Digital cameras are easy. iPhones are easier. Consider either one 20 years ago and minds would inevitably be blown. Instant photo review, the ability to take thousands of photos without changing a card or battery, and then the option to instantly review and share each one.
But despite all these advances, sometimes technology sucks the fun out of photography.
My first run-in with a film camera was in grade 5. I was on a camping trip with my class and my parents had given me a disposable camera to document the trip with. I remember scenes from that trip – the foggy summit of Mount Carleton, the dark and sawdust-filled workshop of a canoe craftsman – and I remember contemplating each shot. Was this scene worth one of the 27 shots on my camera? And I remember the mystery of the process, too. I didn’t get my photos back until after my trip had ended. Even then, I had to wait the better part of a day to see what shots came out.
Those photos are tucked away in a closet somewhere, still. I can't entirely remember what each shot was, but I remember the feeling that little camera gave me. While I held a number of other cameras in the years after that trip, it would be a long time until I felt that way about a camera again.
That camera was a Nikon FM: all manual, no battery required. No auto setting, no autofocus. It was my last summer at home, I had just been hired as photo editor of the Brunswickan and through reading as much as I could about photography, I learned film was going through a bit of a renaissance. I was intrigued and wanted to try it out for myself.
I scoured local listings until I found it – a 70’s Nikon FM, all chrome with a 50mm lens. It would be a few days before I put any film in it, but the camera itself felt like nothing I’d held before. The weight of its all-metal body, the clack of the shutter and the way the image pulled into focus in the viewfinder. I took that Nikon with me every day to work and on weekend hikes, I’d never wanted to shoot so much in my life and I couldn't wait to see what shots came out.
The first roll I got back was mostly black.
Due to the age of the camera (and that it had sat unused) the shutter and mirror weren’t in sync, so it only worked about ¼ of the time. Some images even came out half-exposed. It was disappointing, but I’ve now learned this is part of film’s charm. Sometimes, things won’t go as planned, and sometimes, those shots are the most beautiful.
Since then, I’ve adopted a Pentax K1000 I found in the office of the Brunswickan. It wears a strap I found at my grandmother’s house, once attached to my grandfather’s camera. The body shows all the brassing of a well-used machine and is marked with dents from drops, falls and bumps it sustained before (and after) coming into my life.
This past spring, I decided to leave my digital camera at home and document a trip to Quebec City on film and iPhone. If none of my film pictures came out, at the very least I’d have some selfies and food pictures to show for it. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but when I finally began scanning the photos, months later, I was thrilled.
Delayed gratification is a big part of film photography. Especially today, as 1-hour labs are all but extinct, many photographers settle for mailing their photos out to bigger centers. For photographers like me, that means you may not see your photos for months after you’ve taken them (since you want to mail as much film at once as you can.)
It’s annoying to see dozens of photos sitting in metal cans on a desk, but I’ve come to see it like reopening a journal. You begin to forget about the images, the moments you were in and what you saw. But when scanning the images months later, each frame pulls you back to the snap of the shutter.
Despite the resurgence, film and film labs can still be hard to come by and aren't cheap by any means. But after seeing my camera sit on a shelf for months, I'm starting to feel the itch again. Until the next roll comes in, though, enjoy this film flashback with me.
Moving from a province with a population of 753,000 to a city of 1.6 million has been a bit surreal. But ignore the towering rows of apartment blocks and the tree-lined streets and quiet sidewalks of our neighborhood wouldn’t look out of place back home – with some sign translations of course.
Hop on a city bus, though, and you step off into the middle of the packed downtown core. Pedestrian-only* streets are almost shoulder-to-shoulder at peak times. Choosing a restaurant, store or coffee shop can immediately set off a feeling of choice paralysis. Markets bustle, packed with everything from hanboks (traditional Korean dresses) to sundae (blood sausage stuffed with noodles), spices, and housewares.
All this to say, there are lots of moments to take photos of, even if I haven’t been taking my camera out as often as I might like. Keep scrolling and check out a few black-and-white shots omitted from the last post, and a few taken in the week since.
*dodging scooters is a key skill for any downtown excursion.
This Monday marked three weeks for Brianna and I in Korea. It feels a little surreal to type that, seeing as it simultaneously feels like it’s only been a week, and like we’ve been here for months. For those of you who follow my personal Facebook, you’ve seen a steady stream of food pics and adventures, but I thought it was high time I update the blog.
