On Valentine’s Day 2018, I stopped by my school’s photo lab on a whim and was unexpectedly treated to blindly pick from a grab bag of various films. I reached in and pulled out a 120 roll of Rollei 1.1 Advanced Technical Pan.
At 32 ISO it’s a low-speed pan-chromatic film that offers sharp, melodramatic contrast and an exquisite grain structure. I didn’t even really know what to do with it at the time as I had never shot slower than 100 ISO film. I put it aside for a special occasion.
Flash forward just over half a year. I’ve left my home in the capital of the United States of America for the capital of the People’s Republic of China. My only camera here is my trusty medium-format twin-lens relfex Yashica Mat-124G, which I’m always satisfied to take pictures with. To me, the TLR camera feels less like a tool (or a gun) that I am wielding and more like an appendage on my body. My face either remain visible or is bowed down to the subject when taking a photo. I think this feeling is partly why the TLR street portraiture of Vivian Maier and Josh Sinn seems to preserve just little extra humanity.
In this case, I was recommended that the high contrast and fine grain of the Rollei ATP would lend itself better to architecture, and it made sense to me. The special occasion was ultimately a nearly cloudless day in the Forbidden City, the historical residence of Chinese emperors in the heart of Beijing.
It’s September, it’s sweltering, and there are thousands of people all trying to cram through small doorways and arches to tour China’s crown jewel.
I used a red filter to further contrast red paint and orange shingles with blue motifs and open sky. Handholding approximately 1/125 at f/8.0, the results here are left unaltered for reference. Although the shadows may appear black, there are actually details that are more easily seen on the negatives or after digital editing. I wouldn’t have gotten past security with a tripod, but using one would get the most out of this film’s delicate grain.
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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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