Two years ago, we welcomed Roxanna Angles La Belle, a film photographer in Southern California, as a newcomer to the Lomography community. Back then, she was already involved in Beers and Cameras, a social club for film photographers. Its group members meet up at different locations with their favorite cameras, go on photo walks, and learn techniques from each other. Roxanna was so inspired by this experience that she decided to put up a film photography club at school, where she works as a counselor for kids and teens.
The pandemic put a halt to social activities, but that did not discourage Roxanna from pursuing creative projects. This time of uncertainty encouraged her to make use of her day job in mental health with her passion for photography by publishing a book called An Introduction to Mindfulness Through Photography: A Six Week Guide to Reduce Stress and Anxiety.
“The idea for this book began with my film photography club I run at the school I work for. I teach students film photography as a means to reduce stress and anxiety. When I found myself with all this extra time at home, I started writing! It is a book for those who want to find the inner calm that resides in all of us. I have curated six simple activities that will help you learn how to practice mindfulness and finding peace within through photography. These practices help with stress, anxiety, grief or any other large emotion that you might have difficulty controlling.”
On top of all that, Roxanna is a co-host and contributor on the Negative Positives Podcast with Mike Gutterman and Andre Domingues. As the name suggests, it's all about the love for film photography. She's currently taking time to do a series highlighting female photographers in the community, which will be featured every other week on the podcast.
Hi, Roxanna. What inspired you to pursue photography?
I always loved taking photographs. I remember my first adventure trip with my friends right after high school graduation, and I was the one to pack a few disposable cameras to document the fun. That was right before digital took over. I did not seriously get back into film until 4 years ago. I was always using filters to make my photos look filmy, and one day I was on YouTube and ran into a cool series of videos called Analog Series, oh it was love at first sight. I started reading everything I could find about film photography. After that I discovered Lomography and was so inspired by the photographers that were featured and all of the wonderful tips!
Tell us the first time you held a film camera. Do you remember what you took with your first roll?
I grew up with film, so I will talk about my first camera after the dark digital era. I found a Yashica Electro 35mm camera up in an antique store in Joshua Tree. I threw a roll of Kodak Gold film in it and started shooting. Surprisingly, I got a handful of gorgeous photos (the rest were meh lol), but the film bug had bit. I was madly in love and hooked! My first roll was of my kids, and some random flowers. The colors were beautiful and I was stunned how much I loved these photos. I felt like I was so much more connected to these versus the ones one my phone.
What do you wish to express through your photographs?
I want my photographs to feel like you’re in a dream. Whimsy, colorful, and even surreal. Real life can present itself with such harsh realities, that I want to transport my audience into a lovely alternate universe. An escape from the normal, and into a land where flowers float and landscapes maybe purple.
Aside from taking photos, you've been involved in many projects related to film photography—a school club, a book, and a podcast. Did you encounter any challenges along the way? How did you overcome them?
This last year has especially had its challenges. My club at school has been the most challenging because we have not met in person for the last year! When you're teaching film photography to middle school kids, it is so necessary to meet in person. Since they were developing film at school with me, we had to take a hiatus from shooting. We started meeting through Zoom and talking about film weekly! I can’t wait until we are back on campus and resume our club. The extra time at home was just the motivation I needed to complete my book, which is heavily based on the data from my club at school! Being a co-host on the Negative Positive Podcast this last year has been a breath of fresh air. The community it brings together is magnificent. I did step into the contributor role just this month so I could focus on my new efforts in highlighting the women in our film community! I also take the time in writing the interview with their beautiful photographs on my Medium account. I really want people to have an opportunity to appreciate their work while reading their interview. It’s a nice companion to the podcast.
You mentioned having interviewed female film photographers for the NPP podcast, which I think is an awesome and admirable effort! Are there any learnings that you picked up from these conversations?
I have learned so much! It’s amazing how many talented female photographers there are that just don’t get the attention they deserve. I have built new friendships with other female film photographers from doing these solo interviews for the podcast. The main thing I have learned is how incredibly empowering the female film community is. They seriously rock.
Did you notice any changes in the film photography community compared to when you first started?
Yes! The price of my favorite film cameras have skyrocketed. I got my first Canon AE-1 for 40 dollars, now I see them on EBay for 150-200 dollars. So crazy. Though on a positive note, I see so many more film shooters. I love teaching film photography to friends, family and students just so I can share the joy it brings me. So because of this, I’m now surrounded by film photographers!
Our lifestyles have changed since the pandemic, limiting our interactions and requiring us to change our habits and actions. How do you think this affects photography?
The pandemic has forced me to change what I shoot. I used to photograph family, friends and other people. The forced isolation had me thinking of how I could do what I love while being safe. Though I do think with limitations, it pushes our creativity to expand! I would have never gotten into water flower photography pre-pandemic. I’m currently working on my next artistic series of mixed media using my darkroom prints and pressed flowers. I really love that it has pushed me to think outside the box!
What advice would you give someone who wants to try film photography?
Just pick up a camera and go shoot. Don’t worry about gear. Some of my favorite shots were taken with my most basic cameras. Enjoy the experience and let the magic of film take over.