Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Our Idiot-Proof Tomorrow

Nostalgia should only go so far. Most of it is artificial anyway, just a yearning to once again pick up reminders of an age where the hard decisions and painful sacrifices were not ours to make, and through them convince ourselves that the present day will be remade in the image of the more comfortable past. It doesn't work. For now, at least, the graph is still tilting upward in most respects; outside of the economic sphere, at least, the future is better than the past.

That doesn't mean the past has no place in it, though. One just has to be careful about how it's integrated, and more importantly, deal with it on its own terms - not those that the present day has made you used to. The past had its own rules, and they don't necessarily mesh with what we take for granted today.

Prime example of this: a while ago, as I was getting ready to move from Toronto to Vancouver, I dug a camera out of one of my bags that must have been my grandfather's, because I have no other explanation as to how it ended up in my possession. It's a Hanimex 35SE point-and-shoot camera, and I've been able to narrow its release down to around 1984. It's been a long time since my photography's been anything but digital - my old 1970s-issue Minolta Pocket Autopak 430E last saw service in the early days of my university hitch, nearly ten years ago now, and it no longer works. The Hanimex, though - I was itching to find out if it still worked.

Fortunately, there are still a few places in Metro Vancouver that sell and develop photographic film. My Hanimex takes 135 film, which I suppose is advantageous as it seems to be one of the more common - and, thus, still supported - film formats. The only potential roadblock was that I'd never used it before; my old Minolta used 110 film, which even I as a teenager was unable to figure out how to screw up. But, still, it was a learning experience! A chance to see the present - by which I mean,the future!!! - through the lens of the past, literally.

I bought four rolls.

The first, twelve exposures in all, I filled with images of east Kerrisdale. Once I'd taken the last shot, I opened the back of the camera right there on the street, because I thought the Hanimex couldn't possibly have been designed so that inadvertently opening the camera would expose the entire roll to daylight and thus ruin it. I was wrong on that count.

For the second I was more careful, and careful to rewind the film back into the cartridge once I was done. I must have pulled that camera's miniature crank around a hundred times just to make sure every last bit of film was pulled back. I dropped it off for development and came back an hour later... when I found that none of the film had been exposed. I hadn't threaded it across the sprockets correctly, and since the exposure counter is purely mechanical I had no idea I wasn't taking anything.

For the third, I resolved to learn from this all. I was careful to thread the film and made sure that I felt the tension on the wheel when I advanced from one exposure to the next. I was careful not to open the back before I rewound the film. I only wasn't careful enough to remember to press a little button recessed on the bottom of the camera. This button, I learned moments later, unlocks the sprockets. I rewound the film, feeling the strain, winding, winding - and then a tear. I had successfully ripped the cartridge off the film, which was all still in the open and thus impossible to salvage.

Part of it is because I didn't have an instruction manual close at hand - but that just underscores the difference. Sure, digital cameras have manuals too, but those deal mostly with the arcanities of the menu system - taking pictures with them is simplicity itself. I let myself go into it with the easy casualness that I learned from digital photography, and I have three wrecked film rolls and not a single photograph to show for it. We forget the complications that separate today from yesterday at our peril. Things aren't always simple to figure out, and I think it's healthy to be reminded of that now and again.

The fourth roll is in the Hanimex right now. I have high hopes for it.

1 comment:

  1. That's so funny and nostalgic for me. My Hanimex was a slide projector (try and get a bulb for them now!). And like most of us, I traded in my trusty Nikon F for a new digital version. No longer the same experience though. Back in the day I could judge the light and tell you the Fstop and shutter speed settings to use to get the best depth of field or action stopping shot, once given the film's ASA. Only amateurs needed light meters! Now I just shoot dozens of frames hoping to get something impressive.

    After opening the camera in the light and seeing the film loose, did you quickly close the camera back? Quite often, if the film is still tightly rolled, only the outside frames get hit. Even then, the random special effects created can be surprising.

    I always used a 'change bag' to solve these problems. It was a zippered, lightproof fabric bag that had two armholes. You put the whole camera inside, stick your hands inside via the armholes, and reassemble the film into the cannister. You could flip the top off the old film cannisters and then put them back together once you'd reloaded the film. We also bought 35mm film in bulk, and then loaded into our empty film cassettes. Ah, the good old days!

    I still have an enlarger but I doubt I'll ever use it again. I used to buy bulk chemicals and make up my own developers, stop baths, and fixers (I still have the formulae). I even printed colour for a while (not even a red light in the darkroom). But my favourite film format was a superhigh speed Kodak b/w recording film that I could use to shoot punk concerts without the use of a flash. Here's a few I've managed to save: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=punk&w=87141680%40N00