We flew from Halifax to New York, to Atlanta, to Seoul, which was a 15-hour flight. Upon landing in Seoul, we still had a three-hour bus ride ahead of us. All said and done, we were in transit for close to 26 hours. PHEW.
I spent much of the first week shaking off jet lag. A 12-hour time difference meant my body would be crashing in the middle of the afternoon, thinking it was the early hours of the morning. Navigating grocery stores, figuring out how to get rid of garbage (special, neighbourhood-specific bags!) and becoming acclimatized to the new sights and smells also kept me sleeping plenty.
That Friday, we started work – a light introduction day made up of games and shaking dozens of kids hands. I would be teaching a mix of kids from 5 year olds in kindergarten to grade 5’s. One thing to note is that Korean ages are actually a year older than global ages – everyone is 1 immediately at birth. This means those 5 year olds are actually 4, and the 4 year olds Brianna would be teaching are 3.
The first full week of work felt like a whirlwind: learning (and being confused by) different schedules, what class is using which book, where they are in that book and getting used to using my 'teacher's voice.' We spent that Saturday exploring Gwangju, mainly the restaurant-packed area near Chonnam University.
We grabbed some Japanese food, then checked out the dozens of little clothing shops scattered through the district. We wrapped up the night with a bubble tea and some people watching before hopping on the bus home. The bus probably the most convinient way to get around. Most trips are 1,250 won with a pass card (about $1.35) and every bus we've taken runs every 10-20 minutes. Taxis are more expensive, costing about 8,000-15,000 to get from our neighborhood to downtown, but still quite reasonable for a 20-30 minute ride.
The second week was our first full week of classes. We would be adding 2-3 kindergarten classes per day to our schedule, which meant learning another curriculum and finding some new classrooms. It can be difficult to go from singing to kids who only have a word or two in their vocabulary to teaching grammar and sentence structure, but it keeps the day varied and interesting. We also started a 6-week Korean class at the local international centre to get us beyond 'annyeonghaseyo' and 'kamsahamnida.'
We also spent time organizing a trip next month. Between Chuseok (Korea's harvest holiday), Hangeul Proclamation and Armed Forces Day, we have the first week of October off. To make the most of it, we're heading south to Yeosu and Suncheon. Yeosu is known for its seafood and beautiful views, while Suncheon has a sprawling nature park and man-made garden. Booking busses required the help of our coworkers, but despite a little confusion, we're excited to see more of the country.
Last weekend, we ventured up to 5.18 Memorial Park, just 20 minutes by bus from our apartment. The park commemorates the hundreds of lives lost during the May 18th, 1980 protest against the authoritarian government. Though the demonstration was violently put down, South Korea's appetite for democracy remained, and in 1988, the country saw a new constitution and free elections.
The park is serene. At its highest point is a colourful temple, as well as an observation tower with 360 degree views of the nearby business district and Mudeungsan mountain further off in the distance. There's also winding walking trails, outdoor gyms, ample green grass for picnics and statues commemorating the sacrifices made by the protestors.
There's still so much to do (and so many foods to eat) here. But we've settled into a nice daily routine, are getting our Alien Registration Cards soon (meaning we can finally get bank accounts and phone plans!) and have some awesome adventures planned.
Next week, I'll be showing off some more of my favourite shots from the walk to work, and all around the streets of Gwangju.
To celebrate New Brunswick day, I’ve gone through my archive to dig up some of my favourite shots of the province I call home to share with you. It's also serving as a little farewell since I'm taking off for Korea in less than a month and have no idea where I'll end up when I'm back in Canada.
New Brunswick gets a bad rap as a drive-through province, but if you know where to look, it becomes nothing short of magical. Morning fog quietly shrouding the Saint John river, an expanse of stars over a canopy of trees in Fundy National Park, the cotton candy clouds of a midsummer sunset, the bright colours of fireworks and fall leaves or just the quiet, cozy refuge of a coffee shop in downtown Fredericton, these are the moments I’ve been documenting ever since I laid hands on a camera.
As a New Brunswick day special, I’ve knocked back prices on all prints in my store for the rest of the week – making it that much easier to get a little bit of the picture province on your walls.
Have a safe and happy New Brunswick day!
So here we are, the final chapter. Life has been hectic lately: we're moving out this weekend. I spent the other night wrestling a couch off a balcony, up a flight of stairs, back down and out to the curb after it didn't fit through a doorway. Time to write, therefore, is a nice break from packing, lifting and sweating.
