I’m going to talk about myself first. I know – “Another self-indulgent millennial who spent their formative years being told that they were special amongst a sea of beige… deluded into a false sense of self importance”. I get it. Now, my mom definitely did tell me I was special but, believe me, I’m aware that I am exceedingly normal in all of the most boring ways. That being said, I promise this anecdote will be worth it (probably).
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way –
Simply put – I love unique machines. Difficult machines. Machines that make you ‘work for it’ in order to achieve the best out of their intended use case. There’s a simplicity and art to mastering something that, without the direction of a skilled hand, is simply a dormant mishmash of periodic elements arranged in a carefully designed order.
A Stradivarius is an objectively beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but in the hands of Antonio Vivaldi it is transformed into an act of poetry.
A Formula 1 car is a fascinating marvel of engineering, but only Ayrton Senna can make it dance in the rain.
Now, I am neither a racecar driver nor a master of anything (despite my very best efforts, remember that I am not special). Though, what I can confidently say is that I am someone who truly appreciates the beauty in the convergence of engineering and creativity to create art; and film photography is one life’s finest examples.
The story of my entrance into photography likely isn’t too dissimilar to that of many of yours.
My first camera was a Nikon D40, their entry-level DSLR that I received as a birthday gift the summer before my first year of high school.
I loved it.
I grew up with a family whose idea of ‘vacation’ was to lug my sibling and I to far off reaches of the world, oftentimes with many unconventional means of transportation (ask me about the time we had to emergency land a bush plane in Costa Rica). Throughout all of this excitement, however, my father would always have a Nikon slung over his shoulder; without fail.
To finally have a Nikon of my own to document our adventures together was an incredibly special moment.
So I cut my teeth in the world of digital photography, and every camera I’ve owned afterwards (Canon 5DMKII, Lumix S5) has naturally lived within that ecosystem… millions of photos and thousands of hours of editing… until now.
This past summer I was crashing on a friend’s couch on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I was back up in the office for work as I’d recently moved after a couple year stint living in the city myself. While I have you, let me tell you that New York City is a drug as equally addicting as photography, but that’s a story for another time.
Needless to say, I was happy to be back.
This particular trip we were sitting down at a favorite Thai spot in the upper reaches of the neighborhood, and as the noodles and beers began to flow we got to shooting the sh*t about some of our usual suspects; classic motorcycles, the inescapable passage of time… and photography.
Now, unlike me, my buddy was already well entrenched in the world of analog photography. He owned a couple of Canon AE-1 bodies, a Nikon F3 and a more modern EOS 3 for his daily carry. He also worked with a local lab in the city to develop and scan all of his work; compared to me he was a seasoned professional.
I, rather foolishly, had never really had a keen interest in film photography. In my limited exposure it had always seemed particularly inefficient and laborious when compared to my modern, exceedingly cushy and relentlessly forgiving, digital workflow.
“Then why do you insist on only riding old, air-cooled Ducati’s?” he snarked as we clinked glasses to begin our fourth round.
He had a good point.
I’d recently bemoaned the later models for being too muted and easy to ride, in a word… too ‘digital’. I liked my motorcycles full of character, difficult to tame and, most importantly, incredibly rewarding for those who took the time to properly learn and appreciate the nuances of the bike.
Photography isn’t too dissimilar, especially when it comes to analog.
Now I was curious. Was film photography a medium, and workflow, that I’d personally find even more fulfilling?
I had questions.
We settled up at the bar and stepped, or rather stumbled, back into the riff-raff of the city. I was on a mission to learn more.
The first time I held his Canon AE-1 in my hands I knew this new curiosity was going to be more than a passing spark on a hazy New York night. It felt right.
Tactile. Purposeful. Subtle.
Everything you needed and nothing more. I liked it. I liked it quite a bit.
Once he showed me some of his scans from wanderings around the city and Europe it was game over; I was hooked.
I spent the roughly 4 hour train ride back home researching everything I could about film photography – from cameras and film stocks to color theory and workflow. I knew I wanted one. I just needed to figure out what made the most sense for me.
I will forever stand by my claim that I try to be practical, I really do. The issue therein lies, however, in the inherently impractical passion that is photography. Or at least that’s how I try to rationalize it with my wife.
But alas, I began my search with truly the most practical of intentions. I was going to get a used Canon AE-1 from a reputable dealer and test the waters of film photography before really investing in the medium. Maybe. Juuuuust maybe if I was feeling sentimental I’d get a Nikon F3 in homage to my father and my first camera; but that was as ‘dangerous’ as I’d get. I made this promise to myself. I was going to be smart.
… So I bought a Leica M3.
Hamish will be happy to know that he played a pivotal role in my reckless departure from my original claims.
I’ll get to that.
Part two coming.
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