[Another] 5 frames with Kodak Ultramax 400 & a Canon Sprint – By Michael Maliner

By Michael Maliner

In March of 2021, I found myself shooting film for the first time in many years. As mentioned in my prior “5 frames with…”, my earliest rolls were mostly about chasing the orange hues that frame daylight. As time progressed, however, I started to focus less on color and more on subject matter. This was not a conscious progression. In fact, I made a concerted effort not to think at all.

As a digital shooter, I was in the habit of capturing dozens of slightly different iterations of a single subject for fear of missing the material for that “perfect” shot. I was convinced that I’d eventually produce “great” work through the maniacal process of culling down thousands of images and editing the selects to “perfection”. Burnout was the inevitable result, followed by long periods of creative dormancy.

Since shooting film with a point-and-shoot could result in nothing “important”, I was freed from the burdens of high expectations and fear. I also made it a point not to carry extra film or capture anything more than once. The objective was to shoot daily and without judgment. A missed shot here and there hardly mattered absent the pressure to produce a magnum opus.

The five shots below, all from a single roll of Kodak Ultramax 400, and are from around early April of 2021, the second month of my year with film.

Untitled picture of a statue, boat and fence
Untitled picture of a statue, boat and fence

If I were to have given this photo a title, it would have been a tossup between something highfalutin (“Eternal Fight Against the Growth of Time”) or pithy (“Statue Amidst Shrubbery”). But a title would have been cheating in this case because there is nothing inherent in the image that visually separates the statue from its surroundings.

All of the white objects towards the center of the shot–the forgotten statue, the land locked catboat, the teetering fence–receive equal visual weight. The result is a picture about nothing. I like the browns and greens Ultramax captured in direct sunlight, and those in the algae on the shaded side of the boat, but I’m left to wonder if a “real” camera and a wider aperture might have helped separate the statue from its surroundings.

American Flag
American Flag

Both a cherished symbol of democratic rule and an incendiary mark of anti-rule populism, American flags have become a divisive cultural artifact in the US. Perhaps that’s why I was drawn to them on my daily photo walks. Here, brightly painted on a repurposed carriage house behind a rusted chain link fence, it presents as weatherworn and proud, but beyond our reach. This shot was taken later in the day, as is particularly apparent in the hues of the grass and rusted fence. It is not a pretty picture, but I love the brownish orange scrim created by the fence and the way it stops the white wall from overpowering  the scene.

Lawn & Chair
Lawn & Chair

This is another example of just how good this plastic brick of a camera is, especially if you’re comfortable metering through the lens. I’m guessing I locked the exposure and focal point off the chair’s left armrest. From there the camera did the rest.

An unabashedly pretentious SLR paparazzo, I scorned the proliferation of the plastic brick back in the day. Shows how little I really knew!

Abstract in Color
Abstract in Color

When I got “serious” about photography, I shot a lot of abstract, black and white images. To my eye, all black and white images lean towards abstraction and it doesn’t take much tip them over the edge. Add color into the equation, however, and I found it much harder to strip captured forms of their physical world references. Pictured here are three boats, shrink wrapped and up on land for winter storage.

Tranquil, waterfront homes against the distant horizon
Like West Egg

West Egg, the location of the great Jay Gadsby’s the waterfront estate, made the North Shore of Long Island famous for its distinctive egg-shaped coves. This cove is on the south shore and considerably smaller than West Egg.

I shot this standing in a dirt lot off the side of a dead end. I hadn’t planned this shot in advance, but rather stumbled blindly and happily upon this evocative confluence of tides, weather and light. Once again, the plastic brick delivered, bringing out Ultramax’s warm tones in the afternoon sun reflecting off the west-facing homes.

I deliberately framed the shot to include that very tip of land on the right. That was an unsuccessful attempt to capture the sense of enclosure created by the cove. Unfortunately, it looks more like a mistake, and the image would probably have been prettier if I had let the impermanent buildings stand, without protection, against the infinite expanse.

As I mentioned prior, at the time these were printed I was disappointed with the results. Now, revisiting the prints a year later, I am amazed at the point-and-shoot/Ultramax combination. Between the film’s latitude and that Canon lens, the resulting images are consistently very, very good. Are they good enough for Vogue? Hell no! But why would anyone use a Canon Sprint for fashion photography?!

The more interesting question to me is “Can a simple analog camera capture the nuances of available light and render images that present a unique perspective?” I’m hoping the answer emerges as I continue to share my 2021 look back in future “5 frames with…”.

This role of Kodak Ultramax 400 was processed at Rockville Camera and scanned on their Noritsu. The final prints were digitized on an iPhone using Google’s PhotoScan (which I currently use of necessity but do not recommend). The images were slightly corrected to compensate for those saccharine iPhone hues.

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