Nostalgia and Its Confidants

As I cleaned off my Nikon FE, a stiff wind of nostalgia blew over me and I was emotionally transported back to the summer of 1979. I was working at our family business, a dry cleaning and laundry started in 1926 and still humming. Summers in Georgia are HOT and this summer at the New Way Cleaners was scorching.

Nikon FE ready to shoot some HP5

In a laundry business, at least in this one, everything runs on steam power. The shirt and pants presses, the hot water that washed the clothes, the steam used to remove creases from clothing, all of it used a powerful furnace that produced steam in this warehouse-sized building.

The heat indoors was incredible and thinking back on it, it was almost unbearable. I checked the thermometer hung on the wall in the rear of the building and it stood at 107 F on this mid-June afternoon.

On this June day, my uncle, Henry, let me use his credit card to call B&H Photo in New York and order a new film camera. I already purchased a Nikon FM the summer before, and imagined that the new iteration of the camera, a partially automatic one would change the way I took pictures. I gave him the $220.00 for the camera and grabbed his card and the phone. I placed the order, gave out the credit card number, and the shipment was placed that day, said the representative on the phone, and I almost squealed for joy at this new found luck! The incredible ability to order something over the phone and have it delivered to my door was a completely new phenomenon to me.

All of the feelings of that experience rushed into my head as I dusted off the camera for a run at some 35mm film photography.

After a few years of neglect, the camera was no worse for wear, having been stored in a cool, dry place. The battery was still functioning and I loaded the camera with some ILFORD HP5 to begin wandering the area around my house to find shots to take. I’m starting small, here, working back up to the street photography that I loved. I attached my 105mm lens and began the process of composition.

As I used the camera, all of that nostalgia again swept through me and I was a 14 year old kid in Georgia, finding places to take pictures. I don’t have any of those B&W negatives from those years, but I do have hundreds of slides. I look back at my work and some of it is remarkable…my vision was spot on and the images are so interesting. Much of it is nature photography, and my various street shots captured a moment or two.

What I want and what I need right now is to recapture some imagination and the feeling of seeing things new, for the first time. To experience the wonder and joy of a moment through the lens of a camera and to express that moment in the way I see it. That deep desire for self expression has driven me for years and getting back to the 35mm film camera after all of this time is the right thing at the right moment. It’s my attempt to see the world again after hiding from it for so long (more on THIS topic in another post).

If you haven’t used a film camera or wonder at the process of taking pictures that requires manual focus and exposure, capturing the image to film is an involved and beautiful process of negotiation. As a film photographer, you’re always negotiating with yourself, the camera, the light around you, the film you’ve chosen, and the placement of the camera in the world. This process is short-circuited in the age of digital capture in which seeing and shooting is a matter of point and press. (Yes, I am simplifying here)

With film, a lot of the work comes before you even raise the camera to your eye and focus on the object. Setting exposure and focus comes first before you’ve even created the shot. The fun is when you learn that you can play around with exposure, focus, and placement. You can blur the background, changing the depth of field and isolating your subject. On lenses with a wide aperture (opening for the light to come through the lens), you can isolate objects in such a way that they almost jump off of the image into life.

As I take these photos, I will post them here to reveal some of the world I see. It doesn’t really matter if anyone sees these ramblings…it’s the act of taking pictures that makes it so wonderful.

May you be happy, may you be well.