Storytelling through Photography

Analogue to Digital and back

By Celeste McKenzie

I’ve had amazing adventures in my life so far and have visited places among which Alaska and Cuba are two of my favourites by far. In Alaska I shot on film and in Cuba with my first DSLR. I toured America and Canada for nearly 3 months with a backpack and 40-60 rolls of film. You had no idea whether all the rolls would develop properly as you had to go through many X-ray scanners at airports and border crossings. Those were the days of having to wait until you could develop the film and then print your precious memories.

My passion for photography started as a child with our family slide show evenings after the holidays to reminisce over our adventures. The sound that the slide projector makes while changing from slide to slide has stayed with me forever. We would sit and wait in expectation of the next image to appear. Of course, as you became older it was no longer as much fun to watch those images with friends and family. Being a teenager comes with its own growing pains. But these memories have stuck with me, that feeling when you shoot with a film camera, the sound of the shutter to this day makes me nostalgic. My childhood was driven by sport and inspired by talent and artistry, my mother was a water colour artist and my father made wooden toys as a hobby. This laid the foundation for being inquisitive. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s with no television, only the drive-in cinema once a month to see a new movie, did not dampen our spirits. Instead, this led us to invent adventures that at times ended in punishment and tears. I have a passion for life, travel and teaching, and this passion drives me to take on projects that could enrich my own life as well as others.

My career spans over 30+ years, mainly in corporate communications where video and photography formed part of my main responsibilities. I experienced the change at first hand from analogue to digital in print, photography and video through those years. The change to digital and the current social media hype empowers entrepreneurs and small start-ups with so much more opportunities to succeed. The ease and convenience to market and brand oneself nationally and internationally open new undertakings. Lately I have come to witness the full circle, as analogue is still relevant in certain forms and some photographers are using it as a special niche.

I don’t think that the greater Vega group is aware that the Pretoria campus started out as a photography-only campus. I joined Vega in 2010 on the Pretoria campus where the National Photo College was before ADvTECH bought it, and the official Vega campus started in 2008. Analogue was then still part of the curriculum and the first six months dedicated to film only. The students had to shoot black-and-white film, developed and printed in darkrooms and then moved over to digital for the following six months. In the Advance Certificate we used medium- and large-format film and employed the Ansel Adams Zone system to produce stunning black-and-white prints.

I only switched to digital photography in 2005, but to this day I continue to shoot film and I use it as part of my social documentary projects. One thing that changed for me when I added digital as part of my equipment was that experiencing instant satisfaction sometimes led to boredom and less excitement. The expectation is simply not there in the way it is with film. For me, digital is great for travel photography and that quick photo session with an eager client or when the client wants a quick turnaround time. Maybe that is why I prefer to work on social documentary projects and why it takes me 3- 4 years to complete, plan, research, conduct interviews, do the final edit and layout and only then put all of that into perspective. I still carry a black-and-white film camera with me, and the excitement is still there when I develop the film, scan the negatives and even print.

As the Vega Pretoria campus grew, we started with our first degree BBM. The photography space gradually changed and sadly we had to scale down the analogue film photography. The current photographic market caters mostly for digital photography and film photography is more for the fine art specialist. Fortunately, and to the benefit of many Veganites, photography has expanded into a well thought-out part of the curriculum spread across various disciplines. Today photography adds to the skill set of a Vega student and stimulates more diversity and a broader scope of knowledge.

The now generation is more in touch with its own identity, brand and personal likes and dislikes than ever before. Social media hype has turned so many into brand icons and this is showcased on their social media profiles. With photography, connecting the dots between audiences, target markets and personal or individual images on social media platforms is made so much easier. We can now compete against big companies or become independent producers, publishers or artists. And we are aware that the digital world brings with it its own competitiveness and dangers. The Vega graduate walking out of Vega is now well equipped to understand the demands of current trends and productions within industry and can add real value.

But not all is lost in the world of film photography. Brands are finding different ways to stay ahead of the competition, such as the latest Calvin Klein ad campaigns. #MyCalvins was shot on film by photographer Harley Weir. This is not the only brand to use creative ways to reach busy and distracted consumers. Skateboarder Matt Alberts shoots wet plates and did a year-long Cadillac project. When he pitched it to Cadillac, they embraced the idea with their new “LIFERS” campaign (Cadillac, 2015). Companies are looking for new ways to communicate with customers. Photographers are competing with Instagrammers and digital designers for new clients and pitching innovative ideas and concepts that will drive new marketing and branding concepts. Photographers need to tell stories to build connections and audiences. More and more agencies are studying the Instagram pages of photographers to see if they are achieving just that.

Wet plate print Matt Alberts. The LIFERS campaign with Cadillac (Cadillac, 2015)

Photography is constantly changing, and mobile phones are incorporating better optics to make for better photos. The versatility of DSLR cameras are adapting to the new demands from consumers, and the market has shifted more towards mirrorless cameras and drones. People have gone back to retro, that older vintage camera look and feel, with Instax Polaroid being popular, and companies increasingly incorporate this into their marketing. Brands are always on the look-out for a different connection to advance their new campaign roll-outs and attract newer demographics and more diverse consumer groups. The catch is to keep people interested in the brand.

There are more photographers than ever before in 2019, and hundreds of millions of people now have phones with better optics than some DSLR’s. With so many photographers, brands are seeking authenticity and photographers who embrace this can form part of new brand campaigns and stories that fit into those styles. The biggest reason that companies are looking for different challenges is that in some way we may be feeling jaded and need new challenges to revive those creative juices.

Film slows you down and makes you think about the shot, as you only have 24 or 36 frames to shoot with. It is like therapy, says Tom Grimbert, you understand the moment and it is all about the stories. We want to slow down our lives and appreciate the smaller things (Grimbert, 2019).

Perhaps that’s why I still shoot on film, as I am always looking for a challenge. Social documentary projects are a form of therapy for me, they take years to complete and the stories from some of these projects make you truly passionate about your craft. My passion in photography, video and storytelling are all part of my DNA, and I am truly lucky to have found a family of like-minded creatives across many disciplines that embrace this passion in Vega. Every chance I have I teach my students the ethics of being a responsible photographer when working with vulnerable communities, and where time allows, they may tag along for the cultural experience.

My life can certainly be measured in frames and seconds, as I have done some crazy things as part of my career so far and I am looking forward to the next part of my life as an educator where more stories of people, places and cultures are still awaiting me. The exiting news of becoming a university and being part of such a wonderful experience makes me appreciate this space even more. I have learnt so much from my colleagues and peers and I salute with great respect all round for the efforts, the teaching and learning practices where we can share special moments that make us grow as lecturers. Our campus is the family space where we spend more time with one another than at home, may we treasure this and build relationships to last a lifetime.

May we hold on to our memories, go and find those old yellow photos and dust off the photo albums to transport us back in time and make them count for us. Take photos from your phone and print them, display them on your walls, in your dwellings and remember those special moments. We only have memories when we grow old, so make the most of it, capture it, print it and look at it every day.

We are not born to be ordinary!


Cadillac (2015). Cadillac and LIFERS Introduce ‘The Seasons Collection’. [image] Available at: [Accessed 9 Aug. 2019].

Grimbert, T. (2019). The Return of Film Photography In 2019 - Tom Grimbert. [online] Tom Grimbert. Available at: [Accessed 9 Aug. 2019].

Handley, A. (2019). How Photos Can Make or Break Your Marketing Campaign. [online] Entrepreneur. Available at: [Accessed 9 Aug. 2019].

10/25/2019 12:00 AM