Philosophy & Reflections

Time, Zen and My Father’s Camera – By Eric Charles Jones

February 2, 2022

The trouble is, you think you have time.

– Buddha

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.

Film: Lomography Potsdam 100

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.

Film: Lomography Potsdam 100

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.

The Process

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.

Film: Kodak Extar 100

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 Format

The Autocord uses the 6×6 square format. This format stresses simplicity and symmetry.

Film: Kodak Ektar 100

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.

Film: Ektar 100

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.

You can check me out on Instagram

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    February 2, 2022 at 11:03 am

    The Autocord has quite a following in its own right, and deservedly so – lovely cameras.
    I think you have done justice to both this camera and your father with these shots. Shooting a TLR can be a bewildering experience, so the results are even more creditable.

    • Reply
      Eric Charles Jones
      February 2, 2022 at 9:11 pm

      Thank you, Bob.
      The Autocord deserves more shine.
      I still hear my father in the background saying don’t waste film.

      Take care

  • Reply
    jim ralf
    February 2, 2022 at 11:38 am

    I don’t have my fathers camera, but looking at the photos he took in the 50s, 60s, 70s. I get to see the past the way he saw it.
    I miss him. JR

    • Reply
      Eric Charles Jones
      February 2, 2022 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks Jim!
      These old cameras are special. They can transport you back in time.
      Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Christopher
    February 2, 2022 at 1:41 pm

    Lovely article! I enjoyed the images and the narrative equally. The camera itself is a work of art and your articulation of the benefits of the square framing and limited exposures per roll resonates with me.

    I too own an Autocord passed on to me in my youth by a friendly uncle. Regrettably, it is in very poor condition and is relegated to shelf ornamentation.

    Stay Well,

    CDC

    • Reply
      Eric Charles Jones
      February 2, 2022 at 9:18 pm

      Hi Christopher.

      Thanks for the comments.

      Please get your uncle’s camera up and in working condition then put a few rolls of film through it.
      You will not regret it. I promise

      Take care

  • Reply
    Charlie B.
    February 2, 2022 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I’m a fan of the 6×6 that my Argoflex makes as well. It’s definitely an interesting aspect ratio and you were spot on when you said it forces symmetry. Good read!

    • Reply
      Eric Charles Jones
      February 2, 2022 at 9:21 pm

      Thanks Charlie.

      I work with a few formats but the 6×6 really forces me to be mindful of my subject and composition.

      Peace

  • Reply
    Scott Gitlin
    February 2, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    Such a pleasing story to match your pictures (especially like the fence). A vintage camera “talks” to you – placing its history in your hands – you in turn “talk” to the camera – inputting your skillset. A team effort! Thank you.

  • Reply
    Eric Charles Jones
    February 2, 2022 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks for your kind words, Scott.

    I have such a connection with the camera. My only regret is that I don’t use it more.

    Take care

  • Reply
    Von
    February 3, 2022 at 12:28 am

    Those cameras are fairly easy to work on. The lens is fantastic and the film transport is an improvement over Rollei. Keep yours ticking and if you need help email me.

    • Reply
      Eric Charles Jones
      February 6, 2022 at 8:32 am

      Thank you, Von

  • Reply
    Wes Hall
    February 5, 2022 at 5:08 pm

    To hope that the embodiment of reikon will continue in this camera is a wonderful belief. It is one of the many fascinations I hold with Japan. Thanks for sharing these wonderful images, they have brought back memories of when I visited Yokohama. I hope you’ll continue to craft this visual diary with the Minolta Autocord, it’s certainly a fine camera with suitable eyes at the helm.

    • Reply
      Eric Charles Jones
      February 6, 2022 at 8:31 am

      Thank you for the kind words, Wes. I don’t use the camera as much as I should but when I do it
      helps me to appreciate my surroundings and subjects more. I get to slow down and soak in Japan.

      Take care

  • Reply
    Harry Machold
    February 7, 2022 at 7:49 pm

    Your so philosophical article here has impressed me deeply…
    Thank you for your deep inner reflections here…
    The camera is a beauty and so lovely to use.
    I have a few twin lens reflexes, like a couple of Rolleiflex, two Yashica next to a Baby one and also 2 Seagull
    I don´t have our late father´s camera´s since those are with my younger brother and that is good the way it is.
    But I have my own samples of his Rolleiflex 2,8 F, his Praktisix, his M2 with a chrome Summilux, ..
    And I have his books on those camera´s…

    I am crying for more…

    Harry

    • Reply
      Eric Charles Jones
      February 8, 2022 at 12:13 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, Harry.

  • Reply
    Chris Pattison
    February 8, 2022 at 10:34 am

    What a lovely and thoughtful post Eric. It struck a chord with me.

    • Reply
      Eric Charles Jones
      February 9, 2022 at 4:52 pm

      Thanks Chris,

      I’m glad that it spoke to you.

      Take care

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