Article submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn.
For her 16th birthday, photographer Katie Silvester received a camera from her mother. The subjects of Silvester’s first forays into photography? Flowers and her feet. Not too long after, Silvester’s father gave her his old Canon AE-1. It was around this time that Silvester’s obsession with cameras and the photographic art form began. After obtaining a little 120mm fixed focus Zeiss Ikon Nettar camera, Silvester finally realized that she needn’t limit herself to the 35mm film format.
After transferring to a different school to study photography for A levels, Silvester got some firsthand experience in just how rigorous the training can be. For the entire academic year, Silvester’s teacher insisted the class shoot everything on black and white and develop the film themselves. It was education by deep immersion.
“There was something special about those old darkrooms,” Silvester tells Polaroid Originals. “My friends and I would spend every spare moment down there like little moles. Ten years on and a whole group of us still work in photography and shoot on film. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Silvester also learned a lot about taking photos by going on little adventures with her friends. To this day, it’s still her favorite working method.
“Photography to me is an excuse to go places and meet people I wouldn’t normally,” she says. “I don’t tend to plan a whole lot for my shoots—I just like to pick a nice location and grab a snack and my cameras and play. If I have the option, I’ll always shoot outdoors, and still find myself chasing the themes of youth, sensuality and connection that I did when I was 16.”
Early on, Flickr was a goldmine of inspiration for Silvester. The image platform served as her first experience sharing photos with anyone she didn’t know. In turn, Silvester spent hours viewing and researching other people’s work. It was also on Flickr that she first encountered Polaroid photographs.
“There was this older guy that used to take the most incredible, moody, inky portraits on expired Polaroid film,” Silvester recalls. “I had a whole host of photographers on Flickr I could rely on for a daily dose of inspiration right from the start. People like Alison Scarpulla, Ellen Rogers and Margaret Durow. I was obsessed with how experimental these guys were.”
What eventually drew Silvester to the instant analog format was the immediacy. Shooting on traditional film always meant waiting a few days before she could see the fruits of her labor. Describing herself as a sucker for a good-looking camera, Silvester first acquired a 240 Automatic Land Camera before transitioning to the SX-70. “That camera is so good looking I make friends every time I shoot with it,” she says.
“It’s a luxury for me to be able to see images so quickly,” says Silvester. “But Polaroid’s look and feel is so timeless—they are almost like a novelty to me still. As someone who avoids digital, it’s really fun for me to be able to use another format of photography.”
When it came to working with the OneStep+, Silvester apprehensive at first. A self-described “film snob,” she likes keeping things simple.
“But you use your phone all day every day anyway, so to control your camera with it feels like second nature,” she says. “It was the portrait lens that really did it for me. Such a game changer—it’s so crisp.”
“The double exposure mode is [also] amazing,” she adds. “Experimenting with double exposures is one of the things that made me fall in love with film, and until now I had been able to do them on instant film. It’s my all-time favorite to double expose a portrait with some flowers.”
Like many other photographers and lovers of Polaroid, and indeed other instant analog images, Silvester is struck by the nostalgic and sentimental quality of these images. Because of this, she finds the portraits of her model Rachel to be particularly special.
“I stumbled across her on Instagram years and years ago when she was maybe fifteen,” Silvester says. “As these developed, I was a little bit blown away by how much of a beautiful young woman she is now.”
As for her advice and tips for photographers, particularly amateurs or novices looking to use the OneStep+ and its app, Silvester says practice and keep shooting.
“The more you shoot, the better feel you get for it, and how much light you need for what,” she explains. “For me, it’s just a really good excuse to play and be experimental like I was when I first found photography.”