It’s always interesting how some of the strangest thoughts and ideas pop into our minds when we have a quiet mind. Yesterday, I started thinking about photography; I’m referring to ‘real photography’ involving non automatic cameras, 35mm film and chemical processing, which I have not thought about for many years.
Several weeks ago, I bought a camera that I had longed to buy in the late 1960s, when I was a teenager. It was a small, highly engineered camera for its day, as well as very expensive. Indeed, the late Queen Elizabeth owned a gold version. I certainly could not afford that, or indeed the standard model, until I discovered one on an Ebay auction many years later. I bid a fair price for it and, to my surprise several days later, I won!
The camera is beautiful, heavy, no plastic, well made and I am thrilled with it. Since it arrived, I have had great fun shooting a roll of black and white film in my town. Unlike photos taken with my iPhone, when I can press a button as many times as I wish, and later delete the photos if they are not to my liking. I had to carefully compose the shot, consider the speed of both the film and shutter, adjust the ‘f’ stop for exposure, as well as judge the distance. As there is no zoom lens, I had to walk closer to or further away from the subject to fit it into the camera frame; only then did I press the button. Knowing that I had only 36 exposures on the film made me very careful in selecting the subject, as well as care when composing the shot. How my brain ached afterwards!
When I had finished the roll of now quite expensive film, I posted it to a processing company and waited anxiously for the results. Ten days later, a package of prints and negatives finally arrived. I’d forgotten how exciting it was to receive and open the wallet of black and white prints, wondering if they looked alright, or whether I had made some terrible mistakes. I was fortunate, since all but two photos looked rather good, and I was particularly proud of four of them.
As I looked carefully at my efforts, I noticed that there seemed to be more depth and clarity within these photos than I remember in the colourful creations taken on my iPhone. There was more detail in the subject photographed, and I was not blinded by the effects of colour and the gadgetry that usually produced my photos.
As I reflected upon my achievements, I began to realise that I had once again been given another of life’s lessons. How often have I been blinded by gimmickry, pizazz and irrelevance in my life? How often do I move sufficiently close to look at the detail and context in what is in front of me? Do I ever consider moving further backwards to get a wider view and understanding? Am I blinded by an irrelevance of colour, gadgetry, and cleverness, rather than seeing the unvarnished truth in front of me?
I am not saying that life should be all black and white; it would be dull indeed without colour. Maybe the lesson that I have learned from my photographic experience is to look at the detail more closely, from different angles, and not to be tricked by seeing beauty at face value. It is easy to be seduced by the clever tricks that gadgets can perform for us, but maybe from time to time we just need to load our metaphorical cameras with a roll of black and white film to fully appreciate what we are seeing in our lives.
© Barrie Mahoney 2023
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