Photos & Projects

American Dream Colors: On US Roads with my Canon AE-1 – By J.M. Saponaro

January 12, 2020

I’ve been lucky to spend a lot of time in the US, thanks to my job in New York. As a software engineer in a very technical industry, photography has been for a few years my escape into exploring something more artistic. Pushed by one of my best friends, a renowned photographer, I dove into photography. After a few years with digital cameras, my step-father, who is like a father to me, made me the happiest by offering me his old film camera: a Canon AE-1 that he brought back from Japan in the 80’s while navigating on commercial ships.

This camera is now my loyal companion when road tripping across the US. I use it to capture the dreamy scenes that seem like frozen in time that I encounter. Even in the streets of New York, old cars from decades ago can appear at a corner of a street. I really like the fact that you can find symbols of America a bit everywhere.

While I came back to live in France, in Paris, my job allows me to come back to New York every few months. And every time, you can be sure that I try to go at least once to Coney Island, in the south of Brooklyn. I love this place. It’s a mix of all the craziness you can fin in New York(ers), and it feels like it hasn’t move much since the 1950’s.

In summer, there is always something weird or fun going on, and the rest of the year, you can still feel all that excitement in the air, even if the place is way more empty.

Colors hold an essential part in my work, as you can see in my photos. And Coney Island is literally a festival of colors.

Kodak Portra 400 has been my loyal film so far. I really like its tones and grain, and its professional quality that ensures me a high resolution when scanned, and printed in large format. I had the chance to see my work exhibited, with large prints, so quality was very important.

Only few people know it, but if you walk around 20 minutes west, along the ocean, you end up in Brighton Beach, the Russian neighborhood. Everything there is written in Russian, in the stores, on newspapers. Locals definitely have a particular style. That’s the beauty of New York: a melting pot of different populations, at the same time mixed up, but who also knew how to keep their own identity.

Once a year, I try to hit the road in non-touristy states across the country.

Last summer, I went to Alabama and Mississippi. I even stopped in Brooklyn but in Mississippi! Just the time to send a letter to myself with the stamp of this tiny (almost ghost) town.

If you avoid the large highways, that is when you encounter hidden gems. The US is full of towns where time seems to have stopped since people started talking about the American Dream decades ago.

Overall, the Canon AE-1 is a very handy camera that I am able to carry with me everywhere. It’s discreet, and even if it didn’t cost the premium price of some cameras in the 80’s (or even today), I can’t complain about the quality of the results it got me so far.
It is also easy to learn how to use it, for any photographer trying film photography for the first time.
I have no intention to switch anytime soon, especially given the sentimental value this particular camera has for me.

I hope you liked this sneak peek on the road of the US by my side. You can see more of my work and photo series on my website, or travel with me via my Instagram.

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  • Reply
    Graham Coad
    January 12, 2020 at 11:05 am

    This is what I like. The camera, film, lens and similar type reviews are interesting from a technical point of view, but posts like this one that also show images from places with different cultures from mine are particularly satisfying

    • Reply
      January 12, 2020 at 11:10 am

      Thank you so much Graham for your thoughtful comment on my work 🙂

  • Reply
    Julian Higgs
    January 12, 2020 at 11:15 am

    Lovely shots of the lesser seen parts of the US. Great work.

    • Reply
      January 12, 2020 at 11:20 am

      Thank you Julian! Really appreciate it.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Hi JM,

    The film here looks nothing like Portra 400, all the colors are so saturated.. is this from scanning, a deliberate choice in lightroom or did you pull it a stop or two?

  • Reply
    Pierre-Alix Favillier
    January 12, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Lovely shots, I would have sworn you were shooting ektar100 though! Those yellow and reds really pop like they do with ektar.

    • Reply
      January 12, 2020 at 12:09 pm

      Thank you very much Pierre! I sometimes shoot with Ektar 100 indeed but not for these 🙂 You have a great eye!

  • Reply
    January 12, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Wow! Great photo’s! I love the colours, the boldness of them, I love the compositions and you daring not to be shy with a (very) bright exposure.

  • Reply
    Ron Scibilia
    January 12, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    Camera aside…great photos. Kudos.

    • Reply
      January 12, 2020 at 5:23 pm

      Thank you very very much Ron! If you want to see more of my photos:
      Why “camera aside”? I found the Canon AE-1 very versatile and powerful for its category. Obviously it’s not playing in the same league as other cameras. May I ask what cameras you praise in 35mm? I’m curious 🙂

  • Reply
    Scott Edwards
    January 12, 2020 at 8:33 pm

    Soooo good, so much vibrant fun! Thank you for sharing!

    • Reply
      January 12, 2020 at 8:36 pm

      Thank you so much Scott for your warm comment. I’m glad you like my work.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2020 at 10:15 pm

    The colors are amazing!!!!

    • Reply
      January 13, 2020 at 10:39 am

      Thank you so much Tim! 🙂

  • Reply
    Des McSweeney
    January 12, 2020 at 11:07 pm

    I shoot mainly black and white but these are spectacular photos JM, I may have to rethink ;-). Bravo !!!!

    • Reply
      January 13, 2020 at 10:40 am

      Thank you very very much 🙂 Really appreciate your awesome feedback.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2020 at 11:51 pm

    Great photos, well done 🙂
    I recommend you try reversible film though, if you haven’t. Seems you like saturated colors, velvia / provia /ektachrome would fit nicely with your style.

    • Reply
      January 13, 2020 at 10:41 am

      Hi Daniel! Thank you so much. You are right, I should explore other films. I only have tried Portra 160/400/800 and Ektar 100.
      I’ll definitely try the Velvia & Provia ones. I’m sad Ektachrome is so expensive 🙁

  • Reply
    January 13, 2020 at 9:21 am

    WOW! Really cool photos! Very motivating!!! Thank you! 🙂

  • Reply
    January 13, 2020 at 11:51 am

    Very nice compositions and the saturated colors suite the shots very well. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      January 13, 2020 at 3:50 pm

      Thank you very very much Dhanesh for your kind comment about my work 🙂

  • Reply
    Andrew Lodge
    January 14, 2020 at 1:16 am

    This is some of the best photography that I’ve ever seen on film or digital.

  • Reply
    January 14, 2020 at 9:17 pm

    Your eye for colour reminds me of Martin Parr’s work.

    • Reply
      January 15, 2020 at 9:59 am

      Woaw I’m flattered of the comparison. Thank you so much Tom!

  • Reply
    Nigel Haycock
    January 15, 2020 at 11:59 pm

    Wow! I love these pictures, as you say colour sure is a thing in your photos. Makes me want to grab some Portra and get out there with it; although I think my style is more the muted natural cast that Portra provides 🙂

  • Reply
    Jamie W
    June 22, 2020 at 3:07 am

    Great post and shots, makes me crave my next US road trip!

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