11/05/2013 08:47 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Why I Covered Toronto Fashion Week Without My Smartphone

Last week I attempted to cover Toronto Fashion Week while completely unplugged from modern technology. It was a challenge of sorts, to see what would happen if I disconnected myself from all things digital while attending one of the biggest fashion events in Canada.

It sounds crazy, I know, especially in an industry that's constantly connected, but my editor liked the idea, and with a little bit of refining, she gave me the go-ahead. Plus, I still own a film camera (shocking, yes) and I've been wanting to use it more often.

Before I knew it, I was backstage at David Pecaut Square, interviewing Joe Mimran of Joe Fresh with my handy pen and paper, carrying my Minolta X-9 camera around my neck.

I had already attended days one and two, so I knew what I was getting myself into. At least, I thought I knew, but I soon learned I was very wrong. My task for the night was to go about fashion week without modern technologies -- no cell phone, which meant no Twitter or Instagram, which also meant no instant interaction with any audience at all, and no digital camera, which meant I had about 24 frames (add a few extra for the roll that was already in my camera) to capture the night.

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty nervous. How would I get a good interview without a recorder? Would I be able to write fast enough? Would all my photos turn out blurry? Would the venue be bright enough for my lack of flash? There were so many things to consider.


The first thing I did when I arrived that night was head backstage to take some photos. I snapped pictures until the film had reached its end and stepped aside to change the roll. This is the point where things got interesting (and I hadn't even seen a show yet!).

I began to rewind the film so that I could take it out without exposing the entire roll, but as I was doing so, I felt quite a bit of tension in my camera. To my knowledge, I was doing everything right -- I was turning the handle in the direction the little white arrow on it was pointing -- but something still didn't feel right. I kept going, thinking, "What's the worst that could happen?"

Still, I kept winding, and all of the sudden, the tension stopped.

I opened the back of the camera only to find that I had somehow managed to completely unwind the film out of its canister. That's right -- there was an empty canister and a separate roll of exposed film... plus I was about to be late for an interview with one of the biggest names in Canadian fashion.


With everything going wrong, I was really missing my smartphone. (Even though I had the phone on me, I decided that using its 3G connection to look up "How to unwind film" defeated the whole purpose of being unplugged).

I had to think fast, so I walked over to the heavy black curtain, knelt on the ground, and covered my camera. I knew I had to get the film out, but I was losing faith in my abilities to save it.

I bit the bullet and opened the back again, this time thinking it would be fine, since my camera was covered. I kept my hands under the thick curtain and slowly unrolled the naked film, holding just the top and bottom edges. I was proud of myself for being so resourceful. I finally got the roll out and successfully put in a new one. I was ready to take on the runway.


As the lights went dim, the camera phones came out, and there I was with a camera that doesn't even have a flash. But I was committed to getting some good shots, so I readied my camera and started shooting. With no memory card and only 24 exposures, I had to be picky.

I took some cues from the great New York Times Style photographer Bill Cunningham, who doesn't raise his camera at a fashion show unless something really piques his interest (it's about quality, not quantity!), and I clicked the button whenever I saw something or someone that captured my attention.


The next step was getting the film developed, which of course, wasn't as easy as I thought it'd be. I found a shop that still offers the service (conveniently located across the street from work) and headed over to hand in my rolls.

I went in, asking to get photos developed, and they assured me that since I handed them in before noon, I'd get them by six o'clock. When I went to pick them up, the envelope was extremely light; they had only developed the negatives.

Who knew asking for "film developed" didn't mean getting prints these days? I asked if they would put the images on a CD for me, which meant I wouldn't get the images for another day. Gone are the days of one-hour film services.

After two days of waiting, I finally got my images. And if you're wondering whether or not I saved the first film roll, the answer is no.

I learned that old we have it very, very easy today. Everything is at our fingertips -- we can record, take photos, make calls, and send emails from one device. Sure, things would have been easier if I used my phone, but if you asked me if I'd do it again, I'd say yes. I mean, after all the troubles, I survived, and I got some pretty neat photos, and one hell of a story, out of the whole experience.

Here are the photos that turned out!

Julia's Fashion Week Photos