5 Frames… At the local supermarket on my rut-busting Olympus XA2 + ILFORD HP5 PLUS (35mm Format / EI 400) – by Phil Cifone

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About a year ago I was feeling a bit in a rut creatively, and I always feel exercises help get my creative juices flowing. I needed to be more serendipitous with the camera, rather than photography being something I set out to do with a clear goal and then ultimately being let down if I couldn’t get a shot – this effectively involved my carrying a camera with me everywhere.

Through that act, I found myself inside a grocery store — somewhere I never really thought to take a camera before, which seems out of character for me, as I’m there almost weekly. Most stores these days always feel so manufactured and sterile, which I thought would add to the challenge of making it interesting. 


It turned out that it was those very qualities that I was drawn to when photographing. The repetition of the products, the intense leading lines from the aisles and lights, strong typography, everything tidy and orderly, and of course the occasional solitary figure roaming the aisles as I was.

My Olympus XA2, Phil Cifone

This was about a month before most shutdowns in the Northeastern United States started taking place, little did I know the part grocery stores were going to play for the next year during the ongoing pandemic. Looking back on these images already feels like looking at a different world, no masks and plenty of food on the shelves. You can almost sense the unease of what’s about to come in the lone, already socially distanced customers pictured.

To shoot I loaded up my XA2 with some ILFORD HP5 PLUS, set the meter to 800 and I was on my way to buy that week’s dinner and take some pictures. The XA2 is a great little camera, super pocketable. Its main feature is in its unobtrusiveness, you can get rather intimate shots without sticking out like a sore thumb like I tend to do with an SLR. Which made it perfect in a grocery store.

The XA2 sports three manual focus settings to worry about with rather vague distances and no viewfinder indication of focus. So it adds another step to the point and shoot process, but it’s still rather simplistic and easy to manage on the fly. It’s my favorite camera for casual concert/festival shots where they typically don’t allow even film SLRs. 

These were developed in my usual soup of Kodak HC-110 dilution B (1+31) pushed to EI 800. I gotta give props to HP5 PLUS and Kodak HC-110 B. It’s such a great combo, and always consistent. It gives a solid tonal range and is great for pushing, providing negatives perfect for scanning and darkroom printing. 

But more importantly, props to all the frontline workers being out in the thick of it doing the everyday jobs we need to keep the world moving, safe, healthy, and fed!


~ Phil

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This series is 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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Phil Cifone is a photographer and digital asset manager currently residing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 2015 he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the New Hampshire Institute of Art, now known as the New England College Institute of Art and Design. He pursues photography projects and exhibitions in and around the Philadelphia area.

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