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I have been taking photos with old film cameras since I was 14, when my Dad gave me his old Russian Zenit to use in art class. I wasn’t a very good art student – I could barely draw – so my teacher recommended I try taking photos and drawing from them. Instead I just started using the photos as my art work.
That Zenit camera has been close to me ever since and during the summer in Cambridge I found that whenever I went out for walks I would take my notebook and my camera. I started taking photos of things that I felt had an atmosphere, or something of interest, and almost simultaneously to pushing the shutter I would have an idea for a story set in that moment.
Since then the two practices of writing and photography have become entwined in my mind and in the way I create things with them. Using film cameras demands that I take time over composing the shots and then waiting for the roll to be finished and then developed before I can appreciate the results. I usually wait before I have six or seven films before developing them which can take anywhere from two weeks to six months. Leaving such a long time between taking the photo and seeing the results invariably creates an almost revelation-like moment, which is often a starting point for a new story.
This is much the same as how I write. I make notes or observations and sometimes write whole stories then usually leave them for a period to percolate in the back of my mind before revisiting them. Often upon revisiting stories I end up having ideas about edition or composition, but occasionally I have a revelation that utterly changes the course of the story or the main character.
Photography has had a valuable influence on my writing and it is something I would recommend to any other writers. Sometimes there is that moment or that observation that you know would be great for a story but for some reason the words aren’t happening or you become overwhelmed and are thinking too much about it to get a clear picture down in words. These are the times that a camera is the perfect back up tool. If you are thinking of trying this I cannot recommend film enough, but if you want to use digital, try not to get too serous about the shot or take too many; just by taking a single photo that you’ve thought about for a little while will lodge it into your brain, even if the photo isn’t wonderful.
The following images have all directly inspired stories which are in my current work; a collection of interconnected stories. They were all taken with film cameras and have had nothing done to them in post production.
All photographs taken by Alex Thornber
Alex writes short stories and occasionally things a little bit longer. He has had fiction published in places like Wilderness House LIterary Review, Metazen and Spectre Magazine and has a story in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology Jawbreakers. He is currently working on a collection of stories, a novella and his blog at alexthornber.wordpress.com.