Female Voices in Film: Rachel Brewster-Wright
By Paul McKay
As part of our celebration of International Women's Day on the 8th March we are interviewing different female members of the film community, asking the same questions to each for a snapshot of different perspectives and thoughts.
Today the spotlight rests on Rachel Brewster-Wright!
Rachel - thank you for your time (again!) What is your film photography background?
I’m Rachel and I run Little Vintage Photography. I set up my business to embrace the unique, imperfect and beautiful moments of life, and in order to help others to do the same.
Through Little Vintage Photography, I specialise in analogue photographic processes. I capture weddings and celebrations on film, create photographic artworks to commission and run educational workshops for anyone curious to learn about alternative ways of creating images in more mindful ways through techniques which combine science and art.
How did you get into film?
My Dad was in the RAF which is where he learnt his trade as a photographer and so when I came along, he made sure it was something I learnt about too. He taught me how to make pinhole cameras and I always remember him creating beautiful chemical paintings in the tiny darkroom in the attic.
I left school at 15 and went to the local art college where I spent two very happy years messing about in the darkroom there, but it was just at the point that digital was starting to take over, so after moving to Liverpool to go to University I didn’t really have the opportunity to use analogue very much (although I did track down an old darkroom in a former morgue that I used once or twice!) After running the technical department for a University for several years, and then a video production company, my Mum got ill and passed away whilst I was still in my 20’s and unfortunately I was also made redundant.
It was a big turning point for me and I decided to look again at what I really wanted to do for a career and more importantly, what made me happy. I realised that happiness for me, lay in working with film, analogue and magical darkroom processes. It was also around this time that I was starting to become more conscious of the stresses and pressures that a digital life was creating, and knew that I needed to try and take a step back and slow down. Analogue naturally lent itself towards being able to do this, and as, by this point, I’d applied for over 40 jobs in my field and not even got a single interview, I realised that the time had come for desperate measures, so I went ahead and set up my business; Little Vintage Photography. My hope was that if film and analogue processes were something that I found valuable, then others would too.
What is the film photograph you’re most proud of, and why?
I didn’t really know what to say in reply to this question. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about being ‘proud’ of my photography. I struggle to feel that my work is good enough and I am always hoping I can learn how to be better.
What is your favourite camera/film combination?
Oooo! This is a toughie too! I’m a real fan of Ilford FP4+ because it has a lovely fine grain structure so it’s a joy to shoot it as either 35mm or medium format because I know that I’ll be able to enlarge the final image without the grain getting ‘too much’ (for my taste). I tend to shoot it most often with my Olympus OM1 and/or my Rolleicord 3.5.
I’ve recently been gifted a back for my Hasselblad 500CM though (my original one was broken) so, after owning the camera for 2 years, I’ve just started to get out and shoot with this camera for the first time ever! It may become another favourite! We’ll have to wait and see how the negatives come out.
Who is your favourite (famous or not!) female film photographer?
An impossible question! I’ve met so many wonderfully talented female photographers since setting up my business, and particularly since taking on the role of co-hosting the Sunny 16 Podcast. Every day I feel like I’m discovering new, beautiful and powerful work by women. I do have to give a special mention to Anna Atkins as the woman most well known for her work with cyanotypes (a technique I absolutely love working with myself).
I think another excellent place to find out about more female photographers is through the RPS #HundredHeroines campaign, which really highlighted a lot of women (both those who were nominated and those who won awards) who are out there creating brilliant photographic work.
I’d also say to check out facebook groups such as Female Film Shooters or Awesome Female Photographers or search hashtags such as #sheshootsfilm or #shootfilmbenice on Twitter and Instagram.
What could the community do to support your personal film photography endeavours?
Haha! OK, well I invented something called the Analogue Adventurer Kit in order to distill one of my workshops down into a portable kit and also as a way of hopefully making the spark of curiosity around science, art and analogue photography more accessible to everyone.
The gender neutral kit is aimed at ages 7+ and I make them by hand, to include everything to build a pinhole viewer (engineering & physics) and create a colour-changing cyanotype bookmark and print (chemistry)! It’s a perfect little gift for a child or teenager interested in, or doing STEM subjects or art and creativity at school. I include an instruction booklet and an online training video resource in the kit to support learning.
It’s also something fun and unusual for photographers who already own everything! Or as a way of giving a taster of an ‘alternative’ photographic process, rather than just shooting with film. I make the kits by hand to order and you can purchase from here: https://etsy.me/2KIVMNC (my Etsy shop will be opening up again from 14th March 2020 to coincide with The Photography Show when I’ll be making a new batch!)
Other support would be in the form of passing on my details to anyone you know who is getting married and might like to incorporate the awesomeness of analogue photography into their day (I also shoot digitally, so there’s the best of both worlds!). If you have any friends or family who are looking for a photographer (I got Top 10 in the International Wedding Photographer of the Year awards which was pretty lovely!), you can find my wedding work on Instagram: @littlevintageweddings and some of my galleries here: https://littlevintagephotography.pixieset.com/
If you’re new to film photography, I run a whole host of workshops for all ages; Adults, teenagers and children. You can email for more information on these: email@example.com and keep an eye on my social media for public workshops and courses that I’m delivering.
Lastly, it’s always lovely to hear from more photography enthusiasts and I co-host the Sunny 16 Podcast where we talk about all things analogue and also run a show called Backing Paper with listener emails. It would be wonderful to hear from more female photographers so please have a listen and write in to share your knowledge with the community in response to some of the questions we get sent in there. You can find us on most podcast apps by searching for ‘Sunny 16 Podcast’ or at www.sunny16podcast.com and on social media (which is run by my co-hosts).
What could the community or industry do to encourage more women to start shooting film?
I think keeping analogue facilities accessible within schools, colleges and universities is a great way to start! So if you have any old equipment that you’re not using, perhaps have a chat with your local education facility before putting it on eBay, incase it’s something that might be of benefit to them.
You can always point them in my direction if you would like me to talk to them about how analogue photography is important for encouraging more women and girls within STEM and STEAM industry roles too! I’m a HUGE believer in the idea that you have to see it to be it!
What could the community or industry do to encourage more women to continue shooting film?
I think continuing to grow a supportive environment that can boost photographers' confidence by facilitating safe spaces for sharing work without the frustration of having to cover the ‘whataboutery’ argument/deflection every time, is vital, as is greater understanding of the difference between equity and equality.
I think it’s also really important to show that there are women in the industry having an impact, whilst still feeling their work is attainable because I’ve seen that there’s often a gap which can exist between seeing someone who we feel is ‘inspirational’ and not being able to visualise ourselves as being ‘as good’. Consequently, this can have a knock-on effect of crushing confidence even further with the idea of ‘I’ll never be as good as that, why would I even bother?’.
Having our non-female colleagues celebrating and championing female photographers and their work wherever possible is also vital because that’s the only way this will truly grow outside of an echo chamber.
Showing more women genuinely using analogue photography products (whether that be film, cameras, enlargers, kickstarter inventions etc.) in promotional material from the manufacturers, might well create more positive reinforcement of the idea that women can be (and are!) present in all areas of the analogue photography industry and workflow.
Where can people find you and your work?
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