film {and the beginners mind}


last week I spent some time falling in love with my hasselblad again.


after shooting film with a good friend in Austin back in April, after spending time in the darkroom developing and printing 4×5 film, after the reminder seeped in once again (always lost then re-found and often triggered by the comforting smell of a darkroom) I came home with the need to dive into my medium format film again.

film is the pause. it’s the methodical breath, the awareness of shaky hands and need for glasses. it’s the dizzying lost feeling of composition and working without a light meter or autofocus. it’s the smack down I need every now and then; the grand reveal of everything you think you understand and still have yet to learn. film is a life unfiltered, raw and exposed. imperfectly human with grain and dusty scanners.

why do I let these things slip away from me? busyness, sure. life and work seems to run on jpgs. this I understand. but I find the importance in showing the flip side, experiencing it and sharing it… because there are lessons in this for me. do I love film because I grew up with film? or do I love it because it feels true to life (life is pretty!) do I love it because it feels like a stand against a processed and filtered and sharpened life? maybe. flip through any magazine now to be inundated by ads. our world runs on pixels. digital images of this era are too perfect. too crisp, too edited, too photoshopped, too far from my reality. humans have a knack for comparisons, for measuring up, for competing, for tracking numbers and followers and likes and being the best… I find it all so tiring. we speak of this a lot at our house, now that social media reigns supreme in the land of tween… our conversations sometimes feel like we’re attempting to rein in the reality of a run away horse, steering it towards the reminders of truth and power (and how those things come not from followers or numbers or likes) but they come from simply being yourself. film provides a respite. with film, you get what you get. and it is what it is. you shoot it because you love it and how it makes you feel, and I find that when I do something for the simple joy of inner happiness, when I do something because it makes me happy… that’s the most true to life genuine experience of being.


this is my son at the kitchen table doing his homework. this moment holds a thousand stories within it, all of which make me love this image not just for composition and indoor lighting, shutter speeds, apertures and ISO’s… but because he too is learning about film. about delayed gratification and film and negatives… how sacred each picture is in the making. he is learning of this pause, this slow down, as I walk him through my process explaining what I’m doing. he knows not to ask to see the image after the shutter sounds “kachunk” with my hasselblad because there is no LCD screen, he sees me winding film and he learns of this process I grew up with (the process many of our children are unaware of.)

In this digital age of instant gratification, we have the ability to shoot off hundreds of images in a day and we all have the ability to delete anything shy of perfect … is this a disservice to our family, our mindset, our quirks that make us all beautifully imperfect humans?

just as I sit with him while he does his homework, we witness each other’s struggles. approaching our lessons with the beginners mind holds value, and I find it’s important for him to see me struggle with learning (and relearning) new skills just as he struggles with the new concepts he’s learning as well. I see this as the gift, the education that comes from knowing you don’t know everything… that learning is endless and can’t be contained within the limits of schooling… to see adults become the student, to see this vulnerability is a gift, a way of stating the obvious: once you think you know it all, you have closed the door on learning anything new. true knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.

Shoshin: this is the beginners mind. it’s what keeps the creativity flowing.



as I read through stories of mentors and folks who inspire, the thing that comforts me most on my path is recognizing this pattern. when life feels stale, when creativity is sluggish, when art and the muse seems to hide from you… what artists seem to do is seek out the beginners mind. pick up a new instrument, tool, camera, paintbrush. try something totally new. start at the bottom with zero and hike your way up the learning curve.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

this is film for me (and making tintypes for that matter) it’s starting from scratch, it’s mistakes and delays and troubleshooting and there’s nothing frantic about it and it’s all that I love. it’s a moment of head scratching “huh?” (like being humbled by Mother Nature while standing in a forest of lush green spring and realizing you just unknowingly shot all that lusciousness on black and white film… it’s being humbled by my camera that brings me back to center.) this is the Zen Buddhist concept of Shoshin, being open and eager for the lessons to arrive.

this place of seeing new and learning new is a good place to be.