The trouble is, you think you have time.
Old cameras have always held a special place in my heart. Especially, the classic cameras of the past that were often built like precision timepieces. After my father’s passing, I inherited several of his cameras. They are the only possessions of his that I have. His former cameras are all valued, but the one that has held the most significance has been the Minolta Autocord. It’s not just a camera. It’s a collector and custodian of memories.
Lately, I’ve been preoccupied with time and finding my place of Zen. The pandemic forced me to slow down and reflect. During this period, I have been reminded of my own mortality, my own impermanence. Our time on this earth is finite. Cameras allow us to cheat death. They stop time. With them, we can live on in captured moments.
More than six decades ago, a camera left Japan. It left the Toyokawa factory floor of the Chiyoda Kogaku Seiko company (later Minolta Co, Ltd). Eventually, it found its way to my father on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio in America. There it documented his life and his time. Now it’s in my hands and has accompanied me back to Japan to act as my visual diary of the land and its people.
The Autocord may not have the social media following of the twin lens reflex (TLR) Rolleiflex cameras or the other cameras produced by Mamiya or Yashica. However, the 75mm 3.5F Rokkor lens can hold its own against the lenses on the previously mentioned cameras. It is capable of producing stunning images.
I am drawn to this camera not just for sentimental reasons . I could write volumes about its physical characteristics and features. There are far better reviews that focus on these aspects . I have an almost spiritual connection with this camera.
I’m drawn to use this camera for the entire experience. Its weight and feel in my hands. The soft sound of its shutter. The method of looking down into the waist level viewer to compose an image, all collectively contribute to the act of taking a photograph. It teaches me to slow down and be mindful of my subject and my environment. I am more engaged in the process.
I’m drawn to its simplicity. There is only film, a lens and a box that captures light. There are no batteries, no light meter, no memory cards. It’s all mechanical.
When I shoot digitally, I sometimes fail to appreciate the process. Modern digital cameras are computational wonders with their myriad of features and advances. Yes, they have made the process of capturing images easier, but often without thought. We produce such a multitude of pictures with all our digital devices that sometimes images lose their value and gravity. A break is sometimes needed from our digital world.
I’m compelled to be more present in the moment and be discriminatory about what I photograph. The Autocord’s limited twelve film exposures requires that I need to be mindful of my subject and how I compose the image. These limitations are not deficiencies. They become assets in improving my ongoing journey in becoming a better photographer.
The Autocord uses the 6×6 square format. This format stresses simplicity and symmetry.
Currently the most popular aspect ratios (3:2, 4:3, or 16:9) produce rectangular images. In these images, the observer’s eyes tend to traverse up and down in portrait orientation or side to side in landscape. The 6×6 aspect ratio of 1:1 creates a perfect square that guides the viewer’s eyes naturally towards the center of the frame. Compositions that stress balance, geometric shapes, or scenes that are uncluttered benefit most from this aspect ratio. The challenge sometimes comes from choosing the right subject and composition that compliments this less is more philosophy.
Here in Japan, there is a belief that even inanimate objects can possess a soul (reikon). Who will hold this camera when I’m long gone and lost to this world, lost even in memory? I wish I could see the images that they produce and how they will use the camera to interpret their future world.
It’s not just a camera. It has its own history. It has its own story, and quite possibly its own soul.
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