Chapter 15. Strict Observance

I’ve recently acquired a film camera – in fact, a screwmount nickel Leica ii with a nickel Elmarit f/3.5 5 cm collapsible lens.  And I’ve been meddling about with it. The initial thrill over, I’ve been thinking more seriously about my experience using it.  And thinking of ways to semiosically transubstantiate it.  I’ve been very attentive to its effects on me, and therefore, of its affordances for ethical and theological consciousness raising.

In comparison with shooting digital, some of its differences are obvious enough. Certainly there’s the thrill of turning the knobs and dials – initially – and even loading up the film, whilst otherwise tedious, is exciting.  And in the case of the Leica ii, it’s from the bottom, and you have even to extend the leader that goes into the spool.  There are some rules too: you can’t squeeze any button as you wish, or turn dials as and when; instead, if you want to change the shutter speed, you must have first advanced the film. Then there’s the whole thing about exposure, and the limitation of the ISO of the film you’ve put in there.  There’s no way to tell with certainly if you’ve got the film properly exposed.  There’s the Sunny 16 rule, which helps.  But still, it’s not easy. Changing the aperture isn’t easy straight-forward either.  First, there’s the little tab that you steer with your fingernails, and worse yet my Elmerit has the European numbering rather than the standard, and so rather than f16, I have f18 for the final stop, and so even Sunny 16 is made guesswork.  I’ve now a hood, a VALOO that helps identify the standard stops, with aperture control, so that helps.  But it’s still hard – after every shot you’re left in the dark wondering if you got it right, whether you nailed it.   Photographic life is without certainties, and you are humbled without any confirmation and confidence in your works: you have some faith and you move on.  And there’s the cost, with every shot, to be counted, but  once you’ve put your hand to the shutter, there’s no turning back. Slowly the thrill wears off. It’s inconvenient – you begin to realise. This is the way of the strict observance.  How long will I last?

But I am merely beginning. So before I work through, and detail in a systematic way some of the highlights of its possibilities for moral and spiritual enlightenment, I feel it would be good, by way of preparatory studies, to journal some of my experience shooting film. In the next several chapters, hence, in between my more usual musings on (digital) photography generally, I plan to record the thoughts that come to me as a continue, with fear and trembling, to shoot 35mm film.

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