Reading EMULSIVE reminded me that I’d shot my first roll of film in 1961, when, as a young boy, I’d bought a very old Kodak box camera from a village jumble sale with my pocket money. I developed my last roll of film some forty years later, after which I started working with digital imaging, exchanging my darkroom for a lightroom.
“5 Frames” appeals to my sense of photographic history, which for me is most easily understood through vintage and classic cameras. To explore this aspect I used a late 1950s Kodak Brownie Flash II box camera, with a roll of 120 ILFORD FP4 PLUS, its spool slightly “downsized” to match the now obsolete Kodak 620 format, so that it didn’t jam while loading and winding on. Modern black and white films are sensitive to all colours, so I covered the original frame counter red window between windings-on, to reduce the risk of accidental fogging.
I favour a photographic art philosophy which holds that the negative is the objective record of a scene as made by a camera, whereas the print is the creative interpretation of that information as produced by the photographer. For this submission I edited the digitally scanned negatives on an iPad in Google Snapseed, applying a series of adjustments which match as closely as possible the aesthetic which I would have achieved if I’d printed them a traditional darkroom. This deliberate chiaroscuro appearance was motivated by the low image contrast from the uncoated, flare-prone, fixed-focus camera lens, in spite of the high subject brightness range of the original scenes.
The film was processed, proof-printed and scanned at AG Photo Lab here in the UK, in their standard chemistry for the default ISO rating of 125. I worked within the limitation of the fixed aperture of f/11 and the fixed shutter speed of about 1/30th of a second, shooting only in what used to be called “sunny” lighting conditions, back when films came with printed paper exposure guide tables, and the average family-oriented amateur photographer didn’t possess a light meter. My results were therefore predictably over-exposed, giving me dense but useable negatives.
The Brownie gives eight frames per roll, each one being 6x9cm. I chose to crop them to a square format. Normally I will use everything which a camera gives me (I fill the whole frame), but accurate composition within the tiny, age-degraded “brilliant” viewfinders of the Brownie was impossible.
Making pictures within the significant technical limitations of this analogue process forced me to slow down, to think carefully and to work calmly and methodically. It also confirmed that my passion for photography, the joy of which that little boy with his first camera discovered for himself so long ago, had been undiminished by more than five decades of the practice and the learning about the science and the art of it.
My thanks to Conor McBrierty for his technical and creative editorial input, and AG Photolab UK for their excellent service.
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This series is being produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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