At a recent pop-up event on the Near Southside, Christopher Waldon was chatting with fellow photographer Roy Rivera near a table where newly released enamel pins that read “Are We Having Fun Yet?” were up for sale. Waldon, Rivera, and the crop of photographers who loosely go by the acronymized “AWHFY? crew” were raising funds to build a portable darkroom. The pins are one of several branded items the group is trying to sell to generate money.
“The idea is that we will be able to build a mobile, fully functional darkroom for processing film and photographs,” Waldon said. “We wanted to have something that we can take to schools to teach children the beauty of working with film and what it really takes to do photography.”
Many of us are inundated with hundreds of images a day, thanks to Instagram and other photo-centric apps, he added. The mobile darkroom will show people how to “take a step back and think about their photo” instead of just taking a barrage of digital images.
The mission of teaching the craft of shooting, processing, and printing film is a personal one. The 29-year-old Waldon has been photographing for more than half of his life. Creative outlets like art and music — Waldon plays keys for War Party and the electronica duo Starbass Laboratory — have been a balancing force when seasonal depression and other struggles have left him feeling battered.
“There are mental health benefits that go into music and photography,” he said. “If you bottle up all those feelings, they weigh you down.”
Waldon picked up photography as a teenager. After finding an old camera in his house, he signed up for a photography course at his high school. He steadily accrued vintage cameras and camera parts. The cheaper, the better, he said. The slight distortions and imperfections that come from vintage or even plastic equipment play into Waldon’s photographic ethos.
“Maybe it’s the punk musician in me coming out where I like to be kinda raw,” he said. “I didn’t want glamour shots. I didn’t want to do these super-posed, high fashion photos. I wanted a raw aesthetic. That’s why I like long exposures. The pretty, posh, Instagram-influencer vibe is so fake to me. I want to capture the emotion and energy of these moments.”
The AWHFY? crew recently released an eponymous zine that features several photos by Waldon. One of his main subjects is his grandfather, who lived in Paros, Greece, and died a few years ago. While most Google searches of the seaside resort town bring up picturesque images of blue and white buildings along the coast, Waldon photographed beat-up Soviet-era trucks, hidden alleys, and glimpses of daily life. The images, he said, were a “cathartic release and an expression of my relationship with him.”
Having a group of local cohorts to bounce ideas off of has brought the joy of photographing back, Waldon said. Four years ago, he took an indefinite break from photographing. Looking back, he now sees that he was chasing the wrong goals.
“I kept trying to get into [art] shows,” he said. “I wanted to have my own show, and it stung when the only show I was getting into featured 100 other artists. [Those pursuits] took the fun out of it. It took time to remember why I did photography in the first place.”
While the street photography of Donnie Williams or the abstract biographical works of Diana Urbina are uniquely their own, Waldon sees a common thread that ties the AWHFY? crew together: an unabashed desire to capture life unprompted.
Photography, he added, has become an extension of his body and not simply something he does to attain this or that goal down the road. When the mobile darkroom is up and running, he wants to share his insights with the next generation of Fort Worth photographers.
“Photography and music, those are forms of art,” he said. “That’s something that we as humans have always done. It helps us deal with things in life. You don’t have to paint an image to get into a gallery. You don’t have to shoot a photo because you want to be in a show. It can be an expression of who you are. Not every one of my photos needs to be Instagrammable. I do it for myself, so I remember how I felt in that moment.”