Behind the lens: Grahamstown in black and white

[words and photographs © Narina Exelby]

 In 1998 I spent every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon in the dark. Those afternoons filled me with angst, brewed anticipation and, on some days, they culminated in wonder. Tuesdays were routine; Thursdays were my favourite – that was when the captured, and sometimes almost-forgotten, moments came to life.

I was a journalism student back then, and most often wandered town with a battered Nikon hanging around my neck. Tuesdays were my days to roll film into second-hand canisters, Thursdays were spent mixing chemicals, adjusting light, pegging papers; my days to process and print the black-and-white images captured throughout the week.

And in a strange pattern of parallels and polarities, history – right now – is repeating itself.

I’ve come back to Grahamstown for two weeks to coach undergraduates as we produce Cue, the daily newspaper for the National Arts Festival, which engulfs this Eastern Cape town every year. My days are swamped with words and questions and structures and pitches, from early morning until past midnight – but when I have a moment to step outside the newsroom, I take pictures. In black and white.

Only this time, it’s different. My Canon (yes, I made the switch) is in its bag at home and I’m shooting – frivolously – with my iPhone.

The exercise is conjuring the angst of that post-grad year, when that delicate balance of anticipation, hope and terror filled my darkroom afternoons. But it’s also stirring a sweet nostalgia. The instant gratification of shooting Hipstamatic is so satisfying, but man – I miss those minutes of sheer delight when almost-forgotten moments fizzled slowly into being.

Love to take pictures? Take a look here at useful tips on how to improve your travel photographs, and read this to understand why we think Hipstamatic is such a great app.


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