The love of my life

There are few things in the world that make me happy the way photography does. Writing and photography, those are my passions.

In these days of having a camera on every smart phone, with the technology getting more and more advanced as the years go by, as well as the affordability of intro-level DSLRs,  anyone can call themselves a photographer.

I have been in awe of cameras and film and photographs for as long as I can remember. I always tried to have one of those cruddy little disposable cameras with me at any given time, and was given a little point and shoot one Christmas that I used until it broke. I loved it.

In Grade 10, I was introduced to the SLR camera and the wonders that is the darkroom. My high school had this tiny little darkroom in the art room that needed a long board leaned against the door to fully block out the light. There was a handful of film SLRs to share around and the teacher controlled just how much film and photo paper we got to use. We were only allowed to use 8X10s that were cut into fours.

It was amazing.

The photos I took back then were not great. We were taught about the rule of thirds and depth of field and all that, but honestly, I just loved developing the negatives and watching those terrible photos come to life in the developer.

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The view from my bedroom window, circa 1996.

Since that course was only offered for one term in one year, I didn’t have much to do with darkroom photography after that. Instead I bought cheap film cameras and took terrible pictures of my friends at Halloween parties and on road trips and just other random shit. The anticipation of taking that film to a photo lab and waiting in agony for an hour to see how the photos turned out, or didn’t turn out, was often the highlight of my day.

I always had some kind of camera with me. I snuck one of those drop-film cameras into my first ever arena concert and managed to take an insane close up of Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace when he came to our section during the encore.

I would sneak that little camera into many concerts after that night. Some people try to get weed or booze into shows—I smuggled in cameras.

It was right around that time in university that I made the decision to switch programs. I went from Liberal Arts with a focus on English to Fine Arts with a focus on—you guessed it—photography.

I purchased my first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel 2000, from London Drugs that was on sale because the model was being discontinued. It was a huge step up from the completely manual SLR I’d used in high school. The photos I took with it still weren’t great, but for the next couple years I studied and researched and practiced techniques to make myself better. I trained my eye to see the best angle and perspective for an image and learned how to use the priority and manual settings, the proper ISO and to use the ambient light as well as studio light.

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One of the first photos I ever developed in the darkroom at university. Self-portrait with ambient light from the prehistoric laptop, circa 2004.

I sought out photography exhibits and read up on other photographers—Cindy Sherman, Ed Burtynsky, Robert Mapplethorpe, Barbara Krueger, Richard Avedon to name a few. An exhibition of Katharina Sieverding’s self portraits at MoMA PS1 in New York City influenced the remainder of my intro year.

Images like this:

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Detail of ‘Stauffenbergblock I-XVI’ by Czech-born German artist Katharina Sieverding.

Lead me to try this:

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Solarized self-portrait, one of seven, circa 2004, by Aleisha Hendry.

The technique is called solarizing, where using a high contrast image, a print is exposed to light once it begins to develop in the chemical. It’s completely random—some turn out sharp like this one, others are milky and others only solarize halfway.

This all led to medium format film, multiple exposures on a single paper, cyanotypes, fibre paper, and more. I could get my film from the case into the developing canister fast than anyone, and eventually I knew exactly what filter was necessary for a print just by looking at the contact sheet. My hands perpetually stank like darkroom chemicals from pulling all nighters and I didn’t even care. I loved it that much.

In my final year, the curriculum made the jump to digital photography. I bought my first DSLR that year, a Canon Rebel XT. A fairly decent beginner-level DSLR at the time and similar to the SLR I already had. I used that camera for something like six years—finishing off my BFA and then into my career as a journalist—until it stopped holding a charge and was considered too old and outdated to bother repairing. Cameras like that can’t to be used as frequently as I did as a photojournalist and expect to last.

From there it was researching some slightly higher-end intermediate-level DSLRs. I wanted something of decent quality, not just something that was on sale. I finally settled on the Nikon D7000.

Oh, it was love at first shot.

The screen was larger, the film speed was better, and the battery lasted what felt like forever. This camera became an extension of my being, like part of my arm or my eye. I shot photos of everyday life, concerts, meetings, artists, sports, everything. It came with me everywhere.

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Billy Talent’s Benjamin Kowalewicz at the Encana Events Centre in Dawson Creek in 2013, by Aleisha Hendry

And then it was taken from me.

I stupidly left my vehicle unlocked while staying overnight in a town I no longer recognize as existing and someone helped themselves to it.

I felt like a hole had been punched right through my soul.

I’m fortunate that a co-worker had a similar model, the D7100, that he was looking to sell and gave me a really good deal. It was pretty damn similar, but it took a long time to feel like it was MY camera.

And then my tenure as a journalist came to an abrupt end. Suddenly I wasn’t keeping an eye out for a great photo or covering an event on a daily basis. It was…unsettling.

I was in a very dark place for awhile. Things that I had loved didn’t seem worth it anymore. I left my camera in its bag by the front hall closet for five months.

Let that sink in: Going from taking dozens to hundreds of photos a day for a decade to taking none. What I thought was my reason for being was gone. So I shut myself away and tried to ignore the void that had developed, no pun intended.

Finally, after re-evaluating life and starting on a completely different career path, I had two moments where I’d thought “why the FUCK isn’t my camera on the front seat?!”

See, I grew up in the Rocky Mountain trench and wildlife was always in abundance, so taking pictures of those animals as I saw them had become second nature. Bears, elk, moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, deer, birds, etc. I’ve got photos of them all.

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Stellar Jay, Bijoux Falls, circa 2012, by Aleisha Hendry.

But one late afternoon on my drive back to town I saw something I’d only ever seen once before in real life. On the side of the highway, was a wolf. Not a big dog, not a coyote, an actual wolf. I nearly slammed on the brakes and reached for my camera just on instinct, but it wasn’t there. It was back home where it had been for months.

The second incident was on the drive to another site, taking a winding narrow logging road in the middle of nowhere. I came around the corner and thought there were some dogs hanging out, but it wasn’t dogs.

It was four lynx. Actual, living, breathing, honest-to-god elusive-as-fuck lynx. My guess was a mother and three offspring. When I came around the corner they made their way over the snow bank on the side of the road and into the trees, but one of the little ones stopped and stared at me, much like my own cat does.

I silently screamed that I didn’t have my camera, as that little one sat still long enough for it to be a beautiful shot. Then it got up and followed its family.

I feel like that was what French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson would call a ‘decisive moment.’ He said “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

And thus, it became time to shake off the cobwebs and start shooting again.

I went and purchased a new memory card and held my camera for the first time in months. It felt good. Like, INSANELY good. I’ve missed it, so very much.

So maybe expect some photo posts from me in the near future? I may not be on assignment anymore, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments in time for me to capture once again.

-A.

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