Farewell to a Friend – Nearly a Whole Roll – By John Pemberton

In 45 years, I can count the number of cameras I have taken meaningful pictures with by using the fingers of two hands.  Three of these cameras are still in regular rotation.  Another is well maintained and could be of service if called upon.  Two were traded in for upgrades along the way.   Three now rest peacefully in happier pastures.  Of these three, a Ricoh KR-30 Program, sits as a potential organ donor on a shelf in California.  Two sit on a bookcase in the Photo-den of my house, a shelf below a stash of film and chemicals and a shelf above a growing collection of photobooks.  They share the shelf with relics from Jenny’s family, 2 – 100 year old box cameras that work but with no right sized film to be found.

The two cameras of mine on the shelf share something in common.  At the beginning, they were important tools that informed the photographer I am today.  The first, a Minolta Autopak 450e 110 film camera, was a Christmas present when I was 12.  It was a little fancier than most 110 cameras.  It had a focus adjustment slider, a red LED in the viewfinder let you know if you had enough light, if not you could adjust another slider to let more light in, there was a pop out flash, and coolest of all, a slide in place close up/macro lens.  That camera taught me that there was more to photography than point and shoot.

The Minolta was followed by a family relic, a Petri 2.8 Range finder, passed to me from an uncle who purchased it while stationed in Japan between the Korean and Vietnam wars.  I wrote about it in some detail here.  In addition to being my first 35mm camera, it is also the camera that guided me back into the world of film photography after a ten year hiatus in digital.

After a refurbish, using the Petri again helped me process the recent loss of the Uncle who had given it to me so many years ago.

Shooting rolls of film led to rediscovering film processing, then onto scanning negatives, leading to processing scans with digital software.  I used up those 20 year old rolls of various Kodak BW emulsions I found in a bag.  I experimented with various Ilford and Lomography varieties, along the way falling in love with Ilford Delta 100.

As we worked, the Petri and I rediscovered each other – quirks, warts and all.  The Petri was difficult to load, especially with how the leader for Ilford film was cut.  The Petri uses a very small pin to catch the first sprocket hole of the film.  Ilford cuts this to be very thin, the camera (or I on the first wind) often tore it and then unaware, advanced the film not onto the roll, but into the collection compartment, all crumpled up.  This sprocket was typically cut too thick on Lomography rolls and was harder to convince the pin to even take up.  The Kodak from 25 years ago, perfect.  Which was fine for the 10 rolls I had left…

The Petri was soft around the edges.  I found this endearing about her and simply knew I needed to work within the square of a larger frame.  The lens stack was now clouded.  Shooting directly into light left an aura over the whole frame.  Winters didn’t thrill her.  Cold parts contracted in unequal speed leading to a finicky shutter.  Regardless, I was enjoying every bit of the time we had together.

As spring came this year, the days warmed and it was time to get the Petri off the shelf and out of the bag.  Tuesdays and Thursdays are my non-teaching days at university.  Tuesday is for digital and then, after office hours, Thursday was for film.

Our first steps and first snaps of the day

One Thursday in May I walked the northside of downtown.  I had a roll of Potsdam 100 left in the bag, seemed a good use for it.  I Parked on Pennsylvania, under the interstate to shade the car from a freakishly hot day.  Loading the film as I walked, away I went.  This and that caught my eye as I headed south for the circle. Indianapolis is a city of cranes these days.  None of the work currently going on will reshape the skyline from afar, but the density of the city core is increasing, replacing what was lost in the 70’s.


Cranes and scaffolding, progress or something

It was graduation season, new college and high school grads were meeting photographers and families to take portraits of accomplishment.  I could‘ve been a little closer on these shots, but it was their day, not mine.  I headed a block east, taking Delaware north.  Through arched remnants of old city market, I saw a man sitting.  He framed up well and I made the picture.  A block later, on the steps of what is now the Salvation Army’s Women’s and Children’s center, I saw an odd, peculiar book sprawled open.  Perhaps this was a dictionary of the biblical world – not sure.  But it was a compelling image.  I framed it up, pressed the shutter…and… nothing.  I figured I had forgotten to wind, so I wound, pressed the shutter again and nothing.  Something was wrong.  It felt ominous.  I grabbed my cell and made an image with it.

