Thursday, September 17, 2020

Retro-mechanical



I'm a digital photographer. When it comes to technology, I have always been there waiting with open arms to embrace the new. I think I last shot film about twenty years ago when I started my digital journey with a sub-one-megapixel Kodak camera. But, when someone recently gave me a 1958 Kodak Retina Reflex in working condition, it caused a rethink. Now, some people extol the virtues of film over digital – they like the 'film look' or the experience of developing and printing film. I understand that. And, of course, to use a mechanical camera is to use film; but it wasn't the film that caused my rethink, it was the camera.

Whether mechanical or digital, the fundamental aspects of photography don't change. But, using a mechanical camera again, I realised that digital had distanced me from many of those fundamentals. With a mechanical camera, everything is in your face - from the weight of the camera (heavy) to the need to think carefully about subject, composition, light, juggling f-stops and shutter speeds, and dialling in a good focus. The sheer immersion in the detail of the picture-making process made me feel an integral part of that process – one with the camera and with the act of making a photograph. I had forgotten that feeling.

With digital, if I want, the camera can handle almost everything. My input is only necessary for the occasional circumstance when I needed something quite specific and different from what the camera will automatically provide. What is worse, subject selection and composition – perhaps the most important domain of the photographer -  has been demoted; digital allows me to shoot everything, any way I want, at no marginal cost – choices can be made later. Even Cartier Bresson's "decisive moment" has been reduced to a function of multiple frames per second. In a commercial context, these are all advantages for digital but, for the photographer, they began to look more like separation from the process and a limiter on personal growth and development.



So, this old mechanical film camera requires me to become more a part of the picture-making process - to engage my brain and make several deliberate choices which will either make or break the picture. The pushing of the shutter release is a final commitment to all the choices made, in a way that it seldom is with digital. And I began to wonder if it isn't in the making of all those appropriate choices that a camera-user becomes a photographer? And, if that is the case, then how was digital making me a better photographer? Perhaps it wasn't, and perhaps that is what is behind many photographer's fascination with the next best camera - some of us have needed to get better cameras because our cameras aren't helping us to become better photographers.

I'll keep shooting digital (because, convenience) but I think I might just have found a very good reason to also shoot film, in a camera that requires no batteries. Definitely retro-mechanical.




Saturday, September 12, 2020

Feeling constrained

I'm waiting on an old TLR film camera to come from Japan. It's a hark-back to the days when I owned a TLR Rolliecord and I'm expecting to scratch an itch - what would it be like using a camera from my youth, with the addition of fifty years experience?

But, while I am waiting, I thought I would tackle a self-imposed challenge: Our cameras are so versatile these days, that I've read several photographers claiming that setting some artificial constraints is a good way to challenge yourself and help improve your skills. So, this morning, the sun beckoned and I thought it would be fun to push this type of challenge toward the absurd ...

 

A fish-eye lens, black and white pictures, square format, 12 shots (like 120 film), on foot, 60 mins. Go!

 

Nothing to hang in an art gallery here, but that's not the point - here's what caught my eye, and here's what got captured in-camera (I used Fujifilm's Acros film simulation with a red filter to darken the sky), split-toning applied later.


 

 

 

 

 

 

When the Ricohflex arrives, perhaps I'll take another 60-minute sprint around the town.
Ricoh RIcohflex Vintage Medium Format TLR Camera Overhauled image 0