My father, Frank, gave me my first camera when I was about 14 and enrolled in a high school photography course. It was a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex – an excellent, single-lens reflex 35mm camera of German design and manufacture. My new (old) camera was the envy of my classmates and even the instructor, who was the local town professional, looked at it with admiration and approval. At that point in my life, I had traveled extensively throughout the American Southwest and Mexico with my family. My father, an avid amateur photographer, recorded the images that became the visual narrative of my childhood. He used that superb camera, favouring the intensity of Kodachrome – that most wondrous of all films. The world no longer has Kodachrome, but I still have that camera ... well, sort of. I lost that first camera in a move, more than 25 years ago. An exact replacement, right down to the brown leather case protecting it, was handed to me in 2007 by a friend who simply said, “I thought you might know what this is and appreciate it”. I was stunned. As I explained the significance of the camera to her, we were both in awe of this seemingly random gift, first bestowed on a son by his father, and then years later by a friend by simple chance. The camera now occupies a special place in my living room, unused but much revered. I tell that story to illustrate how life can be, and often is, a long series of things lost and then found again: youth (although never found again, an “appreciation” of it is often regained later in life), friends, ideals, and … cameras.
I “lost” photography in my late 30s and “found” it again 13 years later. Because I believe, to some extent, in Fate’s close companion, Timing, photography came back to me when I was ready for it. Pursuing opportunities in my paying career, I moved around B.C.for several years inexplicably dragging with me, boxes of really good darkroom equipment and negatives from my previous life as a photographer. Something was missing from my life however, and the lack of satisfaction and fulfillment at the end of each workday brought this feeling into focus.
I had nothing tangible in my hands that attested to the time and energy spent during a workday that was nonetheless busy. I think we all share that feeling, to some extent or another, living as we do in this modern world, where we do much but create so little. Art is creative and interpretive and it is our touchstone to how we feel but cannot adequately express in words or deeds. It is also the link that can connect others to what we feel, what we see, and what we think. Art, for me, is an excellent print of an intensely beautiful scene held in my hands, still dripping wet from its bath in a mysterious solution. It’s something that is deeply felt. Something I created. Something I want to share. Something deeply fulfilling. In my mid-20s, I developed a keen appreciation of the natural world and I became a committed environmentalist – at least to the extent allowed by a life in mainstream, modern North America, which can mean much believing but too little doing. As my awareness of issues such as global warming, deforestation, and general environmental degradation grew, so did my sense that with photography, I could effectively express how I thought and felt with more than words alone. At its most basic level, environmentalism is about respect and understanding. Translating the natural world into black and white images is, for me, driven by respect and accomplished only with a great understanding of the natural forces that shape our world, light being foremost among them. So here I am, where so many artists have been, using their chosen medium, to elicit an emotional response and to encourage some greater understanding of the world around them. I have found that I am much better at visually encouraging, rather than orally haranguing. Fortunately, I “found” photography again and it serves a purpose and fills a void. The circumstances that brought me back to it remain a mystery that I cannot unravel. Art is evocative – it is supposed to make us think and feel – and with the enormous environmental problems bearing down on our world, we need as much thinking and feeling as we can muster. At the moment that I choose to record each image on film, I feel something for the subject matter, some connection, some understanding and I am moved. More importantly, however, I continue to think and feel and I’m reminded every time I look at my work of where we are and how much further we need to go to understand our place in this precious, fragile world.
RICHARD PHILIP SOLTICE, Photographer