general

Vacation stress

Schotland in the rain. Holga 120 CFN and Kodak Portra VC 400 film.

Schotland in the rain. Holga 120 CFN and Kodak Portra VC 400 film.

In a shot time I will leave for a vacation. A route has been planned, books are loaded on the e-reader, and further the preparations are well on their way. The only thing I still worry about, is which cameras to bring. Thsi is, of course, an not the first time. Every vacation again, I ponder which cameras I will take along. This time it’s harder to decide, though. The trip is going to Scotland, by bike. This means there are two issues.

First of all, there’s the weather. It can be glorious summer weather in Scotland, but the odds are that this will not be the case. Not all the time, anyway. I can take a bit of rain, I’m not extremely worried about my cameras. They are tools to be used, not just to look pretty. But there’s a limit to how wet I want them to get (not very wet). And I can try to keep them dry, but it will always get a little damp. Okay if you’re only out for a few days but three weeks is a bit much. I don’t know if I want to expose my beloved Horizon to that, for instance. But I would like to make panoramas, so there’s a dilemma.

Additionally, keeping cameras in a bike pack is much less convenient than in a backpack. You might not think so, but in my experience it’s true. You can wrap them carefully, so they are well protected, but then you have to dig deep into bags and wraps every time you want to take a picture. The alternative is to keep them loose at the top of the bike pack, relatively easy to grab, but then they tend to bump into each other and into other things that need to be aesily accesible. And before you know it, you´ll have scratches on the lens or other misery. So they need to be sturdy, or with not too much emotional value.

The best thing is a camera that you can just hang around your neck (weather permitting) or that fits in a (slightly damp) coat pocket. On the wish list of what the cameras should be able to do are:

  • Something with a good (glass) lens, like a SLR.
  • Something capable of close-up shots.
  • Something for panorama’s.
  • Something weatherproof.

For the time being, I’m leaning towards the Holga, the Spinner 360 (as a panoramic compromise), the Olympus OM-1 and maybe the Snapsights for when it’s raining.

Now to worry about the film…

Yashica D and Lomography X-Pro Slide 200

Tame wildlife

Deep down inside, I would love to make impressive wildlife photos. Awesome close-ups of lions and elephants or, closer to home, of wild boars and their striped piglets, or rutting deer. I’ll even settle for an impressive close-up of a blue tit. But to get pictures like these, you need all kinds of things.
– An environment with wildlife of course, although that doesn´t have to be a jungle or savannah.
– A decent telelens, because it’s hard to get really close to wildlife.
– And, last but not least, a lot of patience. In interviews most wildlife photographers stress that you have to wait a long time for the most beautiful pictures, quietly and often in an uncomfortable shelter.

And that’s where it goes wrong for me. Deer and foxes abound in the forest around the corner, and I have a huge telelens (a lucky yard sale find). But those hours of waiting in the right spot at the right time, waiting for an animal that may not even show up, oof. I just don’t have the patience.

So in order to satisfy my inner wildlife photographer a bit, I fallen into cattle as my wildlife equivalent. Cattle often stays calm when you get closer, or even approaches you itself out of curiosity. It is safely behind a fence and often docile enough to allow for a perfect close-up. Thus, over the years, I have accumulated a nice series of farm animal portraits. There may not be a melancholic monkey or exotic giraffe in my pictures, but cows can look into the lens with a lot of feeling too. Goats can be photogenic.

And that’s how I sometimes pretend a little to be the next Frans Lanting.

Echo: Cape

In a ditant past (well, last year) I often visited rock festivals. I must have attended the Belgian Rock Werchter almost 20 times, many of which with the same group of people (former fellows of my love). Over the course of time, solid patterns have crystallized in that festival group. H takes care of the morning the coffee, P is the breakfast egg master, D takes the gazebo, that kind of thing.

Going trough my old festival photos, I came across another small pattern: A takes a raincape, and when it rains, T takes shelter with A. When I took the second picture, I already realized: I ​​have taken this picture before. And indeed I did.

Sheltering in 2014. Snapsights underwater camera and Lomography CN 800 film.

