Photos & Projects

Reflecting on some analogue memories – by Rob MacKillop

I gave a review of the Hexar here which was wholly positive, and Hamish gave his more negative thoughts here. Suffice to say I still have the camera. Yes, the menu system (if we can call it that) is a nightmare, but I will be upfront about my usage: I stick it in P mode, and click away happily. Some shots, therefore, are better or worse than others. Let me just say that when I’m inspired to take a shot, the last thing I engage is my sluggish brain. Despite its faults, the Hexar’s brain is definitely less sluggish than mine!

So, here we have some frames which I’ve just rediscovered on my hard drive. They were taken on a family holiday to Dunkeld, Scotland, in August 2016. But don’t panic! I’m not simply sharing holiday snaps. What struck me a few moments ago, after finding them, is how much I love analogue photography. Despite their merits, or lack of, as images, they do something special: they remind me not so much what I saw, but of how I felt at the time. I also took (for safety…) some digital shots, and they do the opposite: they remind me of what I saw, not how I felt.

What is it about film that does this seemingly magic trick? I’m sure the big digital-camera companies would like to know!

Take the shot above, the pebbles under 20 inches or so of beautifully clear water. It’s certainly a clear-enough shot, reminding us how good the fixed lens is on the Hexar. But when I look at it, I am reminded of things you couldn’t possibly know. This was the last shot of the holiday, and we didn’t want to go home. The river is the Tay, which runs out into the North Sea by Dundee, on the East Coast of Scotland. As it does so, it passes a hill where the ashes of my mother had been scattered some 20 years ago. I was thinking about this at the time, and somewhat romantically sent my best wishes to her along the flow of the water. No one could guess that from seeing this image. Yet I also took a digital shot, which I saw first earlier this afternoon, and it reminded me of nothing. When I saw this film (Ilford XP2) the memories came flooding back.

Further along the bank, and possibly the previous day, I saw this tree trunk reflecting in the river. The clouds were so beautiful that day. In Scotland this is a BIG THING, as the sky is mostly uniform grey all year round, with just a few days of cloudless blue sky, and some glorious days with broken-up cloud, like this. Not in the least pretentiously (I hope you agree!) the tree in the river made me think of the early Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said something along the lines of, “We can and we cannot step into the same river twice.” Meaning, we can step into the River Tay twice, but each time it will be different, as the water has moved on. A deeper reading is that every moment is new for all things. By the way, I love how the Hexar caught the wild flowers on the riverbank.

This shot is called Last Morning, and seems to have been taken just before the pebble shot above. You can just see a wooden fence on the right edge, which leads to the hotel we were staying at for two nights. The flow of the tide is towards the camera, and the small boat was anchored.

The above shot was taken close by, at The Hermitage. I am not a fan of slow-shutter speeds and milky water. The water is as it looked. But what strikes my eye is the softness of the surrounding detail. A digital shot might have been too exacting. I come back to that word “feeling”. The image captures for me something of what it was like to stand there, not overwhelmed by detail, but somehow cradled by it. It was a very beautiful moment, as close as I’ve ever got to mindfulness with a camera. Again, that might not be obvious to any observer other than myself, but I know my digital shots could not give me this feeling.

Finally, a family snapshot of daughter and wife, by the banks of the Tay. I had wandered off taking photos, while they spent some time watching the river flow. None of us wanted to leave. I recommend Dunkeld (and the hotel, Dunkeld House) for a holiday, but do remember to bring your film camera with you, otherwise you might not remember how it felt to be there!

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Julian
    April 6, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    Great shots Rob, and the feelings and magic of film is real! I have had the same epiphany for want of a better word myself. To me digital in its straight out of the camera format is a bit soul less, it needs to be tweeked and processed to obtain a ‘pleasing result’ There is little or no atmosphere. In the strive for ‘clarity’ and resolution we have lost the romance and emotion. This is the same for vinyl record and many other analogue technologies that seem to be making a comeback. I think there is magic involved here. The feeling you get is in my mystical opinion a recording of your energy in the film or vinyl, something that you cannot measure or touch. The perfect imperfections etc. Photography, like music cannot really be broken down in to 1’s and 0’s There are too many overtones and harmonics in both light and sound to really do that i feel. Call me an old hippy if you like but to me this explains the feeling you get from an analogue photo or recording, even if the final delivery to the eye is digital.

    • Reply
      Rob MacKillop
      April 8, 2018 at 2:32 pm

      Cheers, Julian. I get the vinyl analogy, though wouldn’t go as far as to use the term “mystical”. But I’m all for perfect imperfections – just as well! 😉

  • Reply
    Art Tafil
    April 6, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    I applaud you for admitting that you put the camera in P mode and shoot away.
    Many a shooter has been intimidated by a nightmare menu selection on their cameras.
    Instead of doing what you (and I) have done in using program mode, they just wrote the camera off as unusable.
    Great article by the way. Good shooting.

    • Reply
      Rob MacKillop
      April 8, 2018 at 2:34 pm

      Cheers, Art. P or A mode – lots of great photography has been done with these modes. Occasionally I try manual, and have had some good results, but it certainly slows me down. Thanks for your comment.

  • Reply
    Ian
    April 7, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    Great shots Rob. I’ll have to load one of my film cameras up and visit Dunkeld. Did you filter the shots or apply post-processing adjustments? As humans we see and hear in analogue. It is the natural way our brain works. Digital media have to be translated, but because it is based on a regular pattern of 1’s and 0’s, I guess we struggle to cope!! By the way I also use “p” mode most of the time with my cameras that have this feature

    • Reply
      Rob MacKillop
      April 8, 2018 at 2:37 pm

      Cheers, Ian. No filter, as far as I recall. As for digital processing, I can’t remember off hand, but it’s unlikely to have been anything other than a little exposure comp. I’ve done some exploring of digital editing, but these days the less time I spend at the computer, the better.

  • Reply
    Michael Kay
    April 9, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Well done for going into P for “Professional mode” and getting some real bangers.

    • Reply
      Rob MacKillop
      April 9, 2018 at 8:48 am

      I hope bangers is a complimentary word? 🙂

      I like P = Professional!

  • Reply
    Robin Gray
    April 10, 2018 at 8:35 am

    Lovely words and photos to illustrate a well loved location at Dunkeld. I have walked that stretch of the Tay many times, in a variety of weather conditions and with many cameras! It is really beautiful spot which you have illustrated well.

    • Reply
      Rob MacKillop
      April 10, 2018 at 9:06 am

      Cheers, Robin. I suppose you know the song, “Auld Robin Gray”? It’s very beautiful.

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