Shooting Film in the Lonely South

I started shooting film around the time I was 22 or 23, so about 10 years ago. I had taken photos before that with Polaroid cameras and the Kodak Ektralite 110 camera my mother had when I was a kid, but as a young adult it was the early days of the Lomography style that got my wheels turning.


Growing up poor in rural Alabama (mama worked hard to make sure I had Nikes), one thing you learn to do is make the most of what you have. As a kid I would mow the yard for $5 and get to choose what to spend it on at the flea market. I could choose between two new comic books or a stack of older issues from the quarter box. This attitude towards money and material possessions stayed with me and has never left. So when I starting getting into shooting film, cheap cameras and cheap film were the logical choice and it’s been my style ever since. I’ve rarely ever bought a camera brand new. Almost all have been from thrift stores or yard sales.


There’s plenty to disagree with about the American South. Religion, politics, you name it. Being a liberal / progressive leaning person, living here puts you in a tough position on a daily basis. Photography has always been my way of reconciling that for myself. When I take photos of old gas stations or beat up cars or whatever, I’m really saying a couple of different things with the image. I identify with the loneliness and isolation of the scene while at the same time I’m telling it “Hey, you did this to yourself. You refused to keep up with the times, and you got left behind.” For me the subject matter becomes so much more than inanimate objects; they represent someones’ dreams or accomplishments or lack thereof, and now they just seem like props in a particular scene and that’s what draws me to it.


Every Saturday I try to get out and take photos. I wake up around 8 or 9 and make coffee and gather all my film and cameras and hit the road. I usually carry 2 or 3 cameras max. For awhile now a Minolta Hi-Matic AF 2 has been my main camera. I generally keep it loaded with expired Fuji Superia 200 or Kodak Gold 200. I’ve been shooting some really expired Ilford HP 5 that I’ve had for years as well. I go through phases of shooting with my old Instax 7s. It’s usually a matter of money and I have to choose between buying Instax film or getting 35mm rolls developed.


There’s a couple of thrift stores that I hit up every week to check for new cameras or CD’s to listen to in the car. A cool thing about where I live in Birmingham, Alabama is that from the middle of the city you can drive 30 minutes in any direction and be out in the country. It makes exploring easy and there’s always some new small town with one traffic light to check out and take photos of. I’ll usually leave the thrift store and just keep driving until I don’t recognize anything or I’ll take the interstate and start getting off random exits.


I’m usually pretty careful when I’m out in rural areas by myself driving around and shooting. I have a $5 pocket knife that I always have on me and that’s the extent of weaponry that I own. I’m naturally prone to anxiety anyway but shooting in these unknown areas can bring on the paranoia when you’re creepin’ around some little town and the locals are looking at you with suspicion. It’s a funny contrast to how my family is scared of coming to the city for fear of getting robbed. I try to practice getting closer to subjects but a chunk of my photos are taken from a bit of a distance out of anxiety. Luckily I’m not really interested in taking photos of people or I’d really be in trouble. Something that I encounter a lot when I’m shooting around new areas and talking to people is that there’s a lot of fear of folks they don’t recognize. They’re weary that I’m some sort of VICE reporter there to mock or exploit their little slice of heaven and let’s be real, in certain ways I kind of am (not the VICE part obviously.) So to me it’s important to be respectful of people while still doing my thing. Personally I’ve never been enticed by the whole street photography method of sticking your camera in strangers’ faces but that’s just me. My mission is to document as many artifacts both big and small before they’re gone forever. I guess you could say I’m a hoarder of scenes and places in time.

I intend to keep exploring the South and wherever else my camera and curiosity take me. You can follow me on the ‘gram at @casualsceneryzine if you’d like to tag along.

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Brian Arnold

I'm a 33 year old photo taker living in Birmingham, Alabama. Capturing the lonely south on film one exit at a time. Instagram: @casualsceneryzine

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