If this is the first post you're reading, make sure to read up on the first three parts:
When we left off last time, we were making our way through the strait of Corfu, on our way to the island's main city by the same name. A short nap, a few snacks and a Gravol later, we were docked.
We bussed to our hotel in the south of the city, near the airport and unpacked for the umpteenth time. A short while later, we met back with our group to walk to the old town for dinner. The light on Corfu was magical; we walked along the bay towards old town as the evening sun bathed the old Venetian fort in golden light.
Later we arrived at a hole-in-the wall family restaurant with just enough tables to seat the 15 of us. Small in size, the little tavern left us fuller than we had been all month. Steaming hot moussaka, saganaki, and a Greek salad made for an excellent first taste of Greek cuisine.
The next day we walked back into the old town to do some shopping and down a fredo cappuccino or five. By noon, though, the heat had gotten to us and we retreated to the hotel to meet up with the group and head across the island to the beach.
Despite a meandering bus ride (which we barely made it on), we got to the beach with plenty of time before our scheduled pickup. The beach was sandier than others we'd visited so far, the water was perfect and we even found a nearby cafe willing to spot us some ice for our ouzo.
The ride back was quick, thanks to a deal we struck with our bus driver from the day before, and we had just enough time to freshen up for dinner. We took a short walk from the hotel to a park overlooking the water and sat down at a tapas restaurant. Mussels, fresh tomatoes, warm bread, eggplant dip and marinated lamb filled the table and our stomachs. That evening, we took over the hotel patio with the group to enjoy our second-last evening together.
The next morning we were up with the sun to catch a mid-morning flight to Athens. Our hotel was all of an eight minute walk to the departures terminal; it's hard to beat that level of convenience. A quick flight and an hour's bus ride later, we had arrived at our hotel. Not a minute too soon, either: five minutes after we got off the bus, the street we had just been on was filled with people protesting the ongoing garbage strike in the country.
Our hotel was in a rougher part of Athens, exacerbated by a struggling economy and influx of immigrants. We were within walking distance of the Acropolis and the historic Plaka district which we'd be staying in tomorrow and for the rest of the trip, but were still on edge walking back to the hotel after the sun set.
That evening we ate our final group dinner at an open-air family restaurant near the Plaka then sauntered through the streets to a bar with live music. On our way back, we stopped at a bakery to grab something sweet as a nightcap and said our goodbyes to everyone.
The next morning was the first of a few days Brianna and I would have to ourselves and to be honest, they've started to blur together a bit. We spent the first day cabbing across historic Athens to a hotel in the Plaka and spent the afternoon exploring the winding streets of the old neighbourhood, throwing in a visit to a fish spa along the way.
After a restful day (and with fresh feet), we took on the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. It felt surreal to stand at the feet of a structure so saturated in history, to realize that I was in front of a building that has lasted eons and left generations of people as awestruck as I was. Even under repair and clothed in scaffolding, it's an imposing structure.
The heat on the hill was nothing short of oppressive, though, and we hiked down to visit the accompanying Acropolis Museum. The museum brought in a lot of context to what we had seen on the hill. Statues, figures, carvings and relics of daily life filled the museum. Underneath the building's glass floors was the excavation of more ruins, another example of history's inescapable presence in the city.
That evening we escaped the main streets of the Plaka to a more low-key restaurant, then paid a visit to Brettos. Brettos is an old distillery in the heart of the Plaka, known for their huge variety of spirits and very Instagrammable bottle wall.
The next day was our last full day in the city and we made the most of it, with a hike up the hill of the muses, which overlooks the Acropolis, a trip to the National Gardens to cool off and escape the heat, capped off with a rooftop movie with a view of the Acropolis.
Sitting out in the cool evening air, the Acropolis lit up to my left under a crescent moon, it was unbelievable. It's not often you realize a moment will be one of your favourite memories while you're still living in it.
The next morning, we packed our things, hopped in a cab and drove down along the coast to the airport and took off for Canada.
Welcome back! If you haven't read the first two posts yet, go ahead and check them out here:
Out third country was Albania. While we had a rough idea of what to expect in Croatia and Montenegro, Albania was a total unknown. I knew the country had been under a communist dictatorship for almost 50 years and that it struggled with unrest in its transition to a democracy in the '90s. But modern Albania? I had no idea.
