| Interview by Ronnie |
'Storytellers' is our special interview series, in which we talk to creatives whom we admire and find out how they are each preserving their personal stories. Today's interview is with Leila Peterson, a photographer from Hawai'i now living in London. Leila and I started reading each other's blogs before Instagram was around, and I have always been a huge admirer of her film photography. Every frame that she captures tells the most beautiful story, and I'm utterly delighted to be sharing her memory keeping journey with you today.
Can you tell us a bit about you and your family?
My name is Leila Peterson. I'm a photographer from Hawai'i who is currently living in London, UK, with my husband, Ron, and our French bulldog, Beta.
You've been in London for a number of years now. What do you miss the most about California, and what was it like adjusting to such a different environment?
I miss California weather. I also miss long drives through the desert and a good carne asada taco. The hardest adjustment was the time difference and finding a good schedule to communicate with friends and family.
I find your photography very crisp, considered, and compelling. Was there anything or anyone that inspired you as you developed your own style and voice as a photographer? What compels you to capture a particular frame?
I never really had a favourite photographer growing up. I was more interested in film and music. Some of my favourite movie stills are by directors Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky. Wild Strawberries and Nostalgia are two of my favourites films. I think I'm most compelled to take a photo when a moment or scene moves me in some way.
How long have you been shooting film, and what is it that draws you to capturing your memories on film?
I grew up shooting film in grade school – nothing serious, just the occasional disposable camera on a field trip. In high school, my uncle bought me a Minolta SLR, and I took darkroom classes which led to shooting for the school paper and the yearbook. Film feels comfortable and reminds me of my childhood and simpler times. I still enjoy the slower process of creating an image with film. It definitely makes me appreciate the finished product a lot more than the "instant-ness" of digital.
What are your favourite cameras to shoot on?
I'm currently enjoying my Contax 645, Contax T3, and Fuji Instax Wide.
How do you decide when to take a photo with a film camera, an instant camera, a digital camera, or your iPhone?
I used to carry around a bag full of cameras, but I have finally cut it down to just taking only one or two. This makes my days a lot more enjoyable, and I can connect better with my surroundings – less noise and distraction. I never regret taking the simplistic route over the excessive.
I know that you have a Polaroid camera passed down from your parents. Does this make your Polaroid photos extra precious to you? How do you store your Polaroids?
I do cherish my Polaroids – they remind me a lot of the time when Ron and I first moved to California. Everything was new and exciting, and we were so eager to start a life together. I store my Polaroids in ziplock bags to keep them away from dust. The bags are labelled by year and then kept in little boxes.
I recently saw on Instagram that you've started a visual journal with your Instax photos. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
The Instax journal you saw only lasted about a week, ha! It just wasn't practical enough and took up too much of my time and money, what with the film being so pricey. I ended up starting another 365 journal project documenting my daily thoughts and pairing them with images taken during the week – which I print using a small Polaroid Zip printer. I've done a few 365 projects over the years, but I specifically wanted to create something I could physically look back on for this time. I'm hoping to continue this project every year and have a little library of documented memories 10 to 20 years from now.
What do you usually do with your (personal) digital photos?
I rarely print my digital photos. Our flat in London is so small that it's really forced me to keep only the things I need over the years.
I remember reading once on The Burning House that you have a Moleskine filled with daily writings. Are you someone who continues to journal on a daily basis?
I've been writing and journaling every day since I was little. My first journal was a pink My Melody diary with a tiny heart lock back in 1989. I bought it from a shop in the mall called Curious Porpoise. I wrote all the things I was feeling but didn't want to share – it was my secret sanctuary and emotional outlet. In high school, my friends and I would share journals. We'd write to each other during our classes or at home, filling pages and pages. I had stacks of these books full of secrets, poems, stickers, cut-out photos, magazine clippings, and silly notes. Sadly they all got thrown out when I was older, but I'll always have a special place in my heart for those books. As I grew up, I graduated to leather journals, composition books, and Moleskines.
Do you consider yourself a memory keeper?
I'm definitely a memory keeper and document my thoughts in my 365 journal. It's nice to look back and see how much everything's changed over the years. You learn a lot about yourself reading old entries.
What are your most precious keepsakes?
My most favourite keepsakes are my diaries and photos. Reading old journals and being able to time travel and relive times past are so special to me.
What are the stories that you want to preserve, for yourself and for your family?
I want to document everything – the good and the bad. I don't want to leave out the hard times because they make us stronger and help us to really appreciate the good times when they come.
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You can read the other posts in this series here.