Compact Photographers

The art of reduction – 35mm Compact Camera Photographer #27 – Chris J Roe

Ever since I picked up my first disposable film camera as a child, I have loved photography. In the following years, as my enthusiasm for taking pictures grew I found myself being led down the well trodden path of G.A.S (gear equisition syndrome) lusting after the latest and greatest equipment, whether I could realistically afford it or not.

After many years of chasing the ‘photographic dragon’ with a well worn credit card in hand, I had a moment of realisation. I no longer cared about photography. If I was honest with myself I couldn’t recall the last time I had gone outside to actually shoot with the ever increasing pile of equipment I had amassed and ironically the ‘bigger and better’ the toys the more hassle it felt like to take them out and actually make use of them.

It was at this stage where I was wrestling with a particularly strong episode of depression (something I have dealt with for around ten years) and as the weeks went by the gear I had worked so hard to purchase began to gather dust. I fell into the oh so familiar cycle of creative self doubt and a general lack of self esteem, preventing me from believing I was worthy of the equipment I had.

‘What’s the point, you’re pictures suck anyway’ my brain told me. ‘You might as well just sell all of this stuff’

…and so I did. I decided to give in to the voices in my head and get rid of all the equipment I had. Goodbye Full frame Canon, Goodbye L series glass, goodbye fancy Manfrotto Tripods and all the other accessories still in their original sealed packaging.

At this stage I had accepted that I was done with photography for good. I continued through life as normal all be it with a lot less credit card debt but a few months later I found a sense of creative emptiness creeping in, faint at first but growing stronger each day.

I had learnt my lesson when it came to G.A.S so was hesitant about buying another camera, as a compromise I decided to use my iPhone as my sole camera and despite its tiny sensor and limited capabilities, I loved it. As naive and slightly pretentious as it might sound, I had never considered a phone to be suitable as a ‘serious photographer’s tool’ but as I was shooting for fun ‘why not give it a go’ I thought. Without regurgitating the whole ‘the best camera is the one that’s with you’ motto propagated by Chase Jarvis way way back in 2011/12, the easy accessibility of having a camera on me at all times allowed me to pick up and play as and when I felt compelled to do so. I was no longer held down by the arduous task of packing a bag full of gear and planning a day dedicated to carting around that weight in the hope of making some ‘professional’ images.

After shooting with my iPhone almost exclusively for a year I came across a little Olympus Trip 35 at a car boot sale lying on the floor looking a little unloved. ‘Give me £3 for it, it’s film by the way nobody uses that stuff anymore’ the seller told me as I handed over what felt like a tiny percentage of what the camera was worth. While I was aware that film wasn’t as popular as before I had experience of shooting, developing and printing from when I attended college so wasn’t put off by shooting the analogue way.

After getting the light seals replaced, I shot my first roll of Ilford XP2 in the Olympus trip and as soon as I got my images back from the developer, I fell in love. It felt just like when I used disposable camera as a child, photography was fun again!

The more film I shot the more I felt as though I had found the right medium, it also become apparent that there was a still a dedicated community of guys and girls keeping film alive. It was awesome to see what others were creating, trying out different films and comparing results. Having a limited number of frames does encourage you more to take your time and the delay of seeing the results builds up a sense of anticipation and excitement even if the conclusion is a blurred over exposed nonsense, which for me it commonly was!

Now I will admit to being lead a little bit astray by the lure of gear again but as my interest lies in shooting compact 35mm film cameras, there are certainly no lenses rolling around in the bottom of my bag feeling neglected. There’s a unique opportunity with older equipment to immerse yourself in the history of the cameras themselves and I find myself wondering what moments have been captured using them and by who? I also find myself trying different cameras and then either selling them or giving them away to the community rather than hoarding like I once did.

I think film is where my heart is. I find a meditative quality in the process. I can’t say for sure if I have developed a stronger style or even if my photos are that great but I know for certain I love making images with this method and I think thats all that matters.

Nowadays I have an Olympus Trip 35 and XA which are my permanent cameras while I experiment with whatever catches my eye or I fall victim to winning a bid war on Ebay over. My most recent purchase was the Canon MC, an interesting fully automatic compact with very slow infrared 80s autofocus – I think that it may well end up back for sale very soon…

I’d like to thank Hamish for letting me share my thoughts on his great blog. If you’d like to see more of my work head on over to www.chrisjroe.com

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    August 28, 2017 at 9:25 am

    Thanks Chris for this nice recap of my life…. hehe.

    Checked out your Youtube channel – very nice stuff, well made!

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:11 pm

      Thank you frank, appreciate your kind words!

  • Reply
    oric
    August 28, 2017 at 11:24 am

    sounds familiar to some degree 🙂

  • Reply
    Nick Clark
    August 28, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Beautiful compositions and lovely use of light and shadow.

    My only suggestion, ditch the XP2 and start using a ‘proper’ black and white (400TX, TMAX400, HP5+, whatever…). For your style of photography the blotchy shadows you get from C41 B&W are letting the team down…

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      Hi Nick, thanks for the advice. I was drawn to the c41 processable XP2 really as it appealed to my cheapskate tendencies of development lab cost haha.

  • Reply
    Callum
    August 28, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    ‘Now I will admit to being lead a little bit astray by the lure of gear again’ I feel you here but I think it’s nowhere near as bad as digital G.A.S. Like you I have one or two cameras which are my permanent shooters, mainly my Olympus 35 SPN/ SP Frankenstein which has cost me around £30 in total (£15/£20 for the original SPN camera, then £10 for a parts SP which I used to get everything working). I have lots of Pentaxes knocking about as I have a bit of a Pentax addiction but a) most of these are transitory, bought for the experience of trying them such as an SPII which I bought recently and b) I’m pretty sure I am at least breaking even with this hobby if not actually making money from it. I very rarely sell a piece of equipment for less than I bought it, and if I’m lucky it goes for a lot more.

