There is a great scene in the movie ‘One Hour Photo’ which I really took to my heart. Sy Parrish, technician in a one hour photo lab and protagonist (greatly played by Robin Williams), is on a flea market where he looks through some old photos and thinks: “I’m sure my customers never think about it… but these snapshots are their little stands against the flow of time. The shutter is clicked… the flash goes off… and they’ve stopped time… if just for the blink of an eye. And if these pictures have anything important to say to future generations, it’s this… ‘I was here. I existed. I was young. I was happy… and someone cared enough about me in this world to take my picture.’”
This also works for scenery, objects and situations; Frozen in time as art form or documentation or both. It is just a way to catch a moment and even bend time and show a different world through long exposure. A thought i always liked.
My earliest childhood memories of me playing with a camera was with a Beier Beirette SL100. If I imagine the camera in my head I can still feel the ribbings of the plastic camera body on my fingers. I loved to walk around with it to ’took pictures and catch moments’ although the camera became unuseable. It used the SL System (Schnell Lade), which was an own system developed by ORWO as counterpart of the Agfa Karat System. With this fast loading cassettes, the film is wound from one cassette to the other. There is no need to rewind the film with these systems. However, the SL System got discontinued in the 1980ies so the cameras became dust collectors. So at the time when I played around, the camera itself changed to a reminder of a long gone past. Nevertheless, I still loved to look through the viewfinder, clicking the shutter button and pretending to advance the imaginary film with the slider on the camera back.1
My first own camera was a simple point and shoot disposable toy camera which I won in a tombola. Proud of it, I took the camera to a field trip in school. We wandered through the forest and I took pictures from interesting things and my friends. I was so curious how the outcome will be. However, the quality of the toy camera was not good though, so the manual film rewind crank broke which, to my dismay, I only discovered after I thought the film was rewinded. So I opened and the back, saw the unrewinded film and ruined it. When I told the situation to my grandma she was so angry because of the ruined film that I left the cameras alone for a long time. And so, one more obsolete camera was added to the pile.
I got back to photography when I got enough money from the civilian services to buy a new camera. I was out of school and in all this time the photographical scene changed dramatically. Analog cameras vanished from the stores, film labs closed and digital cameras were the norm. So I did the only thing what every other person I knew did: buying a digital camera. My budget was only suffiecient for a beginner camera: a Fuji FinePix A610. A DSLR was way to expensive for me, so I was happy to have, at least, a camera with relative decent quality to learn the craft. There was no risk of ruining any film and I am fond of some pictures I took with it. One picture was even used as a cover for a small magazine which was my personal highlight.
Then comes the smartphone era and all went arbitrary. Well, I still own the Fuji camera, but it just became a dust collector after my first smartphone (another camera for the obsolete pile). Truly living the motto “The best camera is the camera in your hand”. And in the beginning, I loved to play with filters, HDR and shooting hundreds of pictures to keep only a few. However, after a while, it slowly just lost its meaning. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment where my disilluion happend. In a way it just got stale. Everything looked the same. If there was any landscape photography, the colors were cranked up to eleven, HDR everywhere. It just began to felt not real at all. I had hundreds of pictures but I rarely looked at them again, if at all. It just weren’t memorable or ‘good’ pictures (I learned later that a ‘good’ picture is just a bad term and a thing of perspective. If I just copy everyone else and don’t feel it then why bother if I can’t follow my own way?).
In the beginning of 2016, I visited the photo tech exhibition in the Technikmuseum. There is a whole area of the history of photo technology, from heliography to 3D photography. The last time, I was a child when I saw the exhibition. Now I looked at it with new eyes and I was fascinated of the old cameras althought there was a bit of sadness in me to see all the cameras which nobody probably uses anymore. Here I developed the thought to buy an old SLR. Two months later, I brought the thought to reality, made my choice and bought one old GDR camera, the Exakta TL 1000. At least I thought it was from the GDR because of the Exakta Label. Later I found out, Exakta e.g. Ihagee had a relative complicated history and my new bought camera was from Ihagee West. Originally a sales company for the Ihagee cameras from Dresden, they produced own cameras but they were unsuccessful. In the 1970ies they only saled cameras from Japan with an Exakta label (in this case from Petri Camera K.K or Kuribayashi Seisakusho). From that time, the camera felt not very ergonomic. It is sturdy, has some quirks and I needed a while to adjust, but it had all things I ever needed (It is still my main camera and workhorse. Later my great-uncle gave me his Praktica FX 2; a really nice old GDR camera). It is all mechanical. Potentially, if something is wrong, I can take the camera apart, understand how it works (or why not), and put it back together (but probably would give it to a camera repair man). There are no errors with electronics, SD-Cards or batteries, no planned obsolescence or design which prevent repairs. It opened a whole new world to me and I had to relearn everything: the various different films, developers, lenses, techniques and so on. A whole new different process which I didn’t realized as a kid.
At first, the limitations of film are weird, coming from a digital approach where the only limit is the disk space. Moving to analog forced me to reevaluate my decisions and how I make them. What motive was interesting? Was this scene really worthy to catch on film? Which film should I use? You get thrown to the essentials and I really like that. Also, let’s face it, shooting film costs money.
For me, the process of shooting film developed to a form of meditation. I take my time, think about my composition, set every setting manually and forget everything else around me. This is what makes film more real to me. The manual processes, the haptic when setting everything up, the anticipation of the not immediate results, the stashes of developed film in my flat… It exists. It is not just Zero and Ones.
Does it work all the time? Of course not. Is it important? No, but I have fun and make memories. I don’t care what other think. That’s all that matters to me.
This is why I love shooting film.
Here is a short video of the camera: https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/igryq6nvwsE ↩︎