5 Frames… Over 8 months on a Kodak Brownie Flash IV with respooled Kodak Portra 160 (620 Format / EI 160) – by Cliff McMahon-Docherty

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This ‘five frames’ might more properly be called ‘eight frames’ because it was inspired by an idea in the autumn of 2019 to dig out my very first camera, an old hand-me-down Kodak Brownie Flash IV from 1957, which was given to me by my photography mad dad when I was 8.

That was in 1970 when Kodak Instamatics had taken over but the Box Brownie, and my dad, taught me a thing or two about composition and instilled fever for all things photo and film, so it’s a piece of precious cargo. With just eight shots to a roll, it teaches you to make each shot matter and despite its lowly status, it was still top of the range for what it was and takes beautiful pics on enoooooormous 6×9 medium format negatives in their 620 spool variant.

With respooled film on sale again I decided to bring the camera back from the dead with the idea of one picture every month or so until midsummer so that there would be autumn leaves, a Christmas tree, daffodils, and eventually a summer beach.

Great plan.

What could possibly go wrong?

It all began so well. You need reasonably good weather with this bit of kit. Armed with a roll of Kodak Portra 160 you’re nonetheless stuck with a shutter speed of a 1/50th of a second and a fixed aperture of f/14. Thank god for exposure latitude. How the damn hell did they get sharp pictures in 1957 when the films were ISO 32 or 25?

You have to hold the thing at your waist so photos also have a slightly weird, low perspective, I mean who has eyes in their hips? In any event, I got some nice shots in the camera at Hampstead. Later, I was to find one had the dreaded shakes, the other was sharp, or as sharp as a simple meniscus lens allows. So then I packed it away. A month later at Highgate Cemetery, I got another shot in very dark light. Happy bunny territory.

The next one would be Christmas. It didn’t quite work out. Family commitments took me to Ireland then back in the UK. It just poured every time I planned to go out and I missed my chance to snap anything Christmassy at all. OK, I’ll get those daffodils. Ugh went down with a horrendous bug. Absolutely knocked me sideways and when I recovered……pandemic struck and we all got locked down.

Still, summer 2020 came and things loosened up a little. Being a sensible sort, I got down to the coast while it was still quiet.

It’s a limited camera and limited shots on the roll makes you think and makes you work.

For everything else, I love that.

~ Cliff

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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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3 thoughts on “5 Frames… Over 8 months on a Kodak Brownie Flash IV with respooled Kodak Portra 160 (620 Format / EI 160) – by Cliff McMahon-Docherty”

  1. Great idea, one shot a month on a 1957s camera.
    I will steal “that” idea and start with my 1954s DelMonta (my year of birth) now, for 12 pics in 12 month.
    I love Your pics, image quality is subsequent, emotion is paramount.

  2. Lovely shots. I just put a roll of expired Fuji Reala 100 in an old Agfa Box I that I had in my display cabinet for my wife to shoot. Takes 120 film fortunately, looking forward to seeing how they turn out!


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