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

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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30 thoughts on “American Dream Colors: On US Roads with my Canon AE-1 – By J.M. Saponaro”

  1. 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

  2. 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?

  3. Pierre-Alix Favillier

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

  4. 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.

    1. 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 🙁

  5. 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 🙂

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