Sheltering in 2014. Snapsights underwater camera and Lomography CN 800 film.

If it had rained more ofted during Rock Werchter’s I would have shot this picture even more often. As it is, I doubt it there will be more of this picture. All of us are getting older, kids and jobs interfere with festival schedules, and we´ve already seen most of the bands (which not as good as the bands we used to have anyways). Been there, done that.

But then again, who knows, maybe there will be new festivals. Never say never.

Sheltering in 2016. Snapsights underwater camera and Lomography CN 800 film.

Sheltering in 2016. Snapsights underwater camera and Lomography CN 800 film.

Always too much, never enough

Iceland. Snapsights underwater camera and Fuji Velvia 50 film.

Iceland. Snapsights underwater camera and Fuji Velvia 50 film.

I love taking pictures, lots of them. Especially on holiday, of course, because who knows when you´ll get the chance to visit again. You may never get another chance to take that photo. Still, I generally try to hold back a bit. After all, you have to be able to just enjoy what you´re doing without obsessively looking through a lens and worrying about the best angle. Besides, I often feel like I´m taking loads of near identical pictures. For example, when I went hiking in winterery Iceland I had a beautifull view. I took lots of pictures, until I decide I had enough for now, I was overdoing it. I must surely have filled almost a roll by now, and how many pictures of a mountain do you need? Back home, my pictures turned out great, and I was sorry I didn’t take a lot more.

That’s how it often goes: I feel like I’m taking way too many pictures, but afterwards I regret not taking more. Of course, this problem exists mainly in my head. Just as often my pictures are not all that great, and I’m glad I didn’t waste more film on them. The real problem is that it’s not always easy to determine what it’s going to be: not enough beauty or too much mediocrity.
Over the years I have learned to make a pretty good estimation of what will work and what not. I know my tools, and know that even though my eyes can still see fine in the dusk, the tiny plastic lens of my Diana Mini doesn’t. And those snow covered hills with tiny trees may look very pretty in real life, the pictures I take of them tend to be rather bland. And how many German spring forests can you see before they all start looking the same? Especially when you do all your hiking with the same people…

But of course, I still take a camera everywhere I go, even when I’m not expecting pretty weather, or when I’ve allready visited a million times. And every time I take some pictures, and wonder at the same time: why am I taking this picture? I already have this picture. And every time there will be a few gorgeous pictures and I’ll think: why didn’t I take more?

Book: Gulag

Norway, Lyngen, Diana Mini with Lomography Earl Gray 100 film.

This picture has nothing to do with the Gulag, but at least it was taken on the same latitude as where many camps were. Norway, Lyngen, Diana Mini with Lomography Earl Gray 100 film.

After reading Kamp, a semi-autobiographical book about a doctor in the Gulag (by Angela Rohr, worth the effort), I read the book Gulag. This huge slab of a book gives a good picture of life in the Soviet concentration camps. In grainy black and white you can see the prisoners and guards at work, in hospital, on portraits. Beautiful pictures of characteristic heads and spartan living conditions.

The book is organized by camp or labour project, and 7 camps/projects are discussed. By camp, first a short history of the camp is given, followed by historical pictures, if possible with names and explanations in the captions. Then there are fragments from diaries and history books about the particular camp. And finally another photo report is given, of how the former camp looks today. Often, the camps seem to have merged with or transformed into local villages, partly populated with ex-prisoners or their descendants. Some of short biographies of the camp survivers or their descendants are given as well.

For me, these present day stories really add value to the book. It places the historical photographs in context, and makes it clear that with the closure of the camps, the Gulag did not magically become the past. History just goes on.

The beautiful pictures help, of course.

 

Gulag – Life And Death Inside The Soviet Concentration Camps 1917-1990
Thomasz Kizny
Firefly Books, 2004
ISBN 9781552979648

Accessory: Lomoflash

My very first purchase ever in Lomography.com’s store was a loose flash, about 15 years ago. It was a long time before I started to accumulate camera’s, when I just had my one Olympus Trip 35, which has no built-in flash. I still use my lomoflash occasionally.

