“I go to Yours Truly, I drink Black Label and I shoot film”. That’s how Elea summarised the current wave of creative youths who you’ll find, Marlboro reds in hand, and clad in vintage Fila jackets and fanny packs on any given night out. They’re taking over the photography scene – and your Instagram feed.
Elea is wearing a red jacket, black velvet pants and ox blood Doc Martins. Très chic. Around her neck hangs a lighter in a small leather sheath, “I picked it up off the floor at The Waiting Room the other night” she explains. Ah, Cape Town, you are special.
At this point you might be thinking, Jana, what has this got to do with anything? Isn’t your blog about film? Why yes, yes it is about film. But, while awkwardly asking Elea questions about her photography I realised that, if you want to talk about the youth and what they’re doing with film photography, you sort of have to talk about Cape Town and its culture.
Anyone can take photos of their friends baking on the rocks at Bakoven, but if you are Elea Orengo you take it to the next level. You accidentally double expose your beach-day film with your raucous night-out film. You create a film masterpiece, a magical juxtaposition of Waiting Room-balcony Christmas lights and Lion’s Head.
As we sit under the trademark fairy lights of Yours Truly, I ask Elea about her photography and how she got into shooting film. She explains that from a young age, she has played the role of ‘the-token-friend-who-takes-all-the-squad-photos’. She started putting her photos on Facebook, because it was a safe space, and her photos gained a lot of attention. Friends were commenting to compliment her on her work. Her French grandmother was also commenting that she should stop smoking. Classic Facebook ‘concerned- grandma’ comments, don’t you just love those?
Upon asking Elea what camera she shoots with she replies “A Minolta something”. The most refreshing reply I’d ever gotten after asking someone what they shoot with. No long ramblings about why her camera is “totally awesome”. Just three words.
If, like me, you’re loving Elea Orengo, just wait until you hear the story about how she got her first film camera. “When I was younger, I did this commercial for Disney,” she explains nonchalantly. “It wasn’t like a major one or anything, but we found out from someone that it was being shown in Times Square, New York.” After enquiring about her commercial, Elea found out that it was indeed being showcased for the 1.6 million people in Manhattan to see. She got some extra moola and decided to buy a film camera from a vintage store in Town.
This really gets me excited. I fumble over the questions I have prepared and they all seem a little lame in comparison to what Elea has just told me, but I go ahead anyway. I ask a deep question. I ask her what she thinks makes a good photographer at a time when everyone is taking photos. When the iPhone in your pocket is basically the equivalent of a fully functional DSLR camera, why carry around a film camera?
Her answer, is that she had originally been inspired to start shooting film upon going through the stacks of photos from her mother’s youth. “We don’t have that now”. When she was fifteen her phone broke and she lost many precious memories. “Everything is digital now, and taking photos on film is a way of having those memories physically with you. Film is tangible, that’s what I like about it”.
Like Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos, Elea candidly captures fleeting moments of people and places in time that, to her, matter most. Her photos depict parts of Cape Town’s youth that will feel familiar to anyone who lives here. Her photos are relatable and that’s what makes them powerful.
There has recently been an upsurge in the number of young people choosing to shoot film over digital. I wanted to interview Elea to try and gain some insight into why this is happening. I wanted to know whether this was just another trend, or whether it had something to do with film’s ability to capture something missing in the lives of today’s youth (myself included). Is opting for film just an extension of our obsession with the vintage, the second hand and essentially the practices of a bygone era?
Maybe it was the Red Bull I had hurriedly guzzled down in an attempt to try and counter my less than mild case of serious sleep deprivation, but in the deep workings of my mind something clicked. I have always had this expectation that the best photographers are those with expensive cameras, five different lenses and tonnes of gear at their disposal. We imagine them to be shooting with only the best sensors (hardly ever film) and to have their work published in slick, fashionable magazines. But, if the essence of photography is to capture an authentic moment in time, then does it really matter that much if you’re shooting with cheap disposable cameras, fancy Kodak Porta film or that 5D Mark III?
Elea’s photos are a prime example, to me and anyone who sees them, that well… it really doesn’t.
For further reading about similar movements among the youth in other cities around the world, check out these two articles:
All photos below are shot by and owned by Elea Orengo.
To see more of her photos check out her Instagram: @tinytitzzz