Jemima Greaves has spent the last few months learning the art of film photography. Now she embarks on her biggest challenge yet as she seeks to capture the delights of this year’s Glastonbury Festival.
After the extraordinary spectacle of the Glastonbury Festival, it was a nervous three-day wait to get my films processed.
I was eager to see whether the magic of those five days would be reflected in my images or get lost in translation. My heart beating faster than it had during the Rolling Stones, I opened the packet of negs to discover an entire roll of film marked underexposed.
Irritatingly, I have no idea how this could have happened but it accounted for a third of my entire photographic output. I began to panic. Glastonbury only happens once a year. There are no second chances. If I were on assignment to document the festival I would not have fulfilled my brief.
The rest of the images were a poor testament to the grandeur of the experience, failing to capture the atmosphere of the festival. However, following the now traditional photographic postmortem, I’ve pinpointed three key reasons for this: wavering dedication, lack of experience and a dearth of equipment.
Of one thing I can now be sure. To photograph an extravaganza of this magnitude, you must give yourself over to the cause completely. Swap my happy-go-lucky festival attitude for the mental focus, lightning reactions and devotion of a professional wedding photographer and we may be looking at a much-improved set of images.
Unwilling to sacrifice my own enjoyment of the festival for the promise of a shot, I tended to fold my photography into other things, grabbing candid moments when I saw them.
Perhaps it was my inexperience that led me to believe I could document a festival like Glastonbury with just three rolls of film. Whatever the explanation, it was a costly error. By the end of day one I was anxiously counting exposures and rationing myself, something I have paid for in missed opportunities and botched shots.
Another problem was the challenge of photographing in such a manic environment. With crowds rushing past on all sides it is incredibly difficult to frame a shot. As soon as you spot the moment it has passed.
In a bid to adapt, I began to set my exposure and pre- focus to a middle distance, allowing immediate reaction to whatever was before me. As all I had to do then was raise the camera and click, life became a lot easier.
I have since discovered this is how many street photographers work.
I can see why. The subject barely registers your presence and by the time they have, the shot has been taken and you’ve melted back into a sea of anonymous faces.
Although I regularly profess my love of film, I am now willing to admit there are serious drawbacks — dare I say it, even limitations!
Yes, people coped perfectly well with film for years and I do not deny its awesome qualities. But it doesn’t offer the beginner the same scope to experiment in a situation like this that digital can. Had I been shooting digitally, the chance of returning with a third of my work ruined would have been reduced. I would not have had to alter the camera’s controls blindly but could have looked at my images and adjusted the controls accordingly. I also longed for more equipment. The use of a fisheye, zoom or panoramic lens would have been fantastic.
Regardless of these stumbling blocks, as I reflect and compare my pre-Glastonbury list of must-get shots with what I have before me, I am not wholly dissatisfied.
Admittedly, a professional could have done better — you need only look at the media coverage to see how far short of that standard my work falls — but I’m not a professional.
Setting out to show the extraordinary scope of this giant festival, I am content that my objectives have been partly fulfilled and at least a little of Glastonbury’s rapture has been caught on film.
In a place so alive as this, there are positives to my relaxed approach. Taking the time to stumble upon all the weird and wonderful delights provides endless, perhaps unique, camera fodder. There is also a lot to be said for producing black & white images of a phenomenon that is almost exclusively covered in colour, further removing this alien event from the restrictive realms of reality.
so, in defiance of my unprofessionalism, there is a small bounty of treasured photographs here. Instead of the expected festival shots, I have unwittingly created a journal of my own personal festival and although I could have benefited from improved tools and the comforting option of the magic auto button, I will not pray at the altar of digital but will work harder on my craft, investing the necessary time and embracing the errors that make film photography such a fascinating and flexible medium to play with.
And I do mean play…