Tag Archives: film

Making the negative positive

I was reading this week that we are more likely to remember negative events than positive ones.  Our brains seem determined to store up the bad stuff and seek it out, rather than recognising the good things when we see them.  Furthermore, whatever we observe, we influence the event by our observation.  And so the process of looking is influenced by your state of mind as you look.  And if you don’t like what you see, you are more likely to remember this unpleasant vision!

This led me to wonder if perhaps one way to tackle this less than desirable trait is to get into the habit of finding something positive in all our experiences.  Instead of our memory of the morning being of the fact that the bus was late, hot and crowded, how about remembering the enjoyment of the walk to the bus stop?  Noticing the clarity of the blue sky, the subtle details in the puffy clouds and the sensation of a gently breeze on our skin before the heat of the day kicks in.

In film photography, we create a negative of the scene we wish to record.  Black is white, white is black.  The enlarger reverses this in creating the print, and so we see the positive side of the situation.  This process shows us that there are two sides to everything, it is just a matter of looking, of being receptive to what is there.

I will be taking a short summer break from writing this blog.  Have a great time finding the positive in the negative and I will be back in September!


A trip to the Wolverhampton camera fair is invariably likely to end in a few purchases, planned or otherwise.  Sometimes it seems that going to the fair without a shopping list leads to worse excesses than when I plan my extravagances beforehand.  Last weekend was no exception.  There was absolutely nothing I needed to look out for, and so I went along with an open mind and a (unwisely) restocked wallet.

Faced with a dazzling display of photographic paraphernalia, my receptive mind reached down into its subconsciously creative recesses in a determined effort to justify one purchase or another.  This time I homed in on a Clack.

A what? I hear you say? An Agfa Clack.  But why?  I think what appealed to me is the sheer simplicity of this camera.

The Clack is neither collectable (as defined by its price!) nor particularly rare.  They were produced in serious quantities in the period 1954 to 1965 by Agfa Camera-Werk AG in Munich.  Initially made with a metal body, and later a plastic one (mine is plastic), the Clack is essentially a smallish black box designed to hold 120 roll film.

You can choose one of 2 apertures to suit the prevailing weather conditions.  I believe these are f/11 and f/12.5.  Bokeh should be perfectly shaped, as the aperture disks are just circles in a plastic component which moves into position for each selection.  Mine also has the close up filter, for subjects between 3m and 10m away.  The shutter offers bulb or ‘M’, which I understand to be 1/30 second.  So, the only real control you have over the exposure is in choice of the ISO rating of your film.  I can see I shall be spending the summer checking my light meter, in my efforts to seek out conditions that suit my new camera!

The most exciting aspect of the Clack is of course the focussing mechanism.  Err, there isn’t one.

I have plans for my Clack (watch this space!) but I can’t resist putting a roll of film through it first.  How much simpler can it get?

Rolleiflex magic

The Rolleiflex has become something of an iconic camera and I am still excited to own one.  A search on Google will find plenty of pictures of celebrities (old and new) posing with one.  Marilyn Monroe was famously pictured with a Rollei, as were James Dean, George Harrison and Paul McCartney.  A popular image these days is of someone gazing into its waist level viewfinder, and I found pictures of Zooey Deschanel and Natalie Portman doing just that.  It’s become one of those must-take shots whenever there is a Rollei nearby!

Posing with a Rollei aside, in its time the Rolleiflex was the camera of choice for famous photographers as well, not least Richard Avedon, Lee Miller, Diane Arbus and Robert Capa.  More recently the work of Vivian Maier has come to the world’s attention, when a treasure trove of her images surfaced in a clearance sale at a storage facility in Chicago.  Unable to pay the rent on her storage locker, her possessions were put up for sale, sight unseen, and the lucky buyers really hit the jackpot this time when they discovered what was in the jumble of boxes and trunks they had bought.

Maier was a nanny in Chicago and her spare time was spent out on the streets with her Rolleiflex.  Maier was able to blend into her surroundings to record the daily life of Chicago residents and a fair number of self-portraits, using reflections in mirrors and windows to create her images.  Over her lifetime she amassed some 150 000 negatives, although some films were not even developed and only a small proportion printed.

In our modern world, where the mobile phone rules as an everyday camera, carrying a Rolleiflex might be a little less unobtrusive than it was then.  I will be finding out soon, as I plan to try out some street photography with my new acquisition before too long.  Read more about the life’s work of this remarkable woman here on the BBC website.

