Big Ideas + Actions

Not just a Kodak moment: sparking innovation and empathy through photography

March 2, 2021
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Two words shape the foundation (and power) of Wayne’s journey as a photographer: growth and creativity. And it only takes a couple of minutes to appreciate this, looking through the rows of photographs that make up Wayne’s Instagram feed: his crafty and instinctive photo editing process magically captures every element and subject.

In times of solitude brought by the pandemic—feeling the intermittent ping of loneliness—photography seems the perfect way to occupy time. For Wayne, taking photos and getting outside to appreciate the wonders of nature are perfect antidotes to the social seclusion and what feels like the 2,000+ unwatched shows waiting for each of us on Netflix.

The extracts below are from a conversation I had with Wayne, where we explored his journey into photography and the solace he feels standing behind a camera lens.

Wayne’s journey into digital photography began in 2010. He claims that he was “always late trying new technology.” His first cell phone was a Nokia of some sort, and today it’s the Hauwei P30 Pro because of the superior Leica lenses in its cameras. The opportunities with digital are endless, and because of COVID, Wayne finds himself with plenty of time to explore and create.

Wayne inherited his love for photography from his mother. She was a single mom, raising 5 kids on her own most of the time. She was always taking photos of Wayne and his siblings. Wayne has even transformed some of her Super 8mm film into digital creations, and he shows them to his grandchildren today.

Noting the power of photographs to transcend generations of family members and memories, Wayne compares his experience to that of his partner’s: “My partner is still living in the Philippines and he has no photos of him as a child. They experience an average of 5 typhoons each year and they can wash all of their most valuable possessions out to sea forcing them to start over. And then there is me: I have a photo of me being held up in my father’s hand taken 67 years ago”.

“The power of a photograph is to hold on to time, our memories. It’s not just a Kodak moment; it’s your moment—whether you created it or it celebrated you.”

In his early twenties Wayne bought his first Kodak Instamatic camera and did what his mother did. In the early 80s he moved up to a Rolleiflex 35mm SLR camera. The biggest challenge was learning how to rewind the film and remove the roll safely.

He reignited his passion for photography again in 2010 with digital photography—at a time when he had to leave the working world. His doctor suggested he get a hobby, so he invested in a mirrorless DSLR camera and dove in.

Wayne now grabs his camera almost instinctively and habitually. He tells me that he used to wake up several days a week and head out to hike the university arboretum and other trails, arriving home 6 or 7 hours later. He’d also head out on some of these photo excursions with a good friend of his, but like with many things, COVID has curbed that.

In the beginning it was a lot of nature photography—birds, animals and places. His work primarily featured skies and trees.

“Honestly, other people had noticed the use of trees and skies before I did,” Wayne remarks.

He tells me about an experience he once had meeting a young man from the university about 10 years ago. He was caught off guard by the young man peering over his shoulder, looking to see what shot he would take next. The two got to talking and the young man sent Wayne’s photos to a philosopher friend of his, who told Wayne that the blue skies and use of the colour blue revealed a sense of loneliness and a little darkness inside him.

But Wayne says he can change that—change the mood of his photographs all through the use of a phone app. This thought stuck with me. The ability to change the mood of a photograph, thereby masking the mood of the photographer, shifts an onlooker’s perception of the photograph. This seemed almost like a mystic power to me.

And that’s not the only power photographs hold: they also have the ability to tell a story and evoke an emotional response. Together these have a powerful effect on transcending individual differences, on educating and empowering others, and even on mobilizing people to take action.

This is of the utmost importance to Wayne. When he first decided to work within the HIV sector, misunderstanding, discrimination and stigma were commonplace. It was his intention to put a face and story to the issues facing people living with HIV—to ultimately put an end to stigma.

Photographs have the power to enrich the storytelling experience. Even if it’s in disguise or from behind, having a real person there, as brave as they are able to be, is important. It can inspire others to share their story, as well. “And there are many people out there wiling to tell their story, it just might be, perhaps, from a less revealing angle,” Wayne explains.

Wayne’s take on the creative process, and his philosophy behind the lens…

Wayne enhances his digital shots by altering the lighting and using an app on his phone to visually distress certain elements in his photographs. He is attracted to the vintage feel and antique look of photographs, noting that he can take an average film photo from the 60s or 70s, scan it, and then turn it dark, diffused or mysterious; add drama; and turn it into a digital work of art.

“I’m a big fan of natural light so in these photos I create the light that would have existed back in older times. With digital you don’t have to follow the older rules on lighting. Like music and other art, it has to evolve and open up to all forms. Not everyone is going to like it, but there is someone out there waiting to see what you have to offer. And now I have a few followers and get some good feedback that might inspire the next piece.”

“I believe everyone has a talent in the arts. My talent would never be in front of the camera—it’s behind—and now I not only get to show my creations, but I can showcase the works of other artists in my photos, as well.”

“Nowadays everyone has a camera in their pocket and millions of photos are taken every minute of the day. My challenge is not to copy what they did, but rather to look for a different angle and take my time, or I use an app and create something they can’t. You can have the best camera in the world but if you don’t have an eye, then it’s just going to be another photo.”

“It is important to me that people see my work as ‘art’—not just some photo. I realize there will be many different opinions and critiques about my creations, and I welcome the feedback. There are people that discard smartphone photography as not real photography, who think that using phone apps to create your work is just too simple and quick and real art takes time.”

But I think that art is what you make it, and I believe in a more expansive definition, Wayne remarks.

There is no question that Wayne’s art matters. Not only has his photography benefited him personally, but others have admired his photographs for years. Wayne has submitted photos to art shows, participated in many photography contests, was featured in the Winter 2014 issue of Posi+tive Side magazine’s VISUAL AIDS page, and most recently, had two photos selected to be auctioned in the prestigious SNAP Toronto Art Auction—in support of the AIDS Committee of Toronto—which begins on March 25th, 2021.  

You can see more of Wayne’s photography by following his Instagram page @iamwayneb54.

Do photography and/or photographs inspire you similarly? Leave us a comment below, or submit a story or creative art piece of your own to The Positive Effect website.

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