Introducing David Roy Smith (@davidrsmith) — North America's Honorary LomoHome of May 2024

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In celebration of our extremely talented community, our team at Lomography USA has been honoring their favorite active Lomographers on our website for "LomoHome of the Month."

This month we're highlighting community member @davidrsmith for his moving documentations of his loved ones.

As a biology professor with no previous experience in the art, David's scientific background and familiarity with antique microscopes lead him to pick up his first analogue camera after a life-altering cancer diagnosis.

Utilizing photography as a creative outlet, David's touching photography documents his every day relationships with his friends and family.

Photos by @davidrsmith

The following words are by @davidrsmith.

Lomographic Beginnings

I’m a 42-year-old biology professor living in London (Ontario, Canada) with my wife, Dawn, and six-year-old son, Kipling. I run a research program in evolutionary genetics at Western University, which recently led me into the world of film photography. During the covid pandemic, my department started purging a lot of old microscopy equipment, which I started salvaging from the trash bin and hoarding in my office. I was immediately enamoured with the early 1900s brass microscopes and analogue microscope cameras, so much so that I started collecting antique microscopes, particularly those made by Leitz (i.e., Leica). Through this, I ended up reading and learning a lot about early Leica film cameras, piquing my interest in film photography.

In July 2022, I had an emergency appendectomy, which uncovered colon cancer. This was followed by more major abdominal surgeries and chemotherapy, forcing me to take time off work. While recovering at home, I decided that this was an excellent opportunity to finally add a vintage Leica film camera to my collection of microscopes. At first, I was mainly interested in the historical and curatorial aspects of cameras and photography, but having bought an old camera I thought, “Heck, I might as well pop a roll of film into it to see if it actually works.” I spent an hour walking around the backyard taking snapshots of my wife, son, and unsuspecting cat, and brought the roll to a local film studio, Allthingsfilm to get it developed and scanned.

Photos by @davidrsmith

A few days later, I downloaded the processed photos and nonchalantly scrolled through them. The photos were mundane and unremarkable but still, I felt a jolt of magic reaching out to me from the fine grain of the T-Max 100. I looked through images again and again and became more entranced. I was hooked. From that day on, I started carrying a film camera everywhere, yelling at family, friends, and innocent bystanders to “hold still and not blink”. Most importantly, film photography provided a welcome distraction from the ongoing cancer treatments, surgeries, and diagnostic testing. Indeed, holding an old, brassy Leica was a perfect salve for the extreme anxiety associated with a cancer diagnosis.

I’ve always loved mechanical things, from old Italian racing bikes to vintage military watches to art deco fountain pens. My mom, who turns 80 this year, is an antique dealer and still has a small store in Nova Scotia. Growing up, she instilled in me an appreciation for old things as well as the art of collecting and curating. Analogue photography touches all these bases, and in the most romantic of ways. I love how I can take a camera and lens from the 1930s and still make beautiful images today. And there’s a good chance that that same camera and lens will be used in another hundred years. The same just isn’t true of digital cameras, which at best will last a couple of decades.

It’s the little things that make an analogue addiction so satisfying. I savour the process of opening a film canister and inserting a leader into the take-up spool. There is tactile pleasure in cocking and releasing the shutter and finally rewinding the film. And, of course, there is the final product, which is flawed and imperfect in so many ways, especially compared to contemporary digital photographs. But somehow the defects and failings of film are a more genuine reflection of life than some 100-megapixel, high-resolution masterpiece.

My local film studio (All Things Film) carries various Lomography film stocks. When I first bought one, I Googled the company name, which I hadn’t heard of before, and stumbled upon the website and its large photo-sharing community. As I scrolled through hundreds of photos I said, “This is really cool.” The next day, I started posting my own images. Since then, I try to post at least one or two shots a day.

Photos by @davidrsmith

Living an Analogue Lifestyle

Given my history with collecting vintage Leitz microscopes, I gravitate towards Leica rangefinder cameras, including the various M-series cameras, like the M4 and M6. I have some beat-up Leicaflex SLRs as well, but I find focusing much faster on a rangefinder. My favorite focal length is 50mm, and I use almost exclusively a vintage Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 or Summicron 50mm f/2. More recently, I’ve started shooting medium format on a Rolleiflex 2.8F and it is slowly stealing my heart from the Leicas. My favorite film stock is Kodak 100 T-Max. I use it nearly 50% of the time.

