Film is time travel.
By the time I got this roll of Kodak Portra 400 developed and scanned, it had been sitting in my Pentax Spotmatic for three years, waiting to be developed. I shot the first half of the roll while it was still fresh, according to the date on the box, and the second half after it had expired. The camera, with the film inside, went through two X-ray machines at the airport (I always forget to have the TSA inspect my film by hand) and passed through at least three different states. When I finally saw the results in April of 2022, I was transported back to a pre-pandemic world. So much has changed.
And yet, in my memory, no time has passed.
I remember the streets of New Orleans as they appeared through the Pentax SLR’s viewfinder. I remember the buildings, the graveyards, and the people who passed in front of my lens when I clicked the shutter.
It was the first time I had ever been to that city, and I found it magical and intoxicating. By coincidence, my girlfriend and I wound up there during Pride Weekend. The vibe was jubilant. Everything was so alive, even in an atmosphere of ghost stories and voodoo legends.
We walked down Bourbon Street in the summer heat, gulping down drinks and sweating out the alcohol. We cheered at the parade, hovered near street performers, ducked into jazz clubs, and booked graveyard tours. Coming out of a charming old bookstore (haunted by a resident black cat), we stumbled upon a rowdy wedding procession moving down the street.
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The Spotmatic was my first camera, purchased in 2011 for $20. It was recommended as a good beginner camera because it has an M42 lens mount, which gives you access to a library of cheap Soviet lenses with character, and a working light meter, if you’re lucky (I was, but still mostly rely on the Sunny 16 rule). Eventually, I acquired the 50mm f/1.4, which gives images a soft vintage vibe and, of course, buttery bokeh.
When I got home from New Orleans–18 frames shot, 18 frames left–I was seduced by another thrift store find: a Canon EOS Rebel 2000, which I could pair with the 50mm f/1.8 standard on my 5D Mark II. The autofocus and aperture priority mode, not to mention the crisp image quality, won me over for a few years. The Spotmatic went on the shelf.
My girlfriend and I recently returned from another trip, this time to Los Angeles. I dusted off the Pentax and brought it along, remembering the unfinished roll inside begging for resurrection. I finished the roll off at Venice Beach, along with several others, but it was the shots from New Orleans that moved me. 2019. Crowded streets, roaring with life.
~ Eric Houge
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