Descended from my friend’s attic, dusty box in my hand. Peeked in curiously and found this old, dust-covered analog camera. Russian. Heavy. Black, slightly scratched. Old glass. Metal. “Would this still work?” The aperture ring on, manual focus. No exposure meter. 36 frames. Stiff shutter button. Dusty fingers.
Viewfinder intact. Cocking the shutter seems to work. Significant kick after pressing the shutter button with the sound of… The echo of past photos taken. Years, decades ago. The sound of people, smiles, staged group portraits, documentary collections, events from history. Moments so significant, that one would shoot, exposing 1/36th of a precious roll.
Opening the film chamber. Empty. The odor of old, once prime technology spreading across the room. Documentary photographer, journalist, student, explorer, mother, grandfather loading film. Chasing light, capturing it, recording stories. Unloading, developing, printing pictures. Not in the box.
“Would this still work?”
Short online search. Which film? Opted for color, Kodak Portra 400. One roll, for starters. “Who knows, might not work after all.” Opened the backdoor again, inserted the film and wound it to the first frame. Now, I am a real photographer. Like in the old days.
Went for a walk, found things to photograph. Is this worth a shot though? Am I spending my 1/36th of a film on this? OK, how do I compose it best? Walking around, studying the scene, understanding light. Using exposure meter over and over again, to make sure I lock in the right aperture and shutter speed. Again, is the shot worth it? Still not sure. More exploration, more moving, more metering. Heck, let’s do it.
Composition seems OK, settings are dialed in. Focusing. Re-focusing. Pressing the shutter button. There it is! Instinctively, my hand flips the camera, my gaze towards it. No screen, no way to check for correct exposure. No way to see the mistakes. Funny feeling, not knowing. No instant feedback.
Moving on, more subjects, more hesitation, more metering. Decisions. Purposeful shooting. 10 shots in during the walk. With digital, I’d be at a 100, perhaps more. Did I get something though? Not sure.
Another day, same film. Street scenes. Big city. Blue hour. Can I still shoot this? 1/60th of a second seems too fast. Trying 1/30th, handheld at f 2.0. Can’t go slower or more open than this. Shoot a few. Moving, metering, compositing, recomposing, focusing and refocusing. My hand still, wanting to turn the camera around to “chimp”.
Few more exposures left. Another day, 4 pm. Hard light, strong shadows. Still no feedback. Done at 36th frames. Took me three days to click through. Rewinding the film back to its canister, opening, unloading. Going to photoshop the next day: “express processing please”. Later in the afternoon…
“It still works!”
Thanks for reading. More of my writing here.