After last week’s post on old photographs, it only seemed logical for this week to be about old cameras. (Very few things I do are logical, so take advantage.) These cameras produce those wonderful images and pieces of paper that speak more to a feeling than any contemporary photograph does. They have character and grit and substance.
I grew up with the cameras that used a roll of film which we then would take to Walmart to get developed. Then waited a few days for it to be sent off, developed, printed, and returned. There is something about that process, that is now long forgotten with digital cameras and online galleries. However, even beyond those types of cameras, there is a world and way of photography that is slowly slipping away.
I took a photography class in college, and it was the most interesting and enjoyable experience. A friend let me borrow her 1960s Cannon SLR for that class. The relationship I had with that camera was such an intricate and delicate thing, it is almost difficult to share. That camera could be temperamental, but I never gave up on it, because I knew it had more to offer than some ordinary camera. The time it took to load the film. When shooting, it was all on me. I chose the shutter speed, the aperture, and framed each photograph with my own eye. Each shot was almost a “do or die” kind of shot. There was little room for error or editing later on.
I then had the privilege to venture into the dark room, developing the roll of film and all the precautions that went into it. Great care was taken as to not scratch the film, allowing it to dry, and preparing for printing out images. The printing machines were archaic creatures which each had a personality of its own. I had my favorite machine, the one that seemed to know me and my way of printing. The one that I could do a sensual dance with to create prints that seemed to come out just perfect.
That dark room was small. The smell of chemicals was prevalent. It was the most glorious place to be. Each tub of chemicals for each step of the developing process was like a little step toward creative freedom. The photo paper dipped down, sinking in the pool of liquid, succumbing to its inevitable destiny. I loved the subtle birth of the image with each submersion, until finally it was time to clip the paper up and it would dry into its final product. You knew what you were going to get, but not exactly and completely until that moment when you peered at that finally dried photograph.
I miss those days and that process. I dream of a camera. . . It is not one of these technologically advanced, super zoom, auto-focused ones. It is one of those 1960s manual SLRs. I want to buy the film. I want to print the images. The glitch in the dream is the dark room. If I could “make” my own dark room, I would. Alas, I can not. Are there dark rooms one can rent or use? This I don’t know. But this is what I dream of when I envision my most perfect photography fantasy.
I come upon many old cameras in my antique browsing. Some are the cameras I speak of above, and some are even older. There are ones that you have to look down into in order to take the picture. Most are behind glass, so I’m not able to actually handle them, but I bet some even are old enough that when looking through the viewer, the image is upside down. That would be an incredibly cool camera to have, as well.
There are those cameras that when their image is printed out, have the small white border or the date printed right there on the border. There are the Polaroid cameras, too. The instant product, right in your hands after only a few seconds letting the image develop. I have an old Polaroid camera. Here she is:
I realize they do make new Polaroid cameras, but the one I have seems new compared to some that I have seen in antique stores. I think about the monstrosities that people had to carry around, hold steady to take a picture, and what that process must have been like. And for the time, it was probably the coolest and most up-to-date technology they had.
Seriously, look at that thing above. It is huge. Can you imagine taking that on vacation? Sauntering around with that around your neck? Yeah, me neither. Though it is big, and it seems clunky, it is pretty cool. Though the particular price tag on this one is not so much, cool.
Newer cameras do make it easier, more convenient, and more efficient to take, edit, and print photographs, but I suppose my complaint (as with most contemporary advances) is that we are doing very little for ourselves. Part of the fun and the fundamental process of a camera has been the intimate relationship one would have with it. You used your mind and your hands and your touch to become one with the camera, to caress it into a partner to fulfill your creative foresight. Of course, there is also the type of photograph it produced, which I have already rambled on about in my previous post. Sorry, digital SLRs and point and shoots, you don’t hold a candle to these beauties of the past.