it be a shitty little disposable, a point and shoot, an SLR or all the way to my current set up of a hasselblad and a phone. I would never consider going on holiday without documenting every mundane detail and waiting impatiently for the photos to come back from the developers to re-live it all again, with a few ‘what the fuck is that’s’ thrown in for good measure.
Back in the 80’s/90’s living in South Yorkshire there was no part of me that thought of forging a career in photography but I knew it was something I had a passion for even back then. I got really close to the idea of photography as a career in secondary school when I had to do a couple of weeks of work experience. I had to choose from a number of options arranged by the school and be given a placement. My first placements didn’t work out so I was briefly allowed to organise my own and I made arrangements to spend time with two professional photographers in Barnsley. I was very excited, although I remember one of them had a bit of an arsehole vibe going on but I loved the idea of learning more about photography. As fate would have it the school rearranged my placements and I was shipped off to an office instead for clerical work. I often wonder about what would have happened if i’d insisted on going to the photographers and whether i’d have made a career of it, but I just kind of accepted it and moved on.
It was in the late 90’s that I was given my first digital compact camera, I hadn’t even heard of digital. It had a tiny screen on the back of it and I was mesmerized by the idea of seeing my pictures as I took them and not having to wait to get them developed, I was sold! Even though home computers and printers were a bit shit at the time, it didn’t matter, I could print my own photos at home, it was the future!
I’d pursued office work after school which led me to a job at the local police force. For a while I’d wanted to get out of office work and into something different and it was there that I found the opportunity and became a scenes of crime officer (CSI to most people). As part of the role I was sent for specialist training, including crime scene photography and theory. I absolutely loved it, not so much the colour wheel shit, but the actual photograph taking, which at that time was still on film. We learned all about 35mm, using manual settings, depth of field, painting with flash and all sorts of cool shit. It was fucking awesome! For the next few years I was using photography as part of my job and I felt so privileged. After a while we changed from 35mm film into digital and faced the challenges it brought in terms of criminal evidence. Obviously no changing images in any way and you had to document every image you took, including the ones you forgot to take the lens cap off for!
Around the same time I bought my first digital SLR (a proper camera as I was calling it) a Canon 30d. I loved to bounce around the UK photographing landscapes and anything I could. I also did a lot of club photography, adding an off camera flash and playing around with light trails with all the funky lights and lasers. I had that 30d for about 8 years, developing my style and gained a taste for landscape photography, watching my images progress hugely in that time. That’s the thing about photography, i’m no guru but I will say this, you do not need every new update, every piece of new gear, 20 lenses at every length and a new camera every 2 years. If you have passion for something, all of that shit doesn’t matter, you will see a progression in your work, you will improve, just keep at it.
After several years of being a hobbyist photographer I decided to take a risk and open my own bricks and mortar shop. With the help of the Prince’s Trust and family I opened Pink Power Photography & Gifts. It really was quite the experience, if a little soul destroying at times to watch people come in, look at your stuff and walk out again seemingly uninterested or even worse, the ones that stand there in front of you and say “I could take that”. Let me tell you the temptation to tell someone to fuck off and do just that was always a high risk. But in the end it was not meant to be and if anything I was a little relieved when I closed the shop down. You don’t really get much time to go out and take photographs when you’re working 7 days a week but I gave it my all and I’ve taken a lot from it that i’ve used again in life so i’ve no regrets there.
At some point I discovered lomography and I was enchanted once again at the idea of revisiting film and the creative fun cameras available. I tried a few of them, from a point and shoot that had 4 lenses, the one you pull a string and the head does a 360 spin, a build it yourself twin lens jobby to the Diana F+ and that’s the one that really turned my head back to film and all it’s glory. I was particularly into this trend of using out of date film, cross developing and all that jazz. I loved the creative side of it, that it wasn’t just about taking pretty perfect photos but that there was this weirdness and imperfection to it that I resonated with.
So with spare time to think for the first time in a couple of years and nothing better to do with myself I decided that I should punish myself further and enrolled at the local college to do a 2 year HND in commercial photography, the idea being that maybe with a qualification to back up the experience and passion maybe i’d be able to get a job in a studio or something. Just before starting the course, in February 2013 we went to Iceland on holiday. We rented a car and booked a few hotels around the country with the plan of driving around and taking a million photos, and hopefully see northern lights. I bought my first real tripod for the occasion, manfrotto titanium beast that was light enough to travel but sturdy enough for the arctic, including a swivelly ball head (I still use this tripod today).
The holiday did not disappoint, after driving around 4,000km, taking 3,000 photos, seeing the northern lights a few times and being proposed to in the middle of it all, i’d say it changed everything because not long after returning home we decided that we loved Iceland so much that we would love to try and live there. The plan quickly became that we would save up, prepare and move to Iceland after i’d finished the HND and we would see if we could make it for one year, that was the goal, then see what happens.