The power of love

Yet again I have fallen foul of that powerful emotion, Love At First Sight.  I have generally found going to a camera fair without a shopping list to be unwise and this time it was about as unwise as it gets.  With no specific purchase in mind, I wander the stalls browsing the myriad cameras, lenses and other doo-dads set out to tempt me.  One regular stallholder arranges the front of his table with boxes of ephemera; lens caps, obscure remote switches, scratched sunlight filters.  And behind these deceptively cheap defensive lines stand the real prizes, desirable vintage cameras strut their stuff on the back shelf in the hope of effecting a relocation before the day is out.

I have been tempted at this stall before, but my purchases stayed in the realms of the incidental.  This time my eye was drawn immediately centre stage, to a pristine Rolleiflex.  Oh my.  The light glinted off the chrome-effect lens cap and I was in love.  Holding this treasure in my hands felt so right it took great strength of mind to put it back down.  But put it down I did, to spend the rest or the morning with that memory burning a hole through the synapses of my self control.  With the end of the fair approaching rapidly, it was crunch time: would I be taking the Rollei home with me or not?  Eventually I succumbed and emotion ruled the day. An exchange of used notes, a handshake and I walked away heady with excitement at my new acquisition.

It fascinates me how my mind plays games with me.  You can’t afford it, put it back.  You don’t need another film camera. You could buy a cheaper one, lots of stalls have them.  Yes, but…will I regret it when I get home?  It really is lovely.  Just wait and see if it’s there at the end. Let fate decide. If it’s gone, it wasn’t meant to be after all.  How I like to abdicate responsibility and let the Universe decide!  However, sometimes stepping back from this process in a conscious way, to watch the drama unfolding inside you. is remarkably relaxing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that you relinquish control completely to drift every which way the wind blows you.  We need some structure to guide us along the path.  Else the bank account would soon be empty and the house full of impulse purchases.  But mulling it over, taking time and yes, being indulgent every now and then.  Who knows what is around the next corner?  Universe, thank you for my new Rolleiflex!

Working with film: learning to let go

Sometimes it seems to me that modern life is all about possession; having the latest gear, clothes, car, phone.  The list is endless as marketeers do a stupendous job of convincing us that life won’t be worth living if we don’t own the latest and best incarnation of their product.  Alongside this comes the ‘the instant gratification society’ where we don’t just want it but we want it now.  And this extends not only to things we must buy but to our pursuit of photography as well.  When film was the norm we had the anticipation of sending away the finished roll to be developed and printed, waiting a week or so to see how the images had turned out.  Yet with the advent of the digital camera we soon became accustomed to that JPEG preview on the rear screen. And how strange it seems now to use a camera which doesn’t allow you the option to see your image immediately after taking it. And taking this one step further, the potential that there will not be an image at all?!

As I mentioned in my last post, experimenting with old cameras comes with the risk that your films with yield nothing more than an attractive black shiny strip of plastic.  Quite photogenic in its own way, but not quite what was intended when you set out to seek images that morning.  At first, I found there was a tendency to curse the waste of time and money; buying the camera and the film, the time spent taking pictures and developing the film.  However I soon realised that as a hobby it offered repeated opportunities to practise letting go.

The ability to let go is one of the cornerstones of a mindful life.  Being prepared to let go of what is and receive what will be.  Observing your reaction to the situation as it develops and runs its course.  When I go out with a film camera I am living in hope, optimistic that my day will be successful photographically.  But how do I define this success?  When you take away the emphasis on the ‘quality’ of the outcome, the day becomes more about the process, the engagement and the moments of life fully explored through taking the time to look carefully.  Who cares if there are no pictures at the end?  I am practising to engage with life as if I had a camera, even when I don’t!

Read this week’s sister post on Letting Go here.

Taking your time: using old cameras

I have seen it suggested a few times recently that the immediacy and ease of digital photography detract from the meditative aspects of the activity.  Often, when I see people out and about with their cameras or using their mobile to snap a quick selfie, I can only whole-heartedly concur.  Modern cameras are so clever, we need know little of their workings to achieve a decent image and little thought is necessary when grabbing a set of holiday snaps in Program mode. This may be perfect if you are aiming to create a record of a day out or the fun at a party, but perhaps it is a slightly different matter when we are looking to connect ourselves more closely to our surroundings and explore the marvel of life in any particular moment.

On these occasions, I believe that slower can only be better.  Taking time to look before bringing the camera up, framing the image thoughtfully and making a conscious choice to press the shutter at the right moment.  No ‘continuous shooting’ mode here please!  Taking time allows something of who we are to be absorbed into the image, to make it truly ‘my’ picture; as much a picture of me as a picture of the subject.

