The details are hazy, but the best I can figure is that my grandfather gave me this camera in 1967 for my fifth birthday. I still have it. It’s an Agfa ISO-RAPID 1. Very basic, and a bit like a Kodak Instamatic, only, can I say… worse?
It too shot square frames on AGFA Rapid film or normal 35mm film, but the Rapid cartridges were fussier than 126. The camera held two cartridges, and the film passed from one to the other. No rewinding, you took the exposed cartridge out, flipped it over to the other side and used that to take up the film from the next cartridge. A bit like the spools in a medium format film camera.
It’s still possible to shoot the AGFA ISO-RAPID and other similar cameras – you just need two empty cartridges and you can load them up with 35mm film. I’ve done it but frankly, why bother? I do love the square format, but I just modified one of my 35mm compacts to shoot square and that was way easier.
Why did my grandfather choose the Agfa? I never gave it a thought, I just remember that even in the 1970s the film was hard to get. But recently I found what may be the answer when I looked at this first roll. It’s Kodak, and I’m not 100% sure but when I tried looking up the codes I think it was PLUS-X Pan. It made all kinds of sense because my grandfather was a cinematographer so he obviously intended that he would bulk load film for me, and it would have been way cheaper than buying it from Agfa.
I got this roll back with a whole bunch of other negs and glass plates when my grandmother died. I was so pleased to find it (spoiler: cliche coming) it really brought back so many memories.
When I was working for a magazine in the 90s one of my friends rather unkindly described my style as: “Shoot it out of focus on an angle and charge a thousand bucks.”
I don’t know if it’s a stretch to say that this camera – even this roll – is why I became a dilettante photographer. It’s easy to romanticise these things, but there are certainly potent memories in there.
My grandfather had a darkroom in his cellar and there’s lots I remember about that, too. Mostly the safe light, the funny look of a negative image as projected by the enlarger and then, of course, the image appearing on the paper while developer rippled over it with the gentle rocking of the tray.
When I studied photography in my twenties, the first time I smelt fixer again in the college darkroom it all came back so vividly.
All right; before I get too misty-eyed let’s have a look at this roll.
This is my sister – aged three – doing “the face”. She used to do it quite a bit.
And this is Melissa the crazy kelpie.
She might not look crazy, but she was. She had to “go and live on a farm in the country”.
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The back of the house. I can’t remember if Melissa was allowed inside but I rather think not.
And here am I! (Photo credit: my sister).
When she wasn’t doing “the face” my sister would often do “the smile”.
And this was the shed in our back yard, with the wading pool hanging up.
My sister was the flower girl at a wedding, so I guess this is also my first gig as a wedding snapper. I think I was probably ahead of my time in cutting off the bride’s head.
A more conventional double portrait. Melissa with me as shadow-selfie.
It’s pretty noir – yes? Remember though, it WAS the 60s.
I may have gone a bit far here. It’s how I can date the film though. We have a magazine cutting of the wedding from September 1967.
My sister with my mum. Some on the roll were before the wedding, some after. Her fringe is really neat here; maybe it had just been cut so she could be a flower girl.
Our front gate. I must have taken a few gate photos. I remember our mum joking, “Oh, David’s always taking photos of gates!” Well – if I ever end up doing a “Gate” series I can state with confidence where it all began.
Thanks for reading,
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Excellent article. I remember doing ‘the face’ as a child and I’m happy to say my daughter still does it now.
Thanks! And it is comforting to know that “the face” lives on. I have two daughters but the gene seemed to skip them.
Not only do we share a surname and birth year, but also our first cameras. Haven’t thought about that little Agfa camera for years. Unfortunately my first photo albums have disappeared so I don’t have any photos from the camera. But thanks for the memories.
Hi John – and thanks for your email. Quite a deal of coincidences there! Shame that yours are lost. I also have a very dodgy roll from that one when my sister took it on a school trip to Kangaroo Island. And also one single print with no neg left of some swans I took that my grandfather thought worthy of enlargement. That early praise left an impression I think.