I bought my first film camera five years ago as a 17th birthday present to myself. I saved up my money and walked to a little old and dusty Kodak shop and bought myself a Nikkormat FT2 with a 50mm lens.
A tall, skinny, old man owned the store and kept me there for a few hours to show me how it worked. He compared the sound of the shutter with some of the less well-kept cameras so I could identify if it started to wear in the future. He also showed me how to use the light meter, and changed the battery for me.
I am grateful to that man, especially because the store closed just a few weeks later. I think I was one of the last sales that the store ever made. It’s a school uniform shop now, but they kept the square Kodak sign hanging from the sidewalk shelter for a while.
After I bought the camera, the owner asked me to bring in my first roll of film after I developed it but by that time he was long gone.
As a 17-year-old from the millennial generation with no prior photography experience and no teacher, I’ll admit that I really struggled to use my new-old camera. I went to the local Big W to buy film, and luckily the store closest to my house still had a photo lab to develop film on-site. Sadly, it wasn’t much later that they renovated and got rid of the facilities.
Every time I visit my grandma, I walk down to the mall and buy as many boxes of Kodak film as I can afford from a little shop that still has old stock. The packaging is coated with a thick layer of grime and dust. One time I asked one of the young staff if they had any film left — they genuinely didn’t know what I was asking for.
I’m still not that great at photography. When I first started all I could do is make sure to focus; even then not every time. Now I’m more aware of composition and my photos are a bit more arty.
I’ve taken my Nikkormat to Japan twice and America once and a few interstate trips. Cherry blossom season, my suburb’s annual fair, and a few visits to the Blue Mountains or the beach.
But why? One photo costs me not just money but also time. It’s over an hour’s travel to my grandma’s plus a twenty-minute walk to the mall, and places that develop film are getting harder and harder to find. Not to mention, I have to make the trip back to wherever I get my film developed two weeks later to pick up my prints.
One time I drove all the way out to Western Sydney just to find that my envelopes only had the negatives in them and none of the 200+ photos from my trip to Japan. So I had to wait another two weeks and drive out a third time.
Today I’ve got a few used rolls sitting on my bookshelf and I don’t even remember what’s on them. I keep telling myself I should go get them developed before the pile becomes too big and too expensive to get done all at once.
He offered me his old Minolta X700 and 28mm lens! He said he’d switched to digital ages ago and has a few film cameras collecting dust, and I was more than welcome to have them. I offered to make him a cake in exchange and now I’m excitedly looking forward to the acquisition of my second and third analogs, as a batch of hummingbird cupcakes cools in my kitchen.
So why am I still bothering with the same camera 5 years later?
I like the occasional mistake and the occasional brilliant photo. I like the conversations my camera starts. I like when I feel like I’ve really taken my time to set up my camera and then find out my selfie has only me out of focus (this has become my signature travel photo).
I like roving around with just my camera gear in the mountains and wondering what crazy pose would be good for my next photo. I only get one chance as I see it, and so it’d better be a good pose, not some shitty awkward hands crap.
Each of my photos is thought out before I take it. It means I miss a couple of good shots by taking too long sometimes, but sometimes the photo becomes a personal favourite.
And you know what? Whenever I have friends over my apartment and they see my stacks of envelopes or my albums, they actually look at the photos and ask me about each and every one of them. Where was I and what was I doing? When was the last time one of your friends dug through your Facebook profile and looked at your old travelling photos and commented on them?
Just yesterday my camera helped me meet a new person. I was in line to buy a chorizo and prawn combo roll from a stall at a fair. The guy behind me said I had an interesting camera. He asked me why was I still using film, I replied that I just liked how each camera has an individual personality and temperament.
He offered me his old Minolta X700 and 28mm lens! He said he’d switched to digital ages ago and has a few film cameras collecting dust, and I was more than welcome to have them.
I offered to make him a cake in exchange and now I’m excitedly looking forward to the acquisition of my second and third analogs, as a batch of hummingbird cupcakes cools in my kitchen.
The line lasted about half an hour; in that short time I and this old guy became friends, despite the 40-year age gap.
That’s why I shoot film.