I’ve always been a photographer. I didn’t know that when I was younger, but looking back in retrospect it’s pretty to clear to me now. As a kid I took a lot of photos with my mom’s 110 camera, and was pretty fascinated by my dad’s Canon SLR (which he later sold). By the time I was a teenager, I was pretty much the family photographer, not least because I was the only who could get good exposures without various body parts getting in the way of the lens. Similarly, I was the photographer for my school’s yearbook for many years running. I remember being drawn to the tiny room that used to be the school’s darkroom, the random pieces of plastic and metal whatchamacallits taunting me every time I walked into that room (which, by then was used for storage). Despite this, I didn’t know much about anything photographically-speaking, so even when I was looking to buy a camera while living in Toronto in the late ’90s, as much as I was drawn to the old-school manual cameras in the shops, I went with what I knew I bought a simple point-and-shoot (APS). I remember the guy in the shop really trying to sell me on the benefits of manual cameras, but it was like he was speaking a foreign language to me. However, after my first year in Japan, with the help of some camera-savvy friends, I bought my first all-manual SLR, the Nikon FE. I fell in love with that camera then, and it is still my favourite today (I can say that, having received my xx-version of this camera in the mail yesterday).
I love shooting film. I like the different brands of film, their different looks and idiosyncrasies, and even more so, I like the different kinds of cameras that shoot them. I suppose in some ways, it’s like being a painter (or artist) that uses a variety of different mediums – oil, watercolour, acrylic, etc. The basic technique is the same, but the tools you use, and how you approach your subject will affect the final product. People always (used to) say to me, “why don’t you just shoot digital? It’s _______ (easier, faster, cheaper, better, ….)” but for me, it just didn’t have the same tactile experience as film. And by that I mean from choosing the film/camera, shooting it (using filters as needed), developing it, printing in the darkroom, etc. As a result, over the past 15 years since I got “serious” about photography, I have been slowly buying and trying various cameras and film formats. That has led to me having a collection of over 50 cameras, but I will admit that a lot of them are multiples of the same camera (for example, it’s cheaper for me to buy a “new” FE than to get it repaired if the old one breaks).
This has created a real dilemma for me. In the past I had one camera and a couple of lenses. The only thing I had to choose was which film stock I wanted to use. Then, I started adding other cameras, other formats, other films. A little later I also had to consider the end process – how was I going to print everything – regular black and white, various alt processes, etc. Over the last couple of years my camera bag has gotten so packed (and heavy) that I can’t deal with it anymore! It’s not about being indecisive (I think) – I really do enjoy shooting all these formats and printing them in different ways. BUT, it also makes me feel like a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The other option, it seems, is to become a master of something. Pick a format, pick a film (or two), pick a main printing output. There are a lot of photographers who’s work I enjoy, and most of them are immediately recognisable because they do just this. But what do I choose? I really want to simplify, but I cannot abandon my babies. I love them all!
So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, over the past few years I’ve been intrigued by instant film. It was never on my radar previously, it was just another format (and set of cameras) to deal with, when I already had so many to deal with. But the Impossible Project came out with their re-imagined Polaroid film, and I had the urge to try it. Those instant cameras with the picture popping out of a slot of the bottom is definitely a memory from my very early years, and there are plenty of polaroids of me in the family album. I decided that it would worth the cost of the camera and the expensive film to be able to shoot with it for a while (I even had some photo projects I thought I could do with it). After buying an SX-70 land camera on ebay, I was hooked. I love the camera, and I love shooting with it and doing image transfers with the results. But I don’t shoot it nearly enough. That said, my love for the SX-70 made me think about the peel-apart films that were still available from Fuji. So I started looking at Polaroid pack film cameras. I had several in my cart that I was ready to buy, when I read the announcement from Fuji that they were going to discontinue the last of their packfilm line, the FP100C colour film. At that moment I felt like I had a kind of jinx upon me. It seems like every time I get interested in a new (to me) film, it becomes discontinued, and thus affects the whole process (since many times the cameras themselves will be rendered useless as well).
So what to do? In the days after the announcement I was glad that I hadn’t bought the camera and film since there was no point. But then I felt guilty. I felt like I had missed a golden opportunity to at least experience, even for a little while, the pleasures of shooting with pack (peel apart) film. There are plenty of people on the internet, through blogs and YouTube, that show the joys of shooting this film. So, as you can imagine, I gave in. I now have a Polaroid Land camera headed my way, and I’ve already bought some (way overpriced) Fuji film, both colour and black and white. It’s totally an expense I can’t afford right now, but I have no regrets. I know I’ll enjoy using the camera, and I already have some ideas of what to shoot with the film. Right now there are plenty of people trying to persuade Fuji not to discontinue the product, and the optimist in me hopes that they succeed. If not, then I’ll enjoy what I can with what’s left. Some people are afraid that their cameras will become nothing but doorstops, but for me, I’ll be the proud owner and user of a piece of photographic history.