Not so Disposable After All

Loss and gain

3 months ago I lost my iPhone and got a retro Nokia. I refused to buy another iPhone, partly because of denial that my other one was truly gone and partly because I had quietly been disliking my attachment and dependence to it. My decision to forgo another contract and downgrade to a cheaper and veritable dinosaur of a phone as a temporary solution to my absent iPhone actually turned out to be a far greater gain than loss. What resulted was a formidable digital detox from Facebook and Instagram and a delightfully unexpected reconnection with film and creativity of a different kind! 

Because my new phone’s camera was so archaic I bought a 27 frame Kodak Instant camera and kept it in my bag. It seemed like a fun and temporary solution.  But this switch has brought a nostalgic form of creativity back to my life. 


 Bringing back the old

Before computers had colour and mobile phones were the stuff of sci fi movies I used to capture my banal childhood memories on film cameras. By the time I would have them processed at the local Kmart lab I had mostly forgotten what I had actually photographed, which made opening the packet to see the shots all the more exciting.  Sometimes it would take me so long to get there the photos were a veritable time capsule.

The beauty of the unexpected

There isn’t often glamour in the photos of disposable film, but there is a quality about instant cameras that can make the most mundane image a little magical.  Solar flares, ghost images and imperfectly wound film creates all sorts of unexpected and delightful effects. Plus there was no pressure for perfection with these snaps. More of mystery picture, shoot and see how it turns out!

No substitute for the tangible

Sure we can use filters on our Insta pics that mimic the effect of processed film but lately I have been wondering how often any of us get around to printing any of the thousands of digital snaps we take on our smart phones. How many of our memories are lost when we loose our phones and is that another reason to upload them to social media, as some kind of back up? Perhaps we will just be left with the low res collection of Facebook albums and Insta accounts as a legacy of the last decade caught with a digital eye.

The difference of film

Unlike digital film, you don’t tend to fidget around with your shot much or take more than one of each subject with a point and shoot camera. The eye hole is small and not very revealing. There is a certain about of guess work to be done. Knowing you are limited to 27 photos you also might start to consider what you want to photograph in advance - musing over the things you really want to capture with your roll. Perhaps a family event, a loved person, a pet will make the list or maybe something completely spontaneous will trump all your plans. I found myself wondering which things I want to remember the most. Sometimes I was surprised at what those things were. Perhaps photographing the plate of food isn’t so vital after all! Or - maybe it is!

And then you are chasing that perfect shot. Perhaps you will find yourself herding your family like goats as I did, trying to get them all looking at the camera and smiling together. And of course over time you could find this is almost impossible. But in the absence of perfection and order, options and control, I found the process of a disposable captures something of the animation of real life in the most beautiful and ephemeral way. 

ps. if you happen to be wondering why I don’t have a photo to accompany my post it is of course, because I haven’t had them processed yet!


Zen and Painting

I remember vividly how my Chinese teacher kept saying “calm down, calm down” while I painted. My energy was indeed frenetic with excitement. Of course I was excited! I was honoured as research scholar, sent to China’s Tianjin University to learn first hand from an esteemed Professor of Art and Architecture, the Head of School no less, to learn the techniques of Chinese landscape painting. They set me up in Professor Dong Ya’s personal studio with his PhD scholar to work every day, all day on the subject that, until this point, I had only studied in theory. Every day I felt like the luckiest person alive and joy bubbled up in me, along with nervous excitement. It didn’t occur to me that in being pumped full of relaxing tea and being urged to calm down I was being given vital advice. That in fact, it was ‘Zen’ that was missing from my painting practice. Despite my quickly advancing technique working with the fugitive ink on rice paper, a tricky thing to master, I was only working on the surface on things. I see that now.

Photograph by Mia Forrest, courtesy of the artist.

Photograph by Mia Forrest, courtesy of the artist.

 Just to clarify, I use the term Zen, which is a Japanese term. However, it was the Chinese Ch’an Buddhist painters from the Northern Sung period that made explicit how they used their painting practice as concentrated meditation. This was later introduced to Japan and ‘Ch’an’ became translated and appropriated as ‘Zen’. Almost a decade later I have come to understand this importance of Zen in my art practice.

I’m not suggesting that one shouldn’t experience delight and joy in the process of making art, far from it. But for the Ch’an Buddhist painters an observed distance of the experience of these and any other emotions is part of the painting process. To feel the self and hear the inner dialogue but to maintain an equilibrium of at once being present in it and simultaneously removed from it.

When approaching the creative act with Zen, there is an opportunity to deepen the benefits of making art. I have begun to glimpse these benefits and indeed my research concentrates on and orients around discovering just how far reaching the benefits of this practice can be. I can see already, and have experienced first hand how it can expand creativity, improve mental, emotional and spiritual health and really do wonders towards ignoring the scathing inner critic that can be so artistically debilitating. But even more so, and I think that the Ch’an and Zen Buddhists were in agreement, this sort of artistic practice can help us reach elevated states of being, lead us to peak experiences and over time even enlightenment.

In contemporary Western art practice, I think we are still yet to fully understand Art and its potential and necessity for us as healthy human beings.  Once again, I feel I may only be touching the surface, but this mystery is what drives my research and practice.

Georgina Hooper