I think the urge to slow down is one of the reasons I am attracted to using older film cameras.  Before handing over my hard-earned pennies, I check as best I can that the camera is functional.  Shutter, aperture, glass and bellows (if it’s of that certain age, as so many of mine are!) are all subjected to my eagle-eyed inspection.  Back home, my new acquisition receives a thorough clean and I ‘test-drive’ it with an old film, or film paper in the case of 120 film.

Then it’s time to venture out for the real ‘road-test’.  Even though this is just a test film, I find myself resistant to pointing the camera any old how with little care for the subject of my image.  Sometimes I will frame a scene, only to walk away.  If the camera takes 35mm film, it can take several trips before I finish the film.  This is somewhat ironic, given that I never know know at this stage if I will get images or not.  And strangely enough, this is what I love most about these experiments of mine, and what keeps me rescuing more elderly cameras.  With each one I have the later excitement of developing the film to discover whether my memories have been preserved…or are consigned to rest only in my thoughts. It’s this risk that makes me take my time to observe carefully and record in my mind’s eye as well; after all, this could be the only image I create that day!  It’s never quite the same once I know the camera works, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more!



What a long and dreary winter we seem to be having.  I remember thinking, at Christmas, that the autumn had been very dry.  You notice these things when you have dogs to walk, and get a drenching twice a day.  The house seems to be endlessly draped in soggy coats and the subtle aroma of damp hound permeates every room.  It appears I spoke too soon, as since then we seem to have had nothing but rain, rain and more rain.  Don’t get me wrong, I am glad it isn’t snow, as we would be under several feet of it by now, and indeed many poor people are still struggling with the effects of the wettest January in living memory.

On the other hand, despite the disruptiveness of snow in the UK, you can’t say it isn’t pretty to photograph.  It also tends to come hand in hand with the bright, crisp days that have been so lacking in recent weeks.  All this rain is falling from an enveloping blanket of low cloud that sucks away the light like a black reflector at a studio shoot.  Yes, yes, I know that overcast days are supposed to create the ideal soft light for nature photography.  But I have been hoping for a little drama, in the form of directional light to accentuate my subjects and provide some seductive shadowy contrasts on black and white film.  And, above all, enough light that I can venture out with a roll of ISO 125 film and anticipate manageable shutter speeds.  Apart from the fact that using an elderly film camera in a downpour is asking for a world of un-weather-sealed trouble!

And Tuesday was the day!  Finally, a day that dawned sunny and coincided with a schedule flexible enough to take advantage of it.  Yay! I added two film cameras to my collection back in December and neither has had a road-test yet.  It took a while to get the film loaded into the Cosmic35 (a bargain at £3, including the original case) with the aid of some sticky tape to secure the leader.  This camera has a 40mm lens, so the images it creates are representative of what we see with the naked eye.  The viewfinder is just a little rectangular window, so it is indeed the naked eye that selects the view.  I based my choice of settings on the sunny ‘11’ rule – this is the UK after all, sunny 16 can be a bit optimistic!  Handily, it has a shutter speed setting of 1/125 to match my ISO 125 film.  This little camera is quite high-tech for me, as I discovered that it prevents multiple exposures by preventing locking the shutter button until the film has been wound on.  An interesting quirk of the film counter (yes it has one!) on my version is that it advances 5 or so each time I wind on, so keeping track of the number of exposures I had taken required more planning than my brain allowed for that day.  I haven’t attempted to rewind the film and shall be saving that pleasure until I find myself alone in a darkened room with the heady anticipation of developing the film.  But that excitement will be for another day!


Lessons from a folding camera

I have been interested in photography in one form or another since childhood, when the unforgettable smells of black and white film processing emanated from my father’s makeshift darkroom in our spare bedroom.   I enjoy digital photography but I’m a technophobe at heart, preferring to create images in camera rather than spend hours at the computer.  I have a growing collection of film cameras and love the simplicity of old folding cameras.  Modern digital equipment has such complexity that it can take over the whole experience of capturing images.  Working with an old film camera really is  like going back to basics as there is so little to do.  Instead of a whole menu to control 61 autofocus points my Bessa has 3 options; ‘people’, ‘groups’ or ‘landscapes’.  There are 2 shutter speeds (unless you want bulb or timer) and 4 apertures.  And as for ISOs expanding to 126,800, your choice is fixed when you load the film.  Simplifying the choices for how to operate the camera leaves far more mental space to be dedicated to my subject and creating my image.  And if you dont like the results, the camera itself makes a great photographic subject in itself!