This portrait of my sister and her fiancé is the first of only two shots I took of them that chilly day by the sea; I took a second shot because I had a moment of doubt: perhaps I should take another, just in case. As it turned out, I was right on the money with the first and this is now my favourite photograph from last year.
I only shot two photographs because I was using my Hasselblad 500C/M, a vintage medium-format camera that takes 120 film - when you only have 12 shots, you don’t want to waste a single one. Shooting with film again has transformed my eye. In the early 90s I studied photography at art school; back then we only had analogue cameras, and once a week I’d borrow a Hasselblad from the college technicians, reverently shooting with the same format David Bailey and Diane Arbus used. It was love at first click.
Last year I bought the camera I’d waited over fifteen years to own. Shooting with the Hasselblad is like a meditation; it definitely makes me a more thoughtful photographer. I’m intimately involved in my picture-taking, measuring the light, adjusting the aperture ring, setting the speed and focusing the lens, all the while absorbing the moment. And only when it feels right, when I have everything in the viewfinder as I want it, do I hold my breath and press the shutter. Often I’ll walk away from a potential shot if I don’t feel it is good enough; even with three rolls of film I only have 36 shots, so each one is precious.
The Hassy sits weightily in my hands, a solid chunk of glass and metal that seems to ground me even more squarely in the moment. Perhaps I love this camera because it connects me to my past, to the 20-year-old girl who first stepped into a studio filled with soft boxes and infinity coves. I know I love it for the magic it lends my images, the starry bokeh and cut-glass sharpness.
Of course, like most of the vintage things in my home, it’s old-school photography with a modern twist, as I scan all my negatives and gently hone them in Photoshop. As much as I would love a darkroom in my basement, the convenience of the digital darkroom has won me over. (It also helps that I have a photo lab ten minutes from my house that offers one-hour film processing!)
It’s still possible to buy 120 film and I like that my original images exist tangibly as negatives, rather than digital data in a metal box. But that doesn’t mean I’m a film snob. If shooting medium-format film is a zen walk through the park, picking up a digital SLR again is, for me at least, like going to a nightclub, full of freedom and energy.
So tell me, do you shoot with a film camera? Does the idea excite you or maybe scare you a little?
If you’re keen to try medium-format photography, look out for a Yashica Mat-124G camera on eBay, an affordable twin-lens camera that’ll familiarise you with shooting 120 film. That old Duaflex you use for TtV? Try putting a roll of film through it and see what results you get. And you’ll never regret buying a Holga, I promise. If you haven’t got a film camera you can use, experiment by limiting the number of photos you take next time you’re out shooting. If you only had twelve shots, what would you photograph?
Today's post is brought to you courtesy of guest Shutter Sister Susannah Conway. You can read/see more of her amazingly beautiful work at her blog, Ink on my Fingers, and purchase some of her beautiful fine art prints at her etsy store.