I recently found an old camera in a charity shop. After ringing a photographer friend of mine to establish whether it was still possible to get film for it I bought it on a whim. I have always been a sucker for the old fashioned.
The camera that I had found was a Kodak Box Brownie No 2 and dates from about 1930. They were a very popular model, the must-have garget of the day, selling millions during their time in production between 1901-1935. They were reliable and easy to use, well, that is the theory anyway! For someone born in the age of the digital camera they must seem very antiquated and mysterious.
Luckily enough I am not one of those people, I did grow up using film cameras and only got my first digital camera just a few years ago.
I was however still confused!! Funnily enough it is the cameras simplicity that is a little intimidating. Your ultimate ‘point and shoot’ really. It feels strange not to have to worry about buttons and settings and gargets. But I am learning that with the Brownie it is preparation that is key however.
So I bought myself a 120 film, gave my rusty friend a wipe down and I then enlisted my trusty photographer to show me how to load it. I also had a quick lesson at the same time, which basically involved: this is the view-finder, this is the shutter, you just flick that in one direction and you’re done. That simple, flick one little lever, picture taken.
Perhaps that is why it is so joyful and I suppose a little mysterious too. It is true alchemy at work. “Click” goes the shutter but there is no whirring or buzzing. Even my camera phone makes that pretend sound of a mechanical camera to let me know something has actually happened! With the Brownie you just have to trust in that magical reaction between chemicals and light.
And happen they do and to me the results are golden. I think that the Brownie pictures have a dreamy quality about them, there is that slight fading, a blurriness at the edges that I don’t think ‘photoshop’ can quite recreate. I also like the little inclusions you get sometimes (spots of dust I think) but most of all it is that old feeling of anticipation and excitement when you go to the developers and open up the packet to see just what you have captured. It makes me smile every time.
So, I went off all snap happy with very little idea what I was actually doing. I learnt a fair bit in my first couple of films so here are my tips so far.
(please bear in mind I am NOT an expert, I am a total novice!)
- Think about when you want to shoot, outside natural light is best, super strong sunlight is not ideal.
- Choose what you want to shoot. The Brownie is not so good at subjects up close, I find interesting landscapes are working the best for me. And luckily in Cornwall I have plenty of those.
- Try not to breath! The Brownie doesn’t like it if you have the shakes, there is no auto-correct, I jam mine into my chest and hold my breathe and even then I still get blurry shots sometimes!
- Take your time, think about what you want in the picture and what you don’t, you only have 8 shots on your 120 film make each one count.
- Don’t forget your Parralax Error, no this is not science fiction! It basically means that what you see through your diddy view-finder is not necessarily what your camera sees. I took a lot of sky shots on my first film.
Finally give it a go! In this world where everything is instantaneous try something that you have to plan for, think about, anticipate, wait for for a change. It might make you slow your pace and take in what is beyond the lens!