Rollei 35T
5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Rollei 35T & a Roll of Fuji Provia 400x Slide film pushed to 1600 – By Benjamin Amberg

April 30, 2021

June 4th, 2002.  The White Stripes at The Fillmore West, San Francisco. The Rollei 35 was chosen for this show based almost exclusively on its size…and partially for its inherent “cool factor,” I was after all, going to witness rock n roll.

And just look at it! It’s black! It’s chic, it’s sleek, it’s petite! It’s incredibly sexy!

It’s ergonomic too, and it’s got a famed Carl Zeiss lens (yes there are different versions constantly up for internet debates…but…whatever), and it’s German!  How much cooler can you get!?

And most importantly, it takes fantastic pictures!

But like many now antique cameras…it’s also a pain-in-the-ass.

The Rollei 35 was designed to be compact and pocketable, but even for its size it’s quite the tight fit in the pants.  And due to the various protrusions on every side of the camera it’s easily snagged on literally anything during entry or exit of a pocket. Unless you opt for cargo pants. But the camera is fairly solid for its size and constantly tugs them downwards, attacking your shins…like a child, desperate for attention.

There’s always cargo shorts…in public?  Not even God can pardon that high crime, thankfully.

You could put the Rollei 35 in your jacket pocket or get the dedicated wrist-strap.  But the thing has a tendency to flail around in bouts of tourettes-like spasms, willfully in danger of lashing out at the face of the drunken scenester next to you…himself flailing around in bouts of tourettes-like spasms.

“Dancing.”

Unfortunately, the camera would not be the one to survive that potentially necessary interaction. Thankfully the Rollei 35 is comfortable in the hand…unobtrusive…an extension almost.

Almost.

Because everything from extending the lens, to zone focusing, to loading/unloading film, to advancing the film with the left-handed lever (groan), to adjusting the shutter speed or aperture dials (located on the front of the camera) is a delicate, two-handed, time-consuming task.

But, like any other fully manual, unilluminated camera, once you set it you can forget it.  Thus, making it especially usable at an indoor venue with minimal lighting, in which you shouldn’t be doing much fiddling with a camera anyway.  After all, you’re there to witness rock n roll.  Just take the picture.  And hold on tight.

The Rollei is awkward, slow, has an overly dramatic case of identity crisis, and my light meter has never quite properly worked.  I take it out on random adventures shooting half the roll only to then shelve it for another nine  months, forgetting entirely where it had last seen any action.  I’ve owned this camera for over twenty years and I still can’t seem to bring myself to have it repaired, replaced, or removed from my collection.  It’s not meant as a substitute for a Leica M or Nikon F or anything of that caliber, it’s meant to just take pictures.  And maybe catch some sly looks on the side.  Both of which it is highly capable…once you get beyond the array of fussy and often maddening operations.

Which makes the Rollei 35 the perfect camera to photograph The White Stripes.

Jack White, Fillmore West, 2004, Rollei 35T

Jack

Meg White, Fillmore West, 2004, Rollei 35T

Meg.

The rock n roll duo operated under strict guidelines of simplistic and spontaneous garage rock authenticity, but presented a visual style that was methodical and unyielding.  Their sibling backstory was an elaborate ruse, yet it was delivered with such sincerity that it later became another book of their gospel.

Jack was a virtuosic guitar player, while Meg’s drumming was innocent and childlike.  They crafted singable songs about school yards, candy canes, bowling balls, and best friends using infinitely frustrating-to-play pawnshop instruments from decades past.  There was the trimodal approach to color, instrumentation, and even their name, but the band consisted of just two people.

Everything about The White Stripes was aimed at misdirecting you from preconceived ideas and personal truths and onto universal themes lying within the heart of their most important aspect, the music.

Jack White, Fillmore West, 2004, Rollei 35T

His guitar playing was so fierce his legs gave out

I wish I could say that I knew what I was doing by pushing the now defunct Fuji Provia 400x up two stops, but I can’t, because I didn’t. And I definitely had no idea that the already narrow latitude of this slide film would have such a dramatic effect on the final images, eliminating the unnecessary stage pieces leaving the players vulnerable and isolated.