The roads in the countryside were about the same as we'd seen in Montenegro, but as we narrowed in on the capital, Tirana, things got crazy. Traffic felt chaotic. Lane markings came and went, as did guardrails. The buildings began to rise around us as we pushed toward the city centre and with each roundabout, I became more and more grateful for our driver.
After making it to our hotel, we met up with a local guide. He advised us that crossing the street requires pedestrians to be much more assertive than we were used to, then we took off on a tour of the capital. Along the way, we stopped at an ancient mosque, the brand-new central square, soaring skyscrapers and construction projects left half-finished, out of money.
Abania is a majority Muslim country, though very few people practice regularly. Despite this, the capital is still host to a massive church and Orthodox cathedral with a towering mosque under construction. For a country that cracked down on religion as strictly as Albania had in the '60s, these massive places of worship were a sharp contrast. After the tour, we decided to make a quick visit to a nearby museum, the House of Leaves.
The House of Leaves was built as a medical facility but under the communist regime, it played host to the headquarters of the Sigurimi, the Albanian secret police. Inside, the building was largely original besides the striking exhibits throughout its halls. Reels of taped conversations lined the walls upstairs, while a room full of camera equipment and recording devices stood as physical evidence of the surveillance the Albanian people were under.
Feeling more attuned to the history of the country we were in, we met the group back at Tirana’s main square and headed to dinner. That evening, we grabbed some drinks at a rotating bar.
The next day we had an early wake-up and a long bus ride to Sarandë. Along the way, we stopped in Gjirokastër, a city whose old town is one of the best examples of Ottoman architecture. The city’s castle holds trophies of war (mostly foreign canons, as well as a captured US T-33 jet) and gives visitors a great view of the surrounding valley. After a quick lunch, we continued on the winding mountain roads to the Blue Eye.
From 50 metres underground, 10-degree water comes surging to the surface and becomes the source of the Bistricë river. The frigid, foot-numbing water was a relief after baking in the sun all afternoon. After a quick swim, we hopped back on the bus and continued to Sarandë.
Sarandë sits on the coast of Albania; from the shore, you can see Corfu on the horizon. We settled in at our hotel, just a shot walk from the beach, then ate at a restaurant right on the water. After the sun set, we spent the evening people-watching along the shore.
The next day, we took a bus to the Butrint Roman Ruins. We arrived early and it felt like we had accidentally stumbled on the ruins on a hike – a stark contrast to the shoulder-to-shoulder experience expected in bigger centres. Of course, the seven tour buses that pulled up as we left told a different story, but it was still surreal to be almost alone with such an interesting piece of history.
That afternoon, we took refuge from the heat back at the hotel before boarding our ferry to Corfu.
That does it for part 3. Check back early next week for the final installment!
Happy Monday! If you haven’t read part 1 yet, start here.
After a week in Croatia, we were excited to fill out passports with more ink and to see some new places. Sunday evening, we met our new group members over dinner and long conversations on our hostel patio.
The next morning, we piled into a private bus and drove along twisty mountain roads to the Montenegro border.
Our first stop in Montenegro was Perast, a small village on the Bay of Kotor. In the middle of the bay sits a church, known as Our Lady of the Rocks. The church is known for it's unconventional construction method: it was built on an artificial island of stones and sunken ships. The full story is fascinating and it was surreal to stand on the island after hearing how it was built.
After Perast, we continued along the bay to Kotor. The town is known for its historic district, which is surrounded by thick fortress walls that extend up the hill behind the city and lead to a fortress that overlooks the bay. The historic town is full of Venetian-styled buildings and narrow streets. As confusing as the streets were at first, we soon got the hang of navigating by landmarks instead of street names.
We took a quick tour of the town before dinner, then gathered in the lounge of our hostel before exploring town at night.
The next day, we took a trip out to Budva, a city on the coast, for some beach time. That evening, we picked up a snack at a bakery then hiked up the fortress walls to the top of the hill. 1,200 metres and 18 minutes later, we were at the top. We watched the last light of the day fade from Kotor as the sun ducked behind the mountains, then headed back down.
As the town grew dark, we grabbed some cheap beer from a corner store and met the rest of the group on the rocky beach outside old town. Looking back up the hill, the lights of the fortress walls rose sharply above the town, while the dark mountains behind it blended into the inky blue sky.
The next day, we packed up again and headed for Albania.
Keep an eye out this week for parts 3 and 4 about Albania and Greece!