    Do you keep the Trip 35 as a permanent camera because it brought you back into photography? I can’t imagine only shooting with a Trip 35 and an XA. Also hope you like the Canon, I recently tried out an AF35M which I then sold but there’s something enjoyable about those 80s plastic boxes. Your MC looks similar to the Ricoh FF-3 AF which I gifted, but feels very solid and has a nice lens (it’s also very small).

    Only other comment is I really enjoyed your photos, even the iPhone one 😉 .

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      Hi Callum thanks for taking the time to reply!

      I have quite a number of plastic 80s compacts lying around that I play about with from time to time, the camera doesn’t put pressure on you to live up to it’s level!

      I made the decision to actually say goodbye to the trip this week as I found that the XA now does everything I really need. I feel that it had a small amount of sentimental value but at the same time the little red flag that pops up when there isn’t enough light resulted in a number of missed shots which I could have got with a camera with a little more control!

      I believe in trying all the things to see what works for you but also don’t let the camera rule you! 🙂

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    August 28, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    The Olympus Trip 35 is a fantastic little instrument, and you are right, it is fun! I just bought one from an eBay seller for only $25, and my first roll of BW400CN was amazingly uniform in exposure. It’s nice to not fiddle with a hand-held meter; just set the zone focus, point, and shoot. Ironically, I paid more for the correct Olympus hood than for the camera. The point of your article is spot on: clean out the closet and simplify the photographic equipment.

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      Oh those damn hoods! £30 easy even on eBay haha!

      The only downside of the little trip is its limited exposure options, I have found myself missing shots when the little red flag pops up and says NOPE, need more light!

  • Reply
    Lou Smith
    August 28, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    I still have my dad’s old Olympus Trip! It’s sat on my bedside waiting to be used (I have the D4 for the day job). I almost feel I have to save film for a special job…. silly really!

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      Awesome! D4 is a bit of a beast!

      Shot film is never wasted film
      Unprocessed film is the real crime! Haha

  • Reply
    J Y Danny
    August 29, 2017 at 5:02 am

    Very interesting 35mm, continue to keep me inform….kind regards

  • Reply
    Richard Williams
    August 29, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Great post Chris and a really interesting story. Some lovely pictures there too. It’s easy to let the acquisition of gear get out of hand isn’t it? I ended up with several 35mm cameras all with a half-shot roll of film in them and no finished pictures. A recent clear out of the arsenal has been like a breath of fresh air – highly recommended.

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      Definitely a breath of fresh air! The amount of cameras I have bought or found with half shot rolls in!!!!! In hindsight I could have created a series about it!

  • Reply
    Richard
    August 29, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    Nice post and great photos! Having recently returned to photography having invested in a couple of L series lens for my partners Canon 60D, I hit my digital GAS on the head with an x100f, and analog GAS with a Leica MP. However I’ve still to get over the paranoia of being on the street with expensive kit. And so, a visit to various junk and antique shops was in order for a ‘transition’ camera. And so for less than £10 I’ve my first ‘everyday carry’ in an Olympus AM-100, Trix-400 (recoded to 800, thanks 35mmc!) and a fresh pair of AA’s! Funny thing is I already have an emotional attachment to it after only a week and in the event of a mishap I’d be sad, just not in a ‘I better give the insurance company a call’ kind of sad.

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      Oooooh X100F! I had a T when it came out. Almost kept it but at the time I had issue with carting a £1k camera out and about with me…I imagine you have that anxiety times XXXXXX with the Leica.

      I think the little plastic compacts bought for pennies in comparison are great. The camera isn’t that interesting or luxurious so there’s no distraction for the shooting itself! Perhaps you’ll find it getting more love than all the other cameras in your collection 🙂

  • Reply
    Dave
    August 29, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Sorry to hear about the mental health issues, though you seem to be working through them.

    I love shooting my Trip too! Love your photos. Keep shooting!

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:23 pm

      Hi Dave. Thank you for your kind words. Creativity keeps the brain on the right track.

      We all need a release….and this is legal so that’s a plus! Haha!

  • Reply
    Tobias Eriksson
    August 30, 2017 at 8:46 am

    Thank you for sharing your personal story! The pictures are great!

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:24 pm

      Hello Tobias. Thank you for taking the time to read! I wish you all the best.

  • Reply
    Chris Pattison
    August 31, 2017 at 8:12 am

    ‘Give me £3 for it, it’s film by the way nobody uses that stuff anymore’. Ha! Ha! Yes, a common misconception. Last time I went to the Post Office to send off some film for processing the lady at the counter asked what was in the parcel. When I said ‘film’ she looked at me with a combination of pity and bemusement.

    • Reply
      Chrisjroe
      September 3, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      Sometimes it’s better that way. What the masses don’t know we can enjoy!! Not that it has done much to prevent the eye watering price increase on some film cameras…MJU II for £180 anyone? Haha.

  • Reply
    Nick
    September 4, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    Great post and interesting photography Chris. Loving that Olympus Trip! Shooting film can really be instructive and inspiring, bringing you back to what photography is really about. I agree that less is more too, I spent a couple of years with just a small Ricoh camera and in many ways I think sticking with it left me to concentrate on creativity and not on the camera. I enjoyed your website and blog too, I’m in the middle of creating a website for my photography and its given me food for thought!

    Have you heard of Ray K Metzler? It strikes me that you might be inspired by his work. He shot city scenes on black and white film using very high contrast.

    Nick

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