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film photography

Analog Monthly: December 2016

I’ve been a little behind schedule with my monthly retrospect this month. The end of the year can be a hectic and rather stressful time for many; this year has been rather trying for me, personally, but I will survive.


At its onset, I didn’t think I would produce as much as I ended up with this month so I am glad to have pushed through some of the harder times and still manage to come up with some fantastic images. Be it cold weather, the pandemonium of consumer culture at its zenith (Christmas), much shorter days, or extremely cold weather, somehow I managed to set everything aside and make time for me and my camera(s).


As I write this, I realize that somewhere in the last month, I seemed to have amassed a sizeable mound of motivation from somewhere. Looking back at the past several weeks, I see now the series of events that offered up small parcels of inspiration in exchange for minor changes in my regular shooting lineup of go-to cameras and lenses. 


If you’ve been following my work, or taken a look through my Instagram feed, you’ll notice I’m quite regularly shooting with my Canon Elan II.  I started experiencing what I thought was a dead battery and it turned out to be much worse. Alas, shooting with my dedicated go-to camera, and lens (Sigma 35mm F/1.4 HSM DG Art) was put on hold. 


It’s just one camera and one lens; how impacting could it be to my shooting regimen? As it turns out, not that much. I ended up replacing the camera with the Canon Elan IIe, but it was thanks to other serendipitous events that really pushed me outside my usual shooting habits. Thanks to unforeseen acquisitions and the cold weather, December made for a very experimental month. 


Pentax Spotmatic F


I was running errands and Tashia asked me to stop on my way home to pick something up. Turns out, she took out an ad asking for old film people had lying around. I graciously picked up the film for her but the generous benefactor had more in store; he offered up a defunct Pentax Spotmatic F. Sure, the mirror locks up when shooting at 1/30 or slower and the battery compartment is stricken by corrosion, but otherwise looks to be in tip top shape. Not bad for a free camera. 


Canon FDn 50mm f/1.4


In a completely different side story, a friend I developed some film for stopped by to pick up his negatives one day. To my surprise, he brought a lens he no longer had a use for (or body for that matter) and thought I would get some use out of it. That I did (and there’s more on that later) but he also had another surprise with him as well: the Helios 44-M lens. 


After I tweeted my excitement about the Pentax Spotmatic F, I was enlightened to take advantage of the wonderful Helios lenses thanks to its M42 threaded mount. Not even a week later, one mysteriously made its way into my life and into the recently vacant position of my daily shooter.


Polar Vortex? Oh, you mean winter in Canada


Enter extreme cold warnings, freezing fog, flurries, frost bite, and frustration. Creative motivation is tough enough on its own but then there are those other times when nothing can stop you, not even -30 degree temperatures. 


There I was, in the middle of the Saskatchewan prairie, blowing in the snow and enthusiastically taking photos with my new (rather old) Canon glass. I was quite energetic about taking advantage of this newfound equipment and putting it through its paces. I almost completely forgot about the luxuries afforded by my cursed Elan II, like autofocus, and having my film automatically wound. Then it got cold and everything shut right down. I haven’t shot much with the AE-1 Program in the snow or cold and these last few weeks taught me it doesn’t tolerate much cold weather at all. The faintest breeze will turn this fair weather workhorse into a useless lump of glass and metal. I tossed the AE-1 and it was on to the next thing: the Spotmatic and the bizarre Helios 44-M. Despite the frigid embrace of the winter wind, I wasn’t quite done shooting yet. 


When I loaded the first roll into the Spotmatic, I didn’t really notice much difference on the camera body. It wasn’t until I started studying the focus ring of the lens and looking through the viewfinder I realized something didn’t quite add up. It appeared something was lost in translation between the vintage Soviet lens and the dated Pentax M42 mount. In this particular case, it ended up being the focal flange distance (look at me sounding like a pro) not meeting correctly and distorting the view quite considerably. This meant I could focus from about 8” from the lens through to about 5’; everything else was a beautiful, swirly blur.


Long story short, the rolls I did put through the Spotmatic F are mostly close-ups with that obscurely characteristic swirl furnishing the background with just a touch of fine focus detail in the center. Not usually my cup of tea but having this restraint on my creativity allowed me to work with the tools I had available and come up with images I can put my stamp on and that feels great.


Thanks to the cold weather, I was stuck using non-metered, fully mechanical cameras. It actually came at a very great time; these random events all culminated in the middle of December and led me to have a very rewarding (and stress-relieving) experience behind the camera. The highlight behind it all is that I was concentrating on creating better images, not wasting so much film and using new tools to get me there. With all of my usual suspects on the DL, due to cold or worse, I even rekindled the warm feelings I had deep down for my Hasselblad as our tumultuous love/hate relationship continues. 


All in all, it was just another month with unforeseen events leading to unforeseen outcomes but amidst all the uncertainty, capturing interesting images generally flows naturally when given the opportunity to create and it is a bonus when you learn a few new things along the way.  


Enough words already, here are the photos from December 2016. Enjoy.