Aimee Lower - I feel alive when I take pictures

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Aimee Lower is a fine art film photographer who lives in Ormond beach, Florida and enjoys spending time with her family and their two cats, morning walks along the beach, hot chocolate, old books, vintage cameras and old books about vintage cameras.

WHEN DID YOU START SHOOTING FILM AND WHY?

I started shooting film back in March of this year. My first roll was TMAX100 black and white in my trusty little Pentax. I actually started shooting film because I didn't have any other options. Over the last several years I've had my share of digital SLRs, mostly Nikons, and always for some reason or another I've had to pawn or sell them to help my family financially. Finally, in January of this year I had to sell my D90 and I just made a decision that I was done shooting digital. I originally researched getting straight into Large Format photography, but felt overwhelmed, so I reconnected with my mentor, Robert Jones, and he encouraged me to just go out and shoot and learn about film and the art of photography as a whole.

Can you tell me about what's in your mind when you take a picture? Do you know why you do it, why it compels you?

My mind is in lots of different places when I take a picture, depending on the picture I'm taking. Sometimes it's for personal reasons like I want to document something my daughter is doing, other times it's for aesthetic reasons because I like how the light is falling on something. Sometimes it's more for a theme idea like going to the graveyard in St. Augustine or taking progessive shots of the driftwood on the beach.

Usually what's on my mind when I take the picture is the exposure and composition. How does it look compared to what I want it to look like in my head, what type of film am I using, how does the type of film I'm using affect the way I'm taking the picture? If it's black and white am I aiming more for a contrasty feeling where I can get more depth and realism out of the picture? If it's color do I sometimes go for a more dreamy feeling?

Why do I do it and what compels me? If you had asked me a month ago this very same question, the answer would have been very different. For the longest time I did photography not only because I loved it but because I wanted to make a living off of it. I wanted to be recognized for my work. Last month I had a huge pitfall in my life and I almost gave up on shooting film completely. My whole life seemed to be falling apart and I didn't even have the desire to pick up the camera. I felt like I wasn't nearly as good as my photographer peers and I felt like why even try if I could never be as successful as them? I realized at that moment that I had to stop shooting just to please others and only shoot to please myself. Shoot what I wanted, how I wanted it, framed and composed how I wanted it without worrying about the results or what other people think. Just feeling how the film camera in my hand and lining up another shot makes me feel. I feel alive when I take pictures. I feel like I'm taking a picture of something that someone else might pass by and not even give a second glance to or even if they do they might not see it at the angle that I'm presenting it and the amazing thing is now I'm doing it for myself.

I'm seeing it with new eyes and film helped me do that. Along the way I have studied the technical aspects of it all and shooting film has helped me learn and practice the technicality of photography a lot more than the "spray and pray" I used to do with Digital. I shot manually in digital all the time, but I relied on the mechanics of the camera and there is just something so pure and simple and real about a completely manual film camera like the Hasselblad or the Pentax. It's like a paintbrush for an artist. A real painter can take any paintbrush and use that tool to make beautiful art, even the simplest paintbrush.

I've really become more connected with my cameras this past month, like they're an extension of me and when I go out I always take one because in my mind I want to be able to stop and take a picture of anything that in my head looks like a finished piece. If you've ever seen the lego movie it's kind of like being a builder where everyone around you might see the world regularly, but you see it and you see the potential that it has to be something else before it even becomes that. (can you tell I'm a mom haha) In my mind I'm like that little lego hero who looks around him and sees all the pieces of the finished product before he even puts them together. I see what I want the final image to look like in my head and that's what compels me to take that picture and do my best to make it exactly like what I see it as.

Can I ask you, now that you have gone back to the personal, emotional and questing photography that you started out doing, are you appreciating your own work more again?

Yes and no. Sometimes I catch myself feeling those same old doubts that I felt before, but it takes a conscious effort to look at my work sometimes and be like "you know what, I love it, and this is why." Film has helped me accept the flaws in my photos and sometimes even embrace them. If I take a picture and the exact thing I want isn't in focus, I look for the reason behind why it might not be but I also look for the good in the photograph because that's the thing with film is its permanence. There's no changing it once I've taken the picture and I have to accept it for what it is.  At the same time I have come to appreciate my work a lot more on a personal level as it shows my progress in the journey that I've been on the last 8 months and will continue to be on for years to come, Lord willing. Now I no longer look at my photos and think solely what others will think but more along the lines of how has it shown my progress in this particular area of my photography? Whether it be medium format or learning how to read and use film to the best for each type, speed, format, or etc. Or even in my instant film area. I have learned the quirks and ins and outs of my polaroid cameras and how to achieve the results that I want. So it's more satisfying in that aspect, personal growth and letting the blinders down to actually see my own growth when I don't compare it to others.

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What particular technical or emotional paths are you following at the moment?

Hmm, I think I actually combine both in reality. The basis of my photography is an emotional path. It's me trying to get my feelings onto a state of permanence to share how I Feel about a particular scene or how I see it. Technically speaking that comes through in my photography because as I learn the technical aspects of whatever I'm shooting, be it the Hasselblad or the Colorpack, I learn how to control the emotions that I want to shine through. Do I want this image to be lighter and more pastel to evoke a sense of serenity? Or do I want this picture to be more saturated and colorful and evoke a sense of awe and beauty with the depth of color and realism behind it. The technical aspects I learn in this journey help the emotional path to be more clear and accomplish more of what I desire out of a photograph. I'm sure as with any path in life this will continue to grow and evolve as I learn more ways to integrate techniques into my journey with film.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Speaking of the colorpak, will you tell me more about your portrait a day project?

I've always been shy to take pictures of strangers. I always fear rejection, both in my work and from those that I might ask to photograph. This project I'm doing is a way of challenging myself to not only shoot for myself, but to expand my horizons and conquer fears at the same time to gain more confidence in myself and my work. For that reason I treasure those shots almost more than my shots of the perfect sunrise or sunset because it took more of myself to take that picture, there's more of me in it, and as a result there's more of me in this project. It won't be restricted to the color pack, it started with the Hasselblad and a shot of our neighbor who was by to mow the lawn and it has progressed. At first it was a couple sneaky shots here and there, but then with the colorpack and this past weekend when I did the vow renewal photos, it blossomed into more because I gained more confidence with the colorpack and shooting people. I had always shied away from taking portraits of people with the color pack because the focusing is a lot harder to control since it's more of a rangefinder type, but now that I've gained some confidence in what distances there are, I've been really, really excited with the results and it has spurred me to keep going.  So, all in all, that downward spiral and rise back up to where I am now and how I view myself is what spawned this project and the courage to conquer fears that I have let control my love for photography for years.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

With a couple published books called The Driftwood Project and Cemeteries of St. Augustine? I can dream. Those are two that I'd really love to do. I absolutely LOVE driftwood. I have loved photographing the two pieces that are on the beach here and there is a beach about 4 hours north of here called driftwood beach. Also the cemeteries up in St. Augustine are gorgeous, and it would be awesome to have some prints or a small book for sale in the local shops up there. We will see. My life has been so crazy and hectic the last 5 years that had you asked me five years ago I would have said running a successful photography business, but it's not where life has taken me. I think my main goal would just be to be ever expanding in my knowledge and sharing the wealth of photography in general. I'd love to maybe teach little groups of photography enthusiasts or have a few prints in a gallery somewhere and just be enjoying life and my family and documenting every minute of it.
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Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
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To see more of Aimee's work, visit her blog.