Pentacon Six - Kodak Ektar

Reflecting on G.A.S and Finding other Distractions – By Holly Gilman

I’m sure the readers of this website do not need me to explain what G.A.S is. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it.

In this article I want to talk about a little realisation I’ve had about my own G.A.S and the sorts of things that have featured on my G.A.S list over the past month or so. First of all, as the name suggests G.A.S is about gear but, I would argue that film forms a part of gear – after all, the cameras that I own wouldn’t function without it. However, for the purposes of this article I would like to add a third strand of G.A.S that I suffer from, and that is the acquisition of photography and art related books, magazines and other publications.

Pentacon Six – Kodak Ektar

My issue with G.A.S

I came to realise this week that, for me, G.A.S is actually a symptom of my depression and anxiety. Photography (specifically analogue photography) is my absolute passion, it brings me the most joy of any hobby I’ve tried and I now believe that when times get tough, I bury myself in it.

Under normal circumstances I think that using your hobby as a distraction is perfectly normal. In fact, if you’ve listened to Daniel Sigg’s new podcast, you’ll probably agree with me that it can be a form of meditation. However, every now and then I find myself down rabbit holes of researching this camera or that, or some rare films that I want to try and yes, endlessly looking at books online. It becomes obsessive. Since November (ish) I’ve been finding myself more frequently down these rabbit holes, coming to a bit of a peak this last week. The week that, in England, we’ve discovered that everything is much more serious that we had hoped with the pandemic (I won’t elaborate further because we’ve all heard enough of it).

I can’t remember what triggered the thought process but I realised that every instance of G.A.S that I’ve had has come about at a time of heightened anxiety for me. I’m not a big shopper, I enjoy days out shopping with my mum and sister for the social aspect but the shopping itself doesn’t bother me. Cameras, books and film though are the exception. And so I would compare it, in broad terms, to those who feel the latest car or watch will make them happy – for me, in those moments, I think that shooting with X camera will be better or more interesting than Y camera I currently shoot with.

Expired Kodak Gold

Expired Kodak Gold

In actual fact though, it’s the research that I’m doing that I’m benefiting from. It’s taking my mind off what is going on, I’m reading endless reviews of cameras or synopses of books, I’m looking through example pictures from others’ portfolios – I’m lost in that World instead of reality.

Many refer to G.A.S as a disease (comically I might add). But for me, whether a good thing or a bad thing, I’ve realised that it is a symptom of my mental health rather than a disease on it’s own. A symptom which I can now recognise and take a step back from and see with some perspective.

Finding Other Distractions

So, am I cured? No of course not! I started writing this article a month ago in the first week of January (hence the reference to the pandemic above). Since then I have fallen down more rabbit holes and yes, ordered a few more books, but the difference is that I can see it for what it is. You could even say, maybe, that I’ve started to redirect the energy involved.

You may have recently seen Edd Carr’s post about the Northern Sustainable Darkroom, the work that he, his organisation and the London Alternative Photography Collective are doing is so inspiring to me that’s it’s pushed me over the edge of another project.

I’ve long been concerned about the environment and have made changes in various parts of my life but my film photography practice always niggled at me. It’s so important for my mental health but a small voice was telling me that it was also a little bit wrong. And the resources I’ve discovered via these groups has inspired me to make a change. I’m going to make a conscious effort to slow down my use of film, being more considered in my shots and working my way more gently through the stash I have acquired. I recently took an inventory of my film stock and realised that I have enough film to shoot a roll each of 120 and 35mm per month for about 2 years. That’s ridiculous – what was I thinking?!

Off the back of this, a friend and I have set up a Facebook group (yes another one!) which we are hoping is going to be a bit of a library of resources and knowledge for those looking to reduce their environmental impact in their photographic practice. This is not a place for perfection but a place to get some inspiration and try things out to see how they work for you. Whether you are just thinking about what you could do or whether you already have a fully sustainable practice, everyone is welcome. It’s a work in progress, after all I’m a novice too, so all contributions to the resources are welcome.

Expired Ektachrome

Expired Ektachrome

I’ve also found some other things I’m hoping to try in the near (or distant) future:

  • I’m currently setting up my own darkroom at home and so I hope to start working with the negatives that I already have rather than always shooting more. I have ideas that I want to try out like hand colouring/dying prints, cyanotypes, different printing techniques and so on.
  • I’ve found some amazing resources on learning to fix and service cameras which I’m hoping to work through. I have a few broken cameras with a range of different issues that I’d like to try my hand at.
  • I’ve just come across a very exciting facebook group dedicated to building/modifying your own cameras. There are some amazing contraptions in there which has got the creative juices flowing.
  • I’m hoping to take advantage of this fantastic community to participate in more camera swaps and loans so that I can try out strange and wonderful cameras without the financial burden. And of course, enable others to do the same.

In Conclusion

I don’t suppose there is a cure for GAS. Without becoming a complete recluse I’m inevitably going to be inspired by this person or that piece of work to start researching products and ideas but it’s having the perspective that’s going to help me going forward. Channeling something seen as negative into a positive outcome and using my hobby to help me through these bizarre times. As with anything, it takes practice.

I’m always interested in talking to others about this stuff, if you’d like to get involved then you can reach out to me via Instagram or my website!

p.s I’ve littered this with what are to me, calming images – they have no relevance other than that.


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Holly Gilman

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