On starting the HND my favourite genre of photography was landscapes but I also had a thing about still life. I absolutely LOVE creative advertising, especially in print, my biggest inspiration being anything printed in Lurzer’s Archive. I’ve never been into portrait or wedding photography, tried it, hated it, I’m just not into people photography. So beginning this course I focussed more on the still life aspect as I thought it was the most marketable overall for me.
I learned SO much, the tutors were amazing and in honesty I came in with a bit of a know it all attitude, but that soon got knocked out of me when I realised how much I didn’t know. The top most valuable thing I gained was darkroom knowledge. I’d never developed film before and I learned all about black and white film development as well as darkroom printing. I loved it, I wanted to spend all my time in that sweaty smelly box, I couldn’t get enough of it. I was enjoying 35mm but quickly wanted to jump into medium format but the tutor told me I needed to learn how to walk before I could run. After fluffing the reel load of the bigger negatives a few times I soon realised he wasn’t wrong and so medium format took a bit of a back burner for a while. It was during this time that I upgraded my dusty old 30d to the beautiful 5d mark 3 and I was amazed by the sharpness more than anything. I also bought the Canon 100mm macro lens, oh it’s a thing of beauty and is to this day my favourite lens of all time. At one point I was using it on an old 35mm canon 5 that i’d picked up locally for a fiver with some really cool results.
On occasion I like to try my luck at photography competitions, some hit and misses, but it was a national photography competition with London Camera Exchange that changed everything. It was a christmas theme and I entered with a still life photo and was awarded second prize, I was ecstatic! My prize was a fuji X-pro 1 camera but with just having bought the 5d I didn’t need another digital and decided to sell it and finally jump head first into medium format, this time with a real medium format camera instead of the plastic lomo diana i’d loved to death.
On research and the word of my tutor I decided upon the hasselblad 500cm and I went about finding one for around the price of what I got for the fuji. I was very lucky to find one in relatively good condition and it came with the standard 80mm lens, some wear and tear but in good working order and oh, what a thing of pure joy and beauty it was. There is nothing quite like the sound of the heavy clunk of the shutter on this thing. But I didn’t get very far with using the hasselblad straight away, instead spending more time on digital and 35mm for the course.
As time was ticking on we were increasingly nervous about the big move to Iceland and so when the opportunity came to convert the HND into a fully fledged photography degree by adding one more year at university we decided to go for that (with a little bit of scared relief if i’m honest). So I finished the HND and moved straight into another year with a different university, leaving with a first class degree in commercial photography.
Then it was time for the big adventure of moving to Iceland. All energy went into finding our feet, which we managed rather successfully as it happens, a shock to no one more than us! All this time hassy was sat on a shelf, unused and dusty, that is until a stubborn little instagram bet got her off the shelf again. I took hassy out for a spin in the wild, developed the film and was really happy with the results and this spurred me on to keep going (and of course the stubborn need to win the bet, which I did) and I’ve not put hassy down since. For the record the bet was with a friend on who could build a bigger instagram following in a year based on marketing versus skill (him believing marketing matters more than quality of photos and me telling him he’s off his tits, the photos matter, which is when @hassywonderland was born).
Present day and I no longer use the 5d, even so far as recently deciding to stop pretending i’m ever going to go back to it and deciding to devote myself totally to hassy. In terms of digital all I use now is my phone, which I take photos daily with for various reasons. I’m still building on the Instagram page and looking back through that I can see such a clear progression from the last 4 years especially since being in Iceland.
I’ve also incorporated photos on there taken of hassy with my phone, which in itself has been a bit of a journey of stubborn for me as i’ve always been rather snobbish on my position about phone photography, fighting against its existence and place in photography in general. I’ve come to terms with it now and how it fits into my photography ideals, we’ve made friends, finally.
I’ve even started printing again in the last year, sourcing an old Minolta enlarger and making a darkroom in my laundry room, which is taking me back to the dark sweaty box at college and loving it. I’ve just invested in a 180mm lens for the hassy and I can’t wait to see it in action, the idea was to replicate my beloved 100mm macro and this seems pretty close so i’m happy with that. Although i’m 100% into the black and white film i’m starting to think about shooting a bit of colour and learning how to develop that but there’s no rush, i’m in this for life now. I feel like i’ve come full circle and back to the beginning again, to analogue. I might not have made a career out of photography but i’m more than content in having this wonderful hobby in something i’ve had a love for from an early age and can’t ever see me falling out of love with.
Oh and we made the one year goal of being in Iceland, 4 years and counting!