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  • In high school I went to an arts magnet school called VSAA (the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics). Instead of having a homecoming dance to celebrate the first football game of the season, we danced at Fall Ball to mark the opening of a show in the black box theater. There were no sports, but "art form wars" during spirit week, which also marked the opening of a show. There were six art forms with four levels of classes within each. We chose one or two art forms to focus on and took all the levels by the time we were seniors. My focus was photography - specifically focusing on black and white film, which I developed and printed in the VSAA lab. All throughout high school, photography was a very strong and important part of my identity. During the spring of my senior year, I traveled to New Zealand, Australia, and New Caledonia with my Aunt and Uncle. I brought two cameras with me on this trip - an underwater camera and my DSLR. I always had a camera on me, both on land and in the water. One morning while we were there, my Aunt told me that she thought I shouldn't have a camera in front of my face all the time, and that I should stop hiding behind it and interact with the world more directly. At the time, I was angry. Now, years later, I see some wisdom in her words, even if they were a bit extreme. As an amateur photographer, I thought I should be constantly taking photos and, admittedly, it felt safe. I am now searching for the balance which seems very important to me as an artist - one that exists between the calling, almost addiction to, an art form, and the freedom and grounded feeling that comes with being able to sometimes pull away.
    Since that trip, I seem to have found my way over to the other extreme. I don't take nearly as many photos as I used to. With a 35mm film camera, the time I dedicate to taking photos seems sacred and contained because each roll of film allows only 36 exposures. I think I've always felt drawn to film photography because I can feel a connection to each frame. Each frame and subsequent print is backed by intention and patience. This slow, intentional way of making art with images feels real to me. Taking digital photo after digital photo as I did on my trip with my Aunt and Uncle just doesn't satisfy me in the same way. So yes, I'm taking fewer photos, but the time I spend on the images I make fills me up.
    I've been back at my childhood home with my family for the past week for Thanksgiving and I intentionally left my DSLR back in my college town. I brought only a little Polaroid camera as an experiment to see what images I would choose to save with only ten prints per film cartridge. Basic composition in photographs is pretty subconscious and natural to me by now, so you can see a bit of that in my Polaroid photos, but the thing that stands out to me most is family. I took photos of some of the things that I value most in life. While I love working in the darkroom, I don't always have the resources to do so. Polaroids are a way for me to have intention behind each of the ten photos in a cartridge as well as connect with family and friends over the immediate result (print). Still, there's a difference between my intention to make art with a 35mm film camera and a black and white roll of film and my desire to record people and moments that are important to me with the Polaroid. Some of these little snapshots are even taken by other people so that I can be in front of the camera rather than behind it. Those photos are just as important to me because the people I care about have taken them.
    I don't think I have quite found that balance between practicing the photography that I love so much and taking time to enjoy the world and the people I love, without the camera as a filter. I may have wandered too far into one extreme and am not taking enough photos, but that experience has taught me to let go and give up absolute control of the focus and aperture in Polaroid images. I let would-be images slide by every second and I feel free. I hope to someday find myself somewhere in between where I am now and where I was in high school. But for now, I will do what feels right. It might be time for me to develop my skills in drawing and poetry, two other forms of expression that I enjoy, maybe even love.
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