I think dad just completed three turns in his grave, or he just shifted slightly. A recent newspaper article put forward that Gen Y’s spend five hours a week taking selfies. A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, taken with a smartphone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. The smartphone must be angled at 45 degrees just above the eye line. It seems that the pose is extremely important; the slight raise of the eyebrow, the sideways smile, the carefully dishevelled hair, the sucked-in cheeks, the pouting lips, the nonchalant tilt of the head. Snap: the perfect selfie but not before filters are applied to blur the outlines, soften colours, or add a sepia tint.
Dad’s era was the Kodak brownie and he only knew of a camera with a lens facing away from you; you would aim the camera at something and then glance down at the viewfinder to finesse the aim. I don’t think he would have enjoyed a selfie camera with the lens facing him. I think I progressed from a brownie box camera to a brownie flash II. I remember turning the camera to either portrait or landscape orientation. We would get our unexposed Kodak black and white film at Koefords; the chemist shop in Melbourne Road. I think we got what was known as 120 film; we would open the back of the camera and attach and wind the film on to the take-up spool, which was the spool the preceding film came on, and then close and wind until the number one appeared in a small window. You would wind on the film after each picture and you could take twelve pictures with each roll. The exposed film would be taken back to Koefords to be sent away for processing. A few weeks later the black and white prints were in a Kodak envelope ready for pick up: And before you left the shop you would breathlessly reach into the envelope to explore your twelve black and whites. Most of the time only about half of the twelve were in focus, well-framed, or respectably exposed. I have some vague memories of aiming our brownie at the three sisters rock formation in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Before leaving Koefords we impatiently leafed through the prints to relive the mcadam family holiday to the Blue Mountains and Sydney. The three sisters were grainy barley visible miniature weathered peaks. And we were puzzled at what could have happened.
Smartphones and their cameras seem to be today’s digital brownie handheld point and shoot camera; though most have high-quality sensors and a host of camera settings and effects that we could have only guessed at in our brownie days. It’s ironic that today’s smartphones made the brownie cameras passe, but it’s back to the future as retro vintage, inspired apps turn our digital snaps into cool sepia-tinted artifacts with damaged split edges: our selfies are a charming collection of over and underexposed out of focus photos, that belong in a second-hand shop shoebox, or in a Kodak envelope from Koefords chemist shop. But we don’t print our photo’s any more; we upload, to Facebook, to Instagram, and Pinterest and assign each selfie a hashtag so it can be re-tweeted and tagged and shared. We don’t seem to take vacation or travel photos anymore; today’s panoramas just become the background for selfies.
Dad quickly migrated from sharpening his photography skills to creating 8mm black and white home movies. I don’t think he had a passion to rekindle the Australian film industry, which unfortunately had become almost non-existent, so he wasn’t interested in thematically reproducing the 1919 movie The Sentimental Bloke; considered one of the greatest silent films, and one of the best Australian movies, instead he took to putting the mcadam family holidays and other mundane activities in the can. And I don’t remember watching any of his silent black and white family epics.
Dad had an 8mm black and white camera, a projector, and a film splicer which he used to join parts of his films together, rejoin broken pieces and add a beginning blank piece of film to existing film to help thread the projector. When splicing his films he would either hold bits of the film up to the light or run it through the projector and mark where to cut to give him the needed segments of film. I remember it as a simple process; he didn’t use white gloves to protect the film, he didn’t attempt to deconstruct a visual narrative and reconstruct it to his own assumptions. And he didn’t experiment with intricate, multi-angle, quick-cut montages of normal and slow-motion images; his movies had a more organic film look. Dad moved on to buying 8mm releases of commercial films; his collection was anchored by Charlie Chaplin, Popeye, and Mickey Mouse: And on picture night the Peel Street kitchen became our own picture theatre. Dad’s movie making and film collecting were on the cusp of television being launched in Australia and his camera, projector, and reels of film would soon end up in a large wooded box in the backyard shed. Sometimes, years later, and without much care, I would hand thread the old Chaplin and Popeye films into dad’s projector and follow the action on the shed walls. I should have shown more care because the sprocket holes became more and more chewed as the sprocket wheels worked hard at pulling the old film through the projector. His film collection, which included the family epics, ended up a tangled jumble on the floor in the shed beside the big wooden box now housing our Hornby train sets.
I don’t know exactly when, but one day his film collection was thrown out. And what would dad be doing now as a home movie maker; it seems that every smartphone and tablet has a front and rear-facing camera, huge amounts of storage, and awesome processing power. The smartphone and tablet is a travelling movie studio; dad’s 8mm camera, film splicer and projector would be in his pocket. He would have downloaded and installed an assortment of apps so that he could add Super 8 texture, grain, scratches climbing the screen, and noise to give his digital HD video his own unique organic film look. And the Peel Street kitchen wall of yesterday would be today’s YouTube and Vimeo.
I only have a few old black and white pictures of me as a very small boy, some of my Australian life in the late seventies, and a meagre spattering of me at other random times. I can remember many times over the last several decades spending a whole day without taking pictures of anything. Maybe I should start tweeting selfies of myself with my shirt off just to see how many thumbs up I will collect.
#natural construction of self