Monday, July 29, 2013


It's no secret. My cousin Deana turned me on to photography. In this age of digital cameras, camera phones, tablets and stock photos in the cloud, Deana gave me not one, but two real life, analog, film cameras. Film. I haven't used a film camera in nearly a decade. And I wonder how much longer I will be able to use one? I owe her a great deal of gratitude because the last few months with both the Holga 120N and the Pentax K1000 have been very rewarding.

When it comes to photography, Deana is the real deal. Deana has studied this formally. Deana travels all over the world and takes all sorts of exposures. Deana is around all sorts of artists friends who practice their craft. Deana is very—very cool, but I've known this our whole lives.

So, she gifted me the Pentax. That being said, I had had a couple of cameras like this in the recesses of memory. I had that old Nikkromatic for years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Of course, then I had no idea what I had and no appreciation for it. I was very young then and that was that. I traded that old camera in for a point and shoot affair, a Ricoh. That camera I later traded for another point and shoot, the Olympus. I carried that Olympus for a number of years, took countless rolls of 35MM film and loved it dearly. I was with my friend Julia Farkas at a thrift store in southwest Denver sometime in 2003 when I picked up the last Pentax 35MM at a bargain price. Sometime in 2004 I gave up film cameras altogether.

I don't altogether know what's so refreshing about these cameras now. The Holga is so barbaric that it beckons mentioning. I've probably shot eight or ten rolls with this thing and I still don't understand it fully. There are no controls and the imperfection in the design makes this camera a frustrating, exciting and weird thing to use. Mine is red and white and it looks like a toy. Oftentimes people ask me if it's a real camera. I think so. It takes that 120 film. After I expose a roll, it takes anywhere from 20 minutes to two weeks for it to get developed. In a way having to wait for the results is what I think is so refreshing. Long and short, I'm still learning how to use it. I know how to load the film, frame a picture and snap the shutter release, but working with the limitations of this all plastic camera, there are endless possibilities.

The Pentax is another story altogether. There are endless variations, countless combinations and too many techniques for me to even begin to formulate what I'm doing with it. As close as I can tell, there are three major variables with this fully manual 35MM camera: f/stop, shutter speed and the speed of the film (ISO). The f/stop is the focal opening on the shutter, this governs how much light comes through the camera. Shutter speed is just that, this is how long the aperture is open. And film speed is the size of silver halide crystals embedded in the emulsion on the film. I would imagine a competent photographer knows the results of all three of these variables and knows how they work together. I'm still learning this. This is the mechanics of the whole thing.

Mechanics aside, as this discussion comes into focus (cheap pun, I know) there is something more important than gear, know-how and art. The basic composition. The basic composition. What a photographer decide to take a picture of? This is the question of the hour.

I think a photographer, much like a writer, must find a personal voice. In the discussion of writing this is cliché. Find your voice and stay with it. I heard that nonsense a thousand times. But there is worth to it too. When writing, there is a such thing as voice. It's more than the mere tone of the writing, it's everything. Most writers write about certain things, have certain language and certain compositional choices that they stay with for many stories, novels or time. I think photographers are the same way. Whether it's a composition notebook and a Holga 120N, whatever you choose to record is what you like to record. Right? In my limited time with these cameras I've noticed that I like cityscapes, generally vacant of people and lonely. I'll be doggoned if this not the exact same thing I write about: loneliness, cities and vacancies.

Perhaps it's all about the process. Learning the mechanics of something, then applying it and then practicing it is what really achieves results. Should this be the case, think of your camera as the tool, think of the variables as the rules and start the process. Choose good compositions.

Next time: what's to learn in books?

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