True story, this young woman graduated from the same High School as I. Go Warriors!

I kept walking, tinkering a bit with the Petri along the way.  I wound the film back into the can.  Opened the camera to take a closer look.  No shutter action.  I was two blocks away from the camera shop in town, headed to the used desk and asked the attendant if someone could take a quick look.  She walked it back and 15 minutes later returned to say that the repairman had taken a look, made some lubrications, but it was time for a different camera.

Needless to say, I was crestfallen.  My mood darkened for several weeks.  It was hard to even pick up my digital cameras.

The last shot we made together

As I mentioned in the beginning, I don’t work with many cameras.  I don’t have the curiosity to shoot one of everything.  My two digital cameras usually have 50mm equivalent lenses on them (I use MFT gear – I hate big cameras).  I like to imagine that my sense of focal length and familiarity of mechanics for the specific camera I use, in needed situations, allows me to reliably capture an image without using the viewfinder.  Not everyone else enjoys the experience of, or practices photography in the same way – I am good with that.

The shot we missed

I processed the roll.  As I have found in the past, Ilfosol 3 and Lomography emulsions are not always the best matches.  The frames seem grainy for 100 speed film.  I attribute this to the combination.

As I was planning this post, I wasn’t sure what images to include.  There were ~12 frames left when the shutter quit, 24 images made it out of the developing can.  I processed 19, 5 were slightly different angles or a few steps back from a similar frame I included.  This isn’t quite the “whole roll” post that this site often presents.  But they are the last images my friend and I made together.

You can find me, my personal work on my Site, Twitter and 500px

I also am the founder of F2.8Press, Publishers of Undiscovered Photography.  We are building a list of artists to invite for submissions in our Zine:  “Archive”.  Check us out on Twitter!

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7 thoughts on “Farewell to a Friend – Nearly a Whole Roll – By John Pemberton”

  1. John, first let me send my condolences on the loss of your Uncle. It’s been a little over a year since my dear Uncle passed unexpectedly. My daughter is using a Canon AE-1 that he had gifted her with. As far as the demise of your camera I know it will have a prominent place on your shelf. Memories can be a strange thing as far as what triggers certain ones. Cameras and photos certainly play a major role in my life and I consider my photos to be an alternate memory.

    Like you I have cameras that have been close companions through my life. A Canon ftb-QL that I purchased in 1977 is one of the longest and after a recent CLA it is back in service. I am remembering why it was a joy to use and how it became the catalyst for my lifelong photography journey.

    These objects we call cameras that tag along with us in life are so much more than metal, gears and shutters. They are holders of metaphysical film that contain images only seen by the user. They can connect us to people, places and times now past. Inanimate objects that somehow have a life beyond themselves.

    Thanks for sharing your story and photos. My best to you in your continuing journey.

    1. Thank You Bill.

      The journey does continue. I have a couple posts in mind, one to cover what came next in the analogue part of the journey and another that discusses a different kind of Picture of the Day project. I think the latter will be first!

  2. Hey John,

    A lovely tribute to an old friend!

    On another matter entirely, have you used that cute little Beacon on your shelf? It has to be the sturdiest “plastic fantastic” camera I’ve ever seen. Adapting mine (and its big-brother 225) for 35mm is on my list of projects. But even if they’re never used, those Beacon make lovely Deco display pieces!


    1. The Beacon came to be via my wife’s family. I envy your 225 version of the camera. I believe 120 can work in it without much drama. The little one takes 127 which hasn’t been made for a while. I do know that B&H sells rolls of 127 that is cut down from 120 and spun onto 127 rolls.

  3. John, I have three Petri’s. The oldest one I bought from ships store in 1961. Sadly it quit several years ago. More recently I purchased 2 online that were fair priced, both were in decent condition. One has 1/500th & the other 1/300th top speed. I sent one to a repair facility in Georgia and it is working fine. A tip, move the shutter speed ring back and forth several times, and the aperture the same way. If that does not work you can use a hair dryer to warm up the lens assembly then repeat the ring movements. It may help. Good luck!

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