I’ve always loved photography, but going semi-professional – shooting motor racing – strangled that, and I stopped photographing anything for a very long time. A decade or so later, and 2018 saw me get ‘the bug’ again. Skip forward another year and a bit, and I’ve fallen, again, and expensively, for film.
I learned on film, a tough apprenticeship trying to shoot racing cars with an Olympus OM-1 – manual everything, of course – but when I got reasonable digital equipment, the OM-1 ended up on a shelf, and there it sat, via a box under a bed, for more than 10 years. Until August.
I’d wanted to try medium format, and when my dad loaned me his effectively ornamental Bronica ETRS – a story for another time – it was like taking a long breath of fresh air that I didn’t know I needed. You can’t lug an ETRS around day-to-day, but you can rather more easily carry the famously dinky OM-1. I picked it up, shook it, checked it over, accidentally buggered the film inside – who knows what was on there, a mystery never to be solved – and then started taking photos.
I think this OM-1 has at some point been party to a deal with the devil, offering it extra durability. It is dirty, the light seals are best described as ‘shaky’, and it has lost a little paint of the years, but the first few rolls, on varying stock, showed a lot of promise. Having googled, youtubed and instagrammed the world of 35mm films, I decided I simply had to try Tri-x.
I snapped away three films, sent them off for development – “Once a week, on Tuesdays,” I was told, on a cursed Thursday – and waited. When my email lit up with the developers’ message, I tensed. Every film photographer knows that nervous moment: “Have I ruined it?”; “Am I a genius?”; “Shit, is the camera actually OK? I haven’t developed a roll on it for a decade.” I could have cried when I unzipped the scans; 37, 38 and 39 near-perfect exposures, contrast so good I could taste it, and that beautiful grain that only film can really give you. Backlit portraiture on a sunny day; mates in an ‘atmospherically lit’ – read ‘bloody dark’ – pub; street scenes on grey days and super contrasty sunny afternoons; Kodak Tri-x 400 had handled it all.
The photos here are a testament to the durability and quality of Olympus’ standout SLR – thank you, Yoshihisa Maitani – and the wonderful Zuiko primes, particularly the 35mm F2.8, 50mm F1.8 and 85mm F2 I used for these films. They are also a testament to Kodak, which really does make outstanding black and white film. I am in love with Tri-x 400 and if you haven’t tried it before, consider this an evangelical message. Try-x.
You can follow my film photography at @yorathonfilm. Marvel as I throw caution to the wind and spend far too much money on far too much film.