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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Appropriate for the band in 2002, though.
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.
Taken with a Rollei 35, itself accepting no substitutes.
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