Posted on December 06 2018
Today we are delighted and honoured to be talking to Rachel Brewster-Wright. Many of you will be familiar with her voice as one of the intrepid Sunny16 stars, or seen her nominated as one of the RPS Hundred Heroines - but did you know she also runs a company, has an Etsy shop and is an advocate for encouraging women in STEM?! That's right - a true analogue superhero - and we were curious to find out a little about her path to this prominent position in the community.
Rachel - thank you for talking to us! Let's start with your photographic background, what brought you into the field of visual art?
My Dad was the first person to introduce me to photography, having learnt the trade himself in the RAF, and showed me how to take pinhole photographs when I was about 3 years old. I loved my time at art college in the 90’s, messing around in the darkroom and then went off to university just as the digital revolution really began.
After university I worked in Higher Education for several years running the tech department for a Screen School and teaching the practical side of video production (cameras, sound, editing, lighting etc.) to thousands of students over the years.
Following the death of my Mum in my late 20’s, I moved from there to running a production company at a different university for four years but unfortunately a restructure meant that I lost my job. The result of this however, was that I ended up working as a freelancer and as a consequence, eventually set up my own small business, Little Vintage Photography.
So Little Vintage Photography was not your first career?
Absolutely not! Little Vintage Photography was the result of several losses in my life, hitting my 30’s and feeling like I’d lost my way as well as my job. I turned back to photography as a way of dealing with my grief and finally took a day off work to sit down with a notebook and pen and just write it all out. I looked at my strengths, my weaknesses, what I loved, what I loathed(!) and eventually realised that it all came back to the point when I was creatively happiest, experimenting in the darkroom.
I hoped that there might be a way of combining this with the skills I’d picked up working in education and my own personal feelings that I wanted to move away from pixel perfection and towards the tactile, physical aspects of analogue and the idea of using photography for wellbeing.
Digital photography seemed to have all got a bit too serious for me and I felt that there was room to bring a bit of fun back into the industry! I also wanted to encourage more women and girls to explore careers in science & tech, and analogue photography seemed to be the perfect way of doing this by combining the full range of STEM subjects and producing creative output as a result.
What a brave move and a fantastic goal! We're in awe. Slightly more prosaic now...what's your favourite film and why?
Die Hard ;)
The wonderful Ilford HP5 is my favourite film to use as it’s so versatile and so far, it’s never let me down! You can push and pull and basically shoot with it in most situations, drag-it-through-a-hedge-backwards (although I wouldn’t advise it!) and you’ll pretty much still get an image.
This reliability and versatility are vital to me in my work delivering workshops and also for my analogue wedding work as it means I can shoot, or teach someone else how to shoot, with the confidence that in almost every situation there will be an image at the other end. And it looks lovely too!
A classic! And what's your favourite camera to go alongside it?
Let me start by saying I have soooo many cameras. It’s a bit of a problem. Perhaps a quarter of them work or can easily be used (i.e. take 35mm, 120, 4x5 or Instax) the rest tend to be ‘projects’ / ‘rescues’ or fun things that take more unusual formats but which I can’t bring myself to part with!
The camera I probably use most is my trusty Olympus OM-30 SLR. I have a 50mm and now a 28mm lens for it (I recently tried Graeme’s 135mm lens and now want that too!) I just love shooting with it. It’s small enough to chuck in my bag or around my neck in pretty much any situation and I find it intuitive to shoot with which helps encourage me to take it out with me. Lately I’ve also found myself taking my #CheapShotsChallenge camera (a Franka Solida 1) out with me to a lot of places because it’s a folder/bellows camera. It fits in even smaller bags/pockets than the OM-30 when closed and still shoots medium format!
I’ve been hankering after an OM-1 for AGES due to the fact that they don’t take the 5x batteries like the OM-30, but trying to find one for a reasonable price has been tough.
Some of my other favourites (that work!) in my capsule camera wardrobe are ‘Albert’ my wooden wetplate camera from 1900, my Ondu 35mm pinhole, my Ilford Obscura pinhole, my Chroma LF, my Olympus XA, my Olympus Trip 35 and my Rolleicord TLR.
So on social media you always seem to be involved in really interesting photographic projects! What is a favourite recent one?
