My late teens and early twenties were a blur of travels and my blurry film photography thereof. In 1998 I found myself visiting Beijing, China. I flipped through the photo album last week, searching for some previously unpublished image to upload, and found this photo tucked away, almost forgotten.
It comes from a time when I did not -invariably could not– simply dial up the ISO sensitivity for low light evening photography. If I wanted a black and white photo of a moment, I shot black and white film. I have both color and black & white images of these dancers. I carefully rewound my last roll of color negative film, marked the canister to remind me how many frames I had used, and loaded a roll of higher sensitivity black & white film, advancing beyond the frame last shot used before composing and adjusting settings for a new image. It was an undertaking.
Now a decade and a half later I had to stop and think where I saw these dancers when I paused and decided to shoot the moment both in color then reload for this monochrome image. No metadata, no GPS tag accompanies the image. Unless I noted in my journal that I had observed this performance the handful of frames I photographed is all the detail and memory of it left.
That, perhaps, is what draws me to share this image most from my first travels in Beijing – the faintness of my own recollection. I had the determination to spend some of my limited 35mm film supply to record the moment, persistence to unload one type and reload a different film, yet today remember nothing aside from the prints in the album.
My photos show it was a hazy, late summer evening when this was taken outdoors. Adults in modern dress danced under the incandescent glow of the bulbs outlining the rooftop behind them. Some of the dancers are blurs of movement, rapid steps and turns caught mid-stride.
It haunts me. A mix of dreamy haze and already nostalgic black and white travel scenery only adds to my minuscule mystery trying to recall the moment I took this photograph. Perhaps it’s good fortune to have forgotten so much surrounding the minutes of my late teens when this view crossed my camera’s viewfinder, if just to see it years later and spark my curiosity. -eB
Happy accidents were a major part of my early film photography adventures. Using manual-focus and manual exposure 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) cameras and lenses in changing lighting conditions, focus, and a 15-year-old’s attention span resulted in more than a few unfocused, under- or over-exposed, or otherwise just “off” frames of film. Hours, days, sometimes weeks later I would see these slices of 35mm once they had been processed & printed on paper. I remember tinkering with the shutter speed dial when taking this photo, guessing my way through the first few rolls of drugstore special 35mm film before I found a manual to the Olympus OM-10 camera. I’m lucky this roll was even loaded correctly; my first attempt never caught the take up spool and 36 frames of memories were exposed one atop the next, amounting to a disappointing wait to see that I had a lot to learn about these cameras before even taking a usable photo.
This image came back badly-exposed, printed with the hopes of salvaging an image from the ill-exposed negative. And it became a favorite print, a reminder that my earliest enjoyment of photography wasn’t about technically perfect image creation, but the enjoyment of the hobby.
My dad’s habit of finding quirky gifts strikes again. A crisp $1 bill got him this nifty Kodak Instamatic 104 Outfit box set at a garage sale. Sweet yellow Kodak box contains an Instamatic camera, unused flash cube, old AAA batteries and box from the last 126 cartridge that expired in May 1975 all stored inside. Now I’ve just got to find a 126 film cartridge to reload and get snapping with this camera!
I shot this on an exceptionally photogenic day in Sweden, a day that started out with everything outside covered with frozen fog frost. While visiting the capitol city with my flatmate and Finn friends the sky that was perfectly clear blue in the morning had incredible clouds at dusk.
I didn’t have very fast film, a fast lens, or a lot of light for sharp hand-held photos and didn’t take a tripod with me. I did what my years of shooting cheap and watching MacGuyver taught me: improvise. I had in my backpack a hacky sack beanbag for the occasional time wasting fun and makeshift camera stabilizer. (Dual purpose travel accessories are great space savers!) With the camera strap over my neck I balanced the camera on top of the beanbag on a bridge railing and composed this shot.
While meandering Saint Augustine, Florida during my time at port near Jacksonville, the lines and shadows from a balcony with sun high overhead caught my attention. I had a roll of C41 color-process black and white 35mm film in one camera and snapped away.
“I need a newer/older / film/digital / manual/automatic camera/lens/computer first.”
This new year has been 3 days -and a few leading up to it last year- of kicks in the pants to get a camera and use it. Not a new one – one within reach. A phone if I have to. Create already. Reminders I find in old film photo prints I keep running into that I had no idea what I was doing when I took most of the shots, but I tried an idea anyway. Reminders I find in the photos of friends very new to photography who are trying their ideas wildly and doing so with great creativity.
The shot above is flawed, flared, and yet is a favorite (from film photography follies in Florida if we’re going to go on with the alliteration). My job at the time relocated me to live on a ship in a tiny town marina outside Jacksonville, Florida. In what has been a trend since my elementary school days I am up awake into the morning hours writing, and did so often in my travels. I had a pair of 35mm Minolta SLRs, a compact tripod, and hours of the night to think. For my first eBay purchase I picked up a light meter to help me judge nighttime and long exposures and began to photograph the ships, marina, and town around me after dark.
I had an idea of how to set the film camera to get correct lighting where I wanted it. I knew a few tips. Most of all I knew that if I wanted to take a photo I’d have to press the shutter release. I’d have to just try.
When I got the prints back from my evening shoot around Jacksonville I was a bit let down that I had been blasted with lens flare. I liked the way the street light looked in the foreground but forgot altogether what might happen with a light source right in the frame shining my way. I shot for 15-30 seconds to soak up more background light and let the lines of people going by blur. This much had worked as planned.
What surprised me was that behind the moving crowd sat a couple along the walkway’s railing. They sat still enough to remain sharp in contrast to the crowd in motion that now appear as streaks. If I had arranged the shot I could have recreated this look easily. They are a happy discovery from a photo made while just tinkering with ideas and playing to motion blur during long exposures, reminders that you never know what you’ll find unless you try.
Woke up with a laugh at the first dream of the new year – I was shooting 35mm film with my first SLR camera, the Minolta X-370. Nerd alert. Manual focus, manual exposure, thumb lever winder style. Vaguely remember I was shooting some outdoor wedding stuff and keeping up with the action just fine winding after each shot.
I’ll take that as a sign and shoot some film today, see what a little suspense to see the photo can do again.