Member Moment: Mandy O'Donohue

Film Club
Mandy O’Donohue is a Film Club Member who we interviewed this week. She submitted a group of photos from an impromptu project captured a few years ago. Scroll down to see her photos and to read the interview! 

PL: What got you interested in film photography?

Mandy: Initially, I think it was novelty and accessibility. When I started shooting in high school I did it very casually and my mom still had her old camera that I could use, so it was easy to get into without a big initial investment in gear. And it felt like a fun and exciting to learn about. 

I’ve continued to shoot film because I appreciate the slowness, patience, and thoughtfulness it requires. And film seems to have a mind of its own. It can be as accurate and controlled as you want, but if you give it room to breathe, by using a less accurate camera like a point-and-shoot or a Holga, for example, it sort of does what it wants and it’s often beautiful or interesting. Even at its most controlled, there’s something beautiful about film photos and the practice of shooting film. Whatever that special quality is, I think it’s the reason film is so enduring although it’s arguably impractical at this point. 

PL: What type of camera do you shoot with and what kind of film do you usually use?

Mandy: The photos in this series are from a few years ago. I’m guessing I shot them on my Nikon F3 with Fuji Pro400H (R.I.P.).

Now, I always have an Olympus MJUii on hand. If I’m looking to have more control I use a Nikon F100, and for fun I’ll pull out a Holga here and there as well. For film, more than likely I’m using Portra 400.

PL: Can you tell us more about the project and what inspired you to start it? 

Mandy: This was an impromptu shoot. It was at a time when I was being more intentional about spending time with my grandfather and I wanted a record of what he and his life and home looked like at that time. I’m not a big fan of change, but I’m also very fascinated by it and by how much change is imperceptible day to day but becomes very obvious when we have a point of reference. Looking back, I can see that at the time I was starting to be more observant of incremental change and was starting to use photography as a way to document it, but also to cope with it. You can never know for sure how a person or place or whatever will change. I didn’t know exactly how my grandfather or his home would change, but now everything in these photos is gone, so having these photos of him and his home become increasingly more meaningful as time passes. 

PL: What do you enjoy about photographing people? What is challenging about it?

Mandy: Photographing people is not a strength of mine. I feel pretty self-conscious pointing a camera at someone. But it’s something I’m growing more comfortable with and getting better at the more I become secure in myself  as a photographer. Plus, I remember that even if it feels a bit awkward in the moment, I’m always glad I took the shot. 

PL: What are some key elements or emotions captured through this project? 

Mandy: As I touched on before. what I love about this series, and photos in general, is how much meaning they gain over time. 

At the time, close to five years ago, I wanted to document my grandfather when I was spending time with him regularly. Now, I see someone who was in his last months of independence on a simple errand, going to the local post office on his own for one of the last times. 

In a very simple way, these photos capture him as an individual. It’s hard to talk about, or portray, older people without them coming across like caricatures, because we often see people as such as they grow old. And the process of growing old can change people so greatly it be hard to find the person you knew, even if they’re sitting in front of you. So I’m grateful to have captured this little slice of a normal day of my grandfather in his natural element. 

Also, roughly a year after taking these photos my life changed in a way that opened my eyes to the magnitude of the experience of growing old. An experience that is largely hidden from our day to day life. I later photographed other elderly individuals I came to know and hope to continue to do so and draw more attention to the aging process and showcase those individuals as individuals

There are elements of this series that carried over, namely that I took photos not just of people but also they’re home or belongings, things that visually describe them and add context. Looking back, this series now not only feels like an organic documentation of someone very important to me at an important point in our relationship, but also as early sketches or a rough blueprint for later work. 

PL: Out of all of these photos, which one is your favorite and why?

Mandy: It’s hard to choose, but I feel very drawn to this one [below]. It’s one of those magical, incidental moments where the film seemed to know best. I feel it represents well the mystery and heartbreak of gradually losing someone you know and love to old age. 


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