My most recent project was a 4 month artist residency working with a beautiful old library as part of an Arts Council England funded project to encourage the public to engage with creativity in unusual spaces and learn new skills. I ran several cyanotype workshops and helped the groups create their own pieces of artwork using the technique. Taking inspiration from what they had created I produced two final composite pieces of artwork that have now been produced as saleable products for the library, contributing to sustainability within the local economy and putting something back into the library system.
It also gave an opportunity for the people I worked with as part of my residency, to be part of a collaborative exhibition and become part of the permanent library archive. You can read more about it here: Make It! In Libraries
What photograph have you taken in your life that you are most proud of?
Oof! That’s a really tough question. To be honest I get excited every time I process my films. I don’t think that magic every really goes away. There are so so many that didn’t work out, but for the ones that did, I guess I’m proud of them all in some small way, as they’re a combination of light, timing and chemistry and that can be quite an elusive goal anyway!
What was the inspiration for your outstanding Analogue Adventurers Kits?
Since setting up Little Vintage Photography, I’ve designed and delivered various courses and workshops. One of these I called the ‘Analogue Adventurer’ workshop which I’d take into schools or run as a pop-up from my vintage suitcases at events or festivals. Alongside these ‘in-person’ events, however, I wanted to provide an opportunity for anyone to enjoy and learn about the science and craft of analogue photography in a fun and accessible way at home.
It was also important to me that the kits didn’t require a lot of expensive equipment to get started and so I designed it specifically so that the only things really needed are some sunshine/daylight and water. I also created an online video resource to accompany the printed instructions that come in the kit because everyone learns in a different way and I wanted to try and make it as open as possible for all.
Sounds amazing. How can people buy them?!
They are all handmade to order by me in my home studio, so I set up an Etsy shop so that people can order them very simply online via my store: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LittleVintagePhotoCo
So this is a new string to your bow! What is your goal for kits like this?
I wanted to create a kit that would act as a spark of inspiration or curiosity, encourage further exploration of analogue processes and combine the STEM subjects whilst producing a creative, artistic output. I wanted to provide an opportunity to bring both the physics and chemistry of photography together in one kit so that it was as simple and economical as possible to begin an analogue journey.
I’d love to create bumper packs of kits for schools to use to introduce children to the wonder and magic of analogue photography and it would be a dream to see them in science museums and physical shops on the high street too. I believe it’s something that anyone can enjoy, no matter our age. We can still be creative and have fun trying something new.
I'm hoping this won't be the only kit that you create
As always, I have a million ideas buzzing around my head! At the moment I’m super excited about the next kit which I’m developing and that will be the next step along in the analogue journey. For me, the most important element is igniting that initial spark of discovery and capturing the imagination. I’m also conscious of how we use resources and what we take from and put into the environment around us.
I wanted something which could be a more eco-friendly way of introducing people to the fun and magic of darkroom processing, without the need to buy all the equipment and chemicals and something that wouldn’t take up a lot of room. I don’t want to give away too much at this stage as I’m still in development, but again I’ll be focussing on the ‘make-your-own’ approach as I feel this is by far the best way to learn and really get to grips with something. My plan is that the next Little Vintage Photography kit will again work as an introduction to the world of analogue photography, combining the raw materials to help you build a very simple pinhole camera, along with a way of processing an analogue image without a lot of darkroom equipment or enlarger.
You've spent a huge amount of time 'on the frontline' educating people about the process and joys of analogue photography. What are the main things you have taken away from these experiences so far?
For me it all comes down to the magical experience that analogue photography gives us. I want everyone to feel like they can learn, have fun, try things out, fail and try again. I feel strongly that there is a need for us to move away from the idea that everything always has to be perfect. Life isn’t perfect and sometimes the social media ideals we are presented with, can be harmful to our wellbeing. There is beauty in the imperfect too and I’d like to remind people that it’s there if they look for it.
Without trial and error and failure, there would also be no invention and innovation. Combining science, technology, engineering and maths with the arts and creativity is something that will make all of those industries stronger and my hope is that by showing everyone, especially more women and girls that this can be done in such a simple way, we’ll create a better balance of voices and images.
Rachel - thank you once again for taking the time to talk to us and articulate your vision for your business and this community so beautifully. Of course we will continue to support you as much as we can, and cannot WAIT for the next instalment of Little Vintage Photography kits!
For more of Rachel's work - and to book her for your events - visit www.littlevintagephotography.co.uk
For the Analogue Adventurer's Kits visit her Etsy store www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LittleVintagePhotoCo