The White Stripes, Fillmore West, 2004, Rollei 35T

Sister and Brother

Appropriate for the band in 2002, though.

Jack White, Fillmore West, 2004, Rollei 35T

Headless Guitarman

Had these pictures seen the light-of-day nineteen years ago it’s possible only handfuls of devotees would recognize the peppermint-swirled band emerging from the shadows of Southwest Detroit.  They had yet to appear on SNL, “Seven Nation Army” wouldn’t punch the world square in the jaw until the following April, and a tour of all ten Canadian provinces was another five years away.  But looking at them now there is no mistaking the bombastically shy Meg or the frenetic, nimble-fingered Jack for anyone other than The White Stripes.

The White Stripes, Fillmore West, 2004, Rollei 35T

One more image makes six, but divided by two equals three, which is the magic number of The White Stripes

Taken with a Rollei 35, itself accepting no substitutes.

Thanks for reading, feel free to find me on Instagram.
Benjamin Amberg

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Rock
    April 30, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Excellent post, perfect five frames!

  • Reply
    Eric N
    April 30, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    Excellent photos of one of my favorite bands. I had tickets to see them on their ill-fated last tour, which they cancelled shortly before they were to come to my town. A great show that got away, but your photos hint at what might have been!

    • Reply
      Benjamin Amberg
      April 30, 2021 at 6:03 pm

      Thanks, Eric! Man, I would have loved to see that last tour! I’ve got the Under Great White Northern Lights box set of their Canadian Tour which gives some real glimpses of their final days, so beautiful and heartbreaking.

  • Reply
    Matthias Steck
    April 30, 2021 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing your images. I really like them, esp. the headless Jack.
    Great work on slide film in this darkness – respect !

    I really loved the White Stripes, because unlike other bands of that last Rock n’ Roll Revival they felt real and unique for me. I think I have all their albums but I never saw them play life. In 2002 they had their best days (to my opinion) I must have been great to see them (OMG how I miss to go to a gig !).

    Cheers Matthias

    • Reply
      Benjamin Amberg
      April 30, 2021 at 6:02 pm

      Thanks so much! They are easily one of my all time favorite bands too and I was really lucky to be able to get tickets to this show. They actually did two nights back to back and I caught both. I took a different camera and film to that show, but the images aren’t quite as arresting. The Fillmore has also long been one of my favorite venues so this was a no-brainer for me! And yes, I would loooooove to go see another concert soon! Even if it’s just a puppet show! 🙂

  • Reply
    Reinhold
    April 30, 2021 at 9:32 pm

    Love that minimalistic frames you made. Impressive!

  • Reply
    Bent_Brent
    May 1, 2021 at 2:33 pm

    Sick!

    Oh 400X, I do miss you so.

  • Reply
    John Bennett
    May 1, 2021 at 3:03 pm

    Great pix! I was at that show. Both of them. And the two the following year at the Warfield,

    I *may* have been standing right next to you, in fact, based on these photos.

    • Reply
      Benjamin Amberg
      May 1, 2021 at 6:52 pm

      No kidding!? I’d ask what you were wearing…buuuuttt…I don’t even remember what I was wearing…lol!

  • Reply
    John Bennett
    May 2, 2021 at 12:36 am

    I don’t remember what I was wearing, either! I just remember getting there early and never leaving because I didn’t want to lose my spot!

    And I recall being very tired at work the morning after the second show. Same with two Warfield shows the next year.

    Four of the best shows in my loooong concert-going “career.”

  • Reply
    John Bennett
    May 2, 2021 at 2:43 pm

    I don’t recall what I was wearing either! I just remember getting there early, and never leaving my spot upfront for
    fear of not getting it back. I also remember being very tired at work the morning after the second night’s show.
    Same for the two back-to-back concerts the following year at The Warfield.

    Totally worth it, however. Four of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

    • Reply
      Benjamin Amberg
      May 2, 2021 at 7:15 pm

      I missed the Warfield shows, I actually flew out from NC to SF to see those Fillmore shows…I did catch Lou Reed at the Warfield maybe that same year…or it could have been the next…interesting…not nearly as bombastic as the Stripes!

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