I know some photographers who feel that cameras are merely “tools” for creating art, and they often roll their eyes at individuals who approach the hobby from a purely collecting point of view. But I feel that film cameras themselves are pieces of art, from a $100 Eastman Kodak folding camera to a $20,000 black paint Leica M2. I believe my passion for collecting informs my photography and vice versa. As Walter Benjamin said: “Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.” Indeed, this quote works equally as well when the word “photographer” is substituted for “collector.”

As a child and adolescent, I gravitated towards athletics over artistic endeavours. Later, I became obsessed with science, which does have creative aspects but is largely built on cold, hard facts. Thus, up until now, I’ve never really considered myself an imaginative or artistic person, and still struggle with idea that the pictures I take have any deeper meaning or artistic merit. Maybe this will change with time.

Photos by @davidrsmith

I hope people see that I’m someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously. I love photos that have a sense a humour, sadness, or absurdity, and strive to achieve this in my own work. So many of my photos are of my wife, son, and friends. More than anything, I hope that in the future they’ll look back and say, “My goodness, that man with all his silly cameras really, really loved us.”

I live and die by Rule #5, "approach the objects of your Lomographic desire as close as possible." When I take a portrait, I want to smell the breath, feel the body heat, and see the pores of my subject. I look back on so many of my photos and think, “That would have been a great shot if only I’d gotten closer!” The existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir famously said, “To give space when what one most yearns for is closeness, that is both the great test and great tragedy of love.” Conversely, I feel that the great test of photography is to get close when what the subject most yearns for is space.

In a broader sense, Rule #8, "You don’t have to know beforehand what you captured on film," can also be a metaphor for life. Many of the undergraduate students I teach want to know beforehand what is going to transpire. Will they pass their exams, will they get into medical school, will they have a high-paying job, will they meet the right partner...but part of the beauty and tragedy of life is in not knowing beforehand what will happen next. We are all awaiting the developments from the darkrooms of our fate.

A few months after I started shooting film I spent an autumn afternoon with my son in a local park. He was puttering around in the woods, picking up random things, while I snagged random shots of him. When I saw the resulting images a week later, I was amazed by an image of him holding two pinecones, which somehow captured the emotions and essence of that afternoon. In total, we spent three hours together in the park that day. That is equivalent to 10,800 seconds. If you think of it in units of 1/1000th of a second, it can be further broken down into 10.8 million distinct instances. Out of all those instances I believe I captured the single best one. It blows my mind to think of it like this.

Photos by @davidrsmith

Looking to the Future

As someone who both uses and collects old cameras, I worry that in the coming years there won’t be enough people with the expertise to repair and service analogue cameras. The same problem is facing other industries, like horology. However, I’m encouraged to see (on YouTube, for example) that there are young people becoming interested camera repair. But is there enough interest to meet demand? Recently, I’ve started shooting expired, out-of-production film stocks, including Kodak Technical Pan and ADOX CMS 20 II. I really enjoy the wonky characteristics of these old films and hope that existing or new companies revive some of these iconic stocks.

I have amassed a large collection of analogue microscope cameras. These look like traditional film cameras except that they are designed to mount onto the top microscopes, allowing scientists to take analogue pictures of microbes and cell cultures, etc. Today, nearly all laboratories employ high-resolution digital cameras for microscopy work. My research focuses on green algae, many of which are beautiful when examined under the microscope. I think it would be cool to revive and use analogue microscope cameras in lab to take film pictures of various algae. It would be a fun way of blending art and science and might encourage artistically inclined undergraduate students to get involved in biology and microscopy.

Finally, I’d just like to say thank you to the team at Lomography for giving me the opportunity to share my story and photos.


If you're interested in keeping up with David and his creative journey, make sure to check out his LomoHome and Instagram!

written by eloffreno on 2024-06-10 #culture #people #lomohome #community #documentary #documentation #community-member

2 Comments

  1. lomo-elysion
    lomo-elysion ·

    David, my dear friend and brother in spirit, I am very happy for you that your photographic work is being properly recognized here - rightly so, in my opinion.
    Yes, and your comments touched me very much, since we are brothers in fate, so to speak. I wish you continued creativity and strength for the “right 1/1000” in the sea of ​​time. I'm looking forward to your upcoming photos! Happy shooting and good light. Yours L.-Elysion

  2. davidrsmith
    davidrsmith ·

    @lomo-elysion Thank you for the kind and supportive comments.

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