I was introduced to analog photography last Christmas with a Polaroid One Step camera and a handwritten note saying something like “this is another attempt to see the world through your eyes”. Besides loving taking polaroids of small details mainly from seaside locations, I knew I had to find a more powerful way to convey my feelings through pictures. It is always a matter of how sincerely and truly I am able to tell the world about my soul even without shedding too many words. The person behind the handwritten note knew that too, and as soon as another occasion appeared – my birthday, an oddly grey and rainy day of May – I was gifted a precious 35mm camera: a shimmering, perfectly preserved Olympus XA2, older than me.
It is a small and precious compact camera, the smartest predecessor of point and shoots from the 90s. Shooting with XA2 – sister of the likely more famous Olympus XA – is as simple as to live and taste the moment. You keep it in your pocket, you hold it in your hand, you capture what’s in front of you slightly pushing the quiet, chameleonic shutter button. There’s nothing else you need to occupy your mind with, a part from ISO and zone focusing (which is immediate with the three position zone-focus system), making this Olympus perfect for street photography). However, although being beginners-friendly and light weighted (only 200 grams without batteries!), it is so classy and well refined with the iconic eggshell cover to protect lens that you end up holding it proudly in your hands, or wearing it fashionably and matching a floral-mini skirt walking Le Marais in Paris. Which is another story, though.
Here, I am eager to tell a more nostalgic story, and there is nothing like black and white film to express the strength of my spleen during fall season. Actually, I shot these frames on a peculiar weekend which marked the end of summer, last year of university and, metaphorically, the end of a chaotic yet marvelous, hopeful period of my life (probably started exactly the day I got my Olympus XA2). I’m a fan of twisted fates and serendipity plots, and even if I had never shot in black and white before, I decided to load the camera with an Ilford XP2 Super 400, a b/n film using color C41 processing, and see what I would get.
Looking at the photographs, I loved how between the darkest blacks and the foggy whites you can always soak into shades of vivid greys. From lake pictures with small houses perched in the distance to people parallel walking in a small Renaissance town. You have the feeling that everything is living still and could come back to life in a second. This is the perfect combination of a vivid camera like Olympus XA2 and the mood that a “coloured” b/n Ilford can convey. Besides the melancholy of these moments I stole from passengers’ life as well as from my own, I got the feeling that the reason why I (and may I say, we?) take analog pictures is that we struggle with “let go(s)”, and these cameras give us the sense that at least on film, moments are recorded, for good. There are no turning backs or real goodbyes on film; there are just tiny epiphanies in front of us that we capture and keep in our memory. A concrete memory.
It is wistful, letting go. Letting go of lakeside views, songs hummed in car drives, cameras as birthday gifts. But in the end, photographs stay still, and fate knows its potential.
Note: The captures are lyrics from Phoebe Bridgers’ songs (Garden Song, Graceland Too, Scott Street, Motion Sickness)
Thanks for reading me and going down this memory lane,
This is a review of the Olympus XA2 I really love: www.35mmc.com/27/03/2016/olympus-xa2-review-love-camera/
You can find me and my Olympus on Instagram: @splithelark
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9 thoughts on “5 frames with Olympus XA2 and Ilford XP2 Super (and the wistful nostalgia of goodbyes) – By Mel”
Lovely work, Mel.
I’m born in May, too, and have an XA sitting next to me waiting for the right time to work. Maybe with the Cinestill XX Leica gave me to test the new M6.
Best from snowy Berlin.
Mel, you have a gift with language as well as imaging. A fun read!
I have an XA2 that sits in the console of my car, rarely used these days. The “chameleon” shutter is not so predictable. It used to be my pool camera, and took many fun snapshots of my daughter growing up through the summers.
Mel, you have a masterful eye. I’d encourage you to continue with B&W, it dovetails seamlessly with your style of writing. XP-2 is a great film! It’s the perfect bridge film – process C-41, ask for a digital file, and you get the best of both worlds.
Mel, as soon as I saw the part of your story title about wistful goodbyes I thought you might enjoy the work of Deanna Dikeman. She has produced a book titled “Leaving and Waving”. it is a wonderful body of work. I agree with the other commenters in that you should continue with b&w and continue writing. Maybe a small zine to combine both?
A beautiful article Mel! And the statement “…photographs stay still, and fate knows its potential…” is so true. I frequently respond differently now to photos shot long ago than I did when they were new. The images remained the same… while I changed. Keep up the good work!
Fine shots ! I’ve come to the XA2 orginally from my mother, which passed away almost ~17 years ago, so this XA2 is special, compared to all the others, i’ve seen it onto the big brown wood bookshelf, as a kid all the time inside the living room. I also have a original XA, which i bought a hell long time ago.
Nice shots! I have and use some Yashica T p/s cameras, and I appreciate the fixed-lens wide-angle style–continuing with a Ricoh GR III and hopefully soon a GR IIIx. Please continue to post your photos. Cheers.
Absolutely stunning photographs!! I bet it wouldn’t matter what camera you used, the photos would still be spectacular.
Love your article too.
What a beautifully written piece. I was utterly enthralled. The accompanying images are also fascinating. Thank you for contributing this.
Regarding XP2, I love to shoot it at 200iso and develop it in B&W chemicals. It is my favourite film. As for cameras, I can picture you with something truly vintage and quite beautiful like a Kodak Retina iic. Film has a future again. Keep shooting and especially writing. This is a beautiful piece.