Rachel Brewster is a true creative talent. She becomes so animated when she talks about her latest venture, Little Vintage Photography, that it’s impossible not to find yourself getting swept along with her enthusiasm. Rachel set up Little Vintage Photography to ‘help people embrace the unique, imperfect and beautiful craft of analogue film photography.’ She also blends traditional analogue processes and tools with some of the new digital tech, to create fascinating results. We met in the Filter & Fox on Duke Street and as we tucked into some heavenly carrot cake, the story unfolded…
How did Little Vintage Photography begin, where did the idea come from?
‘Actually the idea was borne out of a very difficult time in my life. My mum passed away and shortly afterwards I began using my digital camera a lot to go out and capture moments; I guess it was just my way of coping. One day I sat down and realised that I’d taken about 1,200 photos but I’d never even looked at the results. I’d been living my life through an LCD screen for months but I wasn’t enjoying the moments, just capturing them. It was a bit of a wake-up call for me, all the images just seemed so meaningless.
I reflected that I’d been happiest when I was working with analogue photography, making something from nothing and working in a more experimental way. What I really wanted to do was go back into the darkroom to start mixing up my own chemicals, to slow the process down and really enjoy my work, as when you’re shooting on film you have to be more mindful. You may only have 12 frames or even just one frame if you are using a pinhole camera. I started asking myself ‘what story do I really want to tell with this image?’ and that really helped to focus my shoots.’
What happened next, how did you make your idea a reality?
‘It just snowballed from there! I wanted to go out and share my new found passion, as I thought that other people might want to learn these skills too. So I started saving up for my vintage caravan, ‘Rosie the Viking,’ which would give me a space to run workshops and provide a mobile darkroom and photo booth. The first workshop I ran was in the Lake District, in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, in a barn. We made some great images there! After that, I wanted to do more of it, particularly with younger people. I wanted them to be aware of what a brilliant time we live in, that we have the option for analogue but we also have digital at our disposal and when you combine the two magic happens.’
We have the option for analogue but we also have digital at our disposal and when you combine the two magic happens!
So tell us more about the analogue and digital mash up?
‘I then developed a workshop called ‘Pinhole to Pinterest’ which is a good way to link the early photographic processes such as mixing your own chemicals, all the way through the years, from pinhole cameras, working with film, using SLR’s, shooting on a smartphones and finally using an instant lab. The instant lab is a great bit of kit which allows you to take a smartphone image and convert it to a physical Polaroid image. The nice thing about that process is that you are still mindful of what you are shooting because you are going to print an expensive Polaroid from it.
I use my phone and my digital camera all the time as a digital sketchbook. If I’ve captured a particularly good digital image, I’ll go back with a vintage camera to shoot it. For me, it’s about using all the tools that we have to hand to craft the perfect image, rather than dismissing something because it seems old or it doesn’t have value.’
Who did you have in mind for the workshops? Who did you think would enjoy learning this?
‘It’s been really diverse actually, from 40 year old Dads bringing their six year old daughter along, to Grandma’s who are learning how to use tech. That’s what I love about what I do. There’s no age limit, no gender restrictions, everyone can use some part of the process to enjoy themselves and create something unique.’
Did you have just one or two cameras initially, or did you instantly get the bug and start buying kit?
‘I’ve got so many cameras now! Once I started, I couldn’t stop collecting. I remember very distinctly the first one I bought though. I grew up with photography as my Dad was a photographer in the RAF; everything was shot on film back then. He taught me how to create my first photograph when I was 3, which was of a feather and developed in a tiny box room in our house. Dad always encouraged me to follow my dreams; he was convinced I would be a helicopter pilot, a violinist, or an engineer. I was lucky that my parents always told me that I could do whatever I wanted in life. If I can inspire one person to follow their dreams, I’d love that, as I know that not everyone has that encouragement.’
Have you ever experienced any difference in how you’ve been treated because you were a girl?
