I’ve always liked taking photos, but it took me two decades to realize that I really like taking photos. Yet if you’d asked me a year ago whether I’d see myself as a photographer someday, my answer was likely going to be: “nah…probably not.”
My very first camera was a 35mm disposable that my aunt and uncle got me in fifth grade. It made me feel like a small adult. I took it on a school trip and snapped photos of my classmates and play fights. Later, I got my hands on our family’s first digital camera—a Samsung Digimax S600. This soon became “my“ camera in practice, as I learned the in’s and out’s of it better than anybody else.
I was ecstatic with this digital gadget, capturing everything from veranda plants to edgy shots of observation towers. Looking back at some of these shots, it’s almost as if my interests have never changed: evocative skylines, lonely alleyways, daily objects that I grew fond of—things that made me feel a surge of emotion.
A few years later, I moved to the suburbs of California, but kept taking in-the-moment, blurry photos with my bar phone and iPod. When I occasionally come across these photos today, I can still feel what I tried to record, which says more about the relationship between me and my photos than anything else. They are emotional time capsules.
As I got older, I began to realize that many things I thought were universal are actually very much not so. Photo taking and keeping is one of those things. While I always thought of photos as special, my best friend rarely takes them and doesn’t think much of it. I was shocked when I found out. How could someone not have the urge to make something out of the little imprinting moments in life? Of course, my perspective has broadened greatly since that moment.
“An Artist Without a Medium”
Creative endeavors bring me tremendous energy and joy, but I’ve always struggled to find a creative outlet. I never thought photography would be something I’d pick up either, mostly because of the daunting DSLR’s that seemed to be a must-have for any serious photography. I didn’t like the way they looked: boring, chunky, awkward, and full of cheap plastics and distastefully confusing buttons. It felt like technical work to translate ideas into photos. So for years, my iPhone was my photographic tool of choice, if you could even call it that.
Then, I saw a friend’s retro-looking camera at a picnic in 2019. I distinctly remember being drawn to its unique look: unlike any DSLRs, it looked simple, functional, and minimal. When my friend explained to me that it was a film camera, I was simultaneously awestruck and skeptical. People still shoot film? Why film? Where do you get it developed? How do you know if the shot turned out well? How do you use it?
As if rediscovering a long lost part of myself, I was driven to find out what it meant to me. Perhaps so strongly that she might’ve thought I was being annoyingly persistent and judgmental. I obsessively researched into it and fell in love with the simplicity of film photography. ISO, aperture, and shutter speed—two knobs, one button, that’s it! I didn’t know photography was possible without operating a quantum computer. As I practiced the basics, I became enamored with the idea of shooting on film. Photography all of a sudden seemed within my reach. It finally clicked with me.
A Golden Afternoon
One year and many film cameras later, I’ve survived my honeymoon phase with photography, and can finally claim this as a hobby of mine. An artistic pursuit that’s lasted longer than any other. It took me a while to garner the courage to show my photos to the world, but I know that this is the only way to improve, meet new people, and challenge myself for years down the road.
So finally, why “afternoon”?
I think most of my photos are expressions of 意境, a Chinese word that loosely translates to “artistic conception,” “creative imagery,” or more narrowly: “mood.” I want to get better at expressing such elusive feelings with two-dimensional images.
While I was sitting on my couch and searching for a name that reflected this, I became enamored with the beautiful, golden sunlight, through which specks of dust cast gentle rays of shadows. The space seemed to expand with warmth. What a calming afternoon, I thought. That’s the kind of feeling that compels me to photograph.
Welcome to afternoon.