It’s April 9th 2020; 03.08am. I’m sitting in a small hallway under the stairs leading down to our basement. Here I have a computer set up with my old Nikon 4000 ED scanner. The scanner hasn’t been in use since 2005, so when I recently bought the cables needed to go from FireWire to Thunderbolt, I was very happy to see that it powered up and was working just as well as when I left it all those years ago.
There’s a beer on my table and late night radio is on with a calm-voiced host playing music and reading thoughts from people sitting up at night who can’t sleep or are just out there keeping the wheels turning.
I have worked as a cinematographer for more than 20 years, usually on films, documentaries and commercials. Always collaborating with other talented people. At the age of 13 I begged my mother to buy me a used Canon SLR I had seen in a shop, that was my first camera.
My dog is lying on the floor next to me. My family is sound asleep. Now I have time to look at my old negatives and slides. There are thousands of photographs and it’s like a time machine looking through them all. A lot of the photos were taken while traveling with my work. Snaps on my days off, walking around the great places I’ve been privileged to visit: Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, India, China, Iceland, United States and Italy to name a few.
A few surprises appear when I sit here and scan. I checked the negatives when they got developed, some frames I liked and others I shrugged off. In the end I put everything away. I was busy shooting films. A decade or two later it seems that either my taste has changed or I’ve started to look at my photographs in a different way. Most likely, I think, it’s forgotten memories that resurface. Some still suck, but that’s ok. I can see the intension or reason for taking the photo is still there. I tell myself. What is it that make us curious enough to want to take a photograph?
When I look at a roll of negative, I often see the 36 frames tell a story from where I’ve been and what I’ve seen in-between my work. I find it rewarding and I like the process of having just that selection of single frames, rather than the many duplicates of almost similar images when I look at my digital photographs. Sometimes there is a big time gap between exposures on the same film. Life happened undocumented.
In 2001 I bought my first Ricoh GR1s at Jessops in Manchester where I was working on a film. This camera fit me like a glove, it didn’t cost too much and was equipped with a 28mm lens. It was small enough so that I could always have it on me, even if I was working with bigger cinema cameras at the same time.
Since then I have had 4 GR1s’ and GR1v’s. When I fly I always try to sit by the window so that I can grab a shot. I once forgot a camera on a flight to Oklahoma. So it goes. Unfortunately these cameras have not aged well. The first S version is still the one working best for me. Shutter still firing, LCD and viewfinder frame lines still working 100%. The GR1v’s on the other hand have all lost their frame lines and have no LCD information and shutter fires intermittently. It sucks. The foam inside is also deteriorating causing light leaks – although I like these.
Most recently I’ve tried the MJU II, great size but very plasticky and it’s not a 28 mm. Also the Nikon 28TI. It’s pretty, but feels like a brick next to the Ricoh. I still need to put it through its paces and see if I can get used to it. I’d like to try the fancy Contax T2 and T3 cameras, but they are so expensive now. I wish the camera manufacturers would produce analogue cameras again. I’ve had an X-Pan and a Widelux for years but I don’t use them as often as I’d like.
I have never committed to one particular type of film, but gone through various Agfa, Fuji and Kodak negative and slide films. The chromes are all spectacular! The Ricoh did well exposing them in program mode. There is not much latitude in them when scanning. Just like exposing them. It’s like they have somewhat of a bygone and romantic feeling to them. The negatives feel more harsh with their grain and contrast but I do like them all. I recently shot a Cinestill 800T film, kept in a drawer for years. Looks like someone threw up on it with acid. Perfect imperfections.
I have shot some black and white but they were never my flavour of choice. Perhaps this will now change as we have just started developing black and white film here at home. I spend a lot of time scanning the negatives and less in Photoshop. The photos are all minimally cropped to retain as much image as possible.
Looking back at my photographs I can tell that somewhere around 2009 I bought my first iPhone. The Ricoh was put aside and didn’t always travel along on my journeys. I also had kids and a lot of good film work at the same time, so taking photographs became less of a priority. After several months of shooting a film I can become picture-taking-fatigued – or perhaps decision-making-fatigued to be honest. Picking up a camera after lighting and framing for 12-14 hours a day was not the first thing on my mind.
I’m enjoying the time I have now with my old photographs. The quiet nights, the slow and calm days. I recognize a pattern in my photographs of what I like to look at. The sun in the frame or reflected off of something. Landscapes. Locals in their environment. I keep a distance to people in my images, a friend told me. Perhaps more so recently. I do spend a lot of time working up close with people on a daily basis, so it feels good for me to stay back. Although I’m quite happy to approach anyone, just ask my teenage kids. They get embarrassed of me every time.
I have a made a website with a lot more photographs. I would be thrilled if you take a look. I’m still updating as I scan along. Thank you for reading.