‘Yes, at University on the film and video production course. I began to realise that the editing jobs were all automatically given to the boys to do and I couldn’t understand why. I thought I was just as capable as they were but I didn’t have the confidence to ask for the work. I found out that the University kept the studio open over summer, so I decided to go in over the quiet period to teach myself how to edit, with the support of the female technician. I eventually figured it out, which gave me the confidence to put myself forward for the role when the next term started.
There can be a lot of self-doubt when it comes to learning technical skills. You must believe in yourself. As a society, we need to challenge the idea that mistakes are a bad thing as it’s the only way to learn and progress and we must foster more experimental environments, that’s when true creativity can flourish.
It made a huge difference to me to have female role models and I later went on to run the technical department at Liverpool Screen School where I relished the opportunity to nurture the female students. A lot of the time any negativity about what they could achieve just came down to their own lack of confidence.’
Any words of advice for anyone starting out?
‘These days it’s all about having a ‘portfolio career.’ I was made redundant from Staffordshire University, so I took the plunge and set up my own business. It was terrifying as I’ve always had a stable job. It’s a harsh reality these days that you have to be more flexible, more inventive and be comfortable with the fact that work might come and go. Just have a bit of faith in the hard times and ride it out, because if you enjoy something it will shine through.
It’s about being able to hold your own; equip yourself with the knowledge you need and be determined. Surround yourself with people who can help you and build your confidence. It then becomes like having a secret superpower!’
Who was your role model?
‘For philosophy, it would be my mum. She never quit, she was an incredibly strong woman. She had a pilot’s licence before she could actually drive!’
What else does Little Vintage Photography offer?
‘Anything from operating as a travelling analogue photobooth, to mobile workshops and wedding shoots – the possibilities are endless.
I’ve shot weddings using both my analogue and digital cameras, that’s always a lovely job. Coming up I’ve got some community based arts projects such as running ‘Analogue Adventurers’ days for the Social Housing Arts Network, Wigan Steam, the Open Eye Gallery and local primary schools. What’s great about delivering these activities is that I seem to work across all of the STEM subjects, but I’m also helping to produce a creative output.
I’ll be running more ‘Pinhole to Pinterest’ workshops and also ‘Konstruktor Camp’ workshops (where you build your own camera from a Lomography kit). There’s been a big appetite for that as a lot of people get bought the kits but don’t have the time or the confidence to put it together. It’s really rewarding to see people build and learn to use their own cameras.
I’ll also be taking ‘Rosie the Viking’ caravan out and about more. There are two aspects to Rosie, the first is entertainment, as she goes to weddings and events as a photo booth or craft space. The second aspect is education, such as workshops where we make images out of sunlight and a shoe box and use her as a workshop-darkroom space. I can also hire Rosie out as a caravan ‘camera obscura’ which means I can easily show people how a camera works as Rosie becomes a giant camera herself.’
Where next for little vintage, what are you most excited about?
‘I’d like to get Rosie out to more events and hopefully I can get more bookings from people who’d like to hire her as a travelling analogue photo booth for celebrations! Ideally I’d like to get out to more schools with the workshops, working across sciences, art and photographic disciplines. I’m in touch with some schools but I think I can grow this side of things. Eventually, I’d love to be able to offer an apprenticeship too and train someone up as my assistant.
I’d also like to design my own ‘build your own camera’ kit for Little Vintage Photography along with a physical light meter. I’m always working on developing my own skills, for instance at the moment I’m interested in looking into 3D printing and laser cutting.’
To find out more about Little Vintage Photography visit: www.littlevintagephotography.co.uk
If you are thinking of starting out in the digital or tech industries, why not check out our upcoming events.
Leading ladies is a new and regular feature on the Liverpool Girl Geeks blog, which we hope will inspire the next generation of women to follow their dreams and get geeky. If you know anyone who may be a good interviewee, contact us.
Leading ladies is written / edited by Jo Morfee, humble blogger and digital enthusiast @ LGG