Me and my lomoflash

Me and my lomoflash in 2003.

It’s a cute little thing, made of transparent plastic, showing its insides. Circuit board, lightbulb, battery, you’ll can see it all. As well as the sand and the dirt that has worked itself into the plastic over the years. It’s a pretty simple thing. There’s two buttons: an on/off button and a test button, allowing you to manually fire it off (instead of via the camera’s hotshoe). A red LED will blink and a high beep sounds when the battery has fully charged the flash. If you turn on the flash, it must first charge for a few second (depending on how much battery life you still got) before it works.

Lomoflash, shot with Olympus OM-1 and Kodak Gold 200

Lomoflash, shot with Olympus OM-1 and Kodak Gold 200

A big flash of light comes out, enough to effectiveky kill every photo. I’ve stuck a piece of scotch tape over the lamp to dampen the light flood a little, it´s just too much. Another adjustment is a piece of foam rubber in the battery compartment. In the best lomo tradition the flash a cheaply made thing, and one of the metal contact lugs for the battery was too bendy, causing the battery to drop down and come loosen from the top contact point, making it no longer work. With a little foam, everything is firmly in place.

All in all, it’s not a terribly good flash. The light is very bright and hard, it cannot be adjusted, it accidently fires when you lightly touch the test button, and after some premature depleted batteries, I’ve just written which setting is ‘on’ and which is ‘off’, since no hint is provided in the design.

Still, I do use my lomo flash occasionally. A little out of nostalgia, a little out of comfort – he lightens so good to grab. And a bit because I have achieved nice results.

Why Analogue?

Through the viewfinder of a Yashica D, with and Olympus OM-1 and HEMA CN 400 film.

Through the viewfinder of a Yashica D, with and Olympus OM-1 and HEMA CN 400 film.

Every now and then I get the question why I still use analogue cameras. These days, film is expensive, getting it developed a bit of a hassle, and in the end I scan all my negatives and end up with digital photos after all. So why, for god’s sake?

There are several reasons. Digital, of course, has a lot of benefits – a tiny memory card can contain thousands of high resolution images, you can snap away to your heart´s content. Digital compact cameras are a lot more compact than most of their analogue counterparts, even more if you just use your phone. You can instantly see if your photo is any good, and try again immediately. And so on. So sure, I also take digital photos when I´ve travelled halfway across the earth to that once-in-a-lifetime destination.

Still, I prefer analogue. One of the fun things of analogue photography for me is the unknown. You can take a well-thought-out photograph with a first rate SLR and the best film available. But ultimately, you’ll only know what’s in the picture when it’s been developed and printed or scanned. There is nothing quite like the anticipation of waiting until the roll is full, perhaps snapping some strange pictures to fill it up. Then I have to wait for my photos to be developed. I develop my own pictures, but it still takes some time. Then more waiting until the film is dry and I can scan the negatives (I rarely have them printed). I can already sort of see how the pictures turned out from looking at the negatives. But only when the negatives are finally scanned I can see what I acyually shot – sometimes weeks ago. All that waiting may sound boring, but for me it’s half the fun.

Another advantage of analogue photography is the endless possibility it offers to experiment. Try building your own digital camera. You’d need some serious technical skills. But with an empty beer can, some cardboard boxes and a black tape, you can easily get the craziest pinhole cameras. And if you buy a cheap plastic camera at the local thrift shop, you can add or extract some components and create your own custom camera.

Speaking of cameras, I love old junk. And what hobby gives a better excuse to buy old junk than analogue photography? For a few cents you can already have a fully working camera older than your grandfather, and still use it! How cool is that?! And those old camera’s are so beautiful, too. Sculptural designs in steel and bakelite, frivolous iron boxes, Eastern European SLR´s built as a tank, there is so much beauty that is just screaming to be used again. By me.

Oh, and the film! Getting more expensive every year, but still being made. Colour film, black and white film, film with fine grain, film with course grain, daylight film, tungsten film, weird hipster speciality film. And the stuff you can do with it: develop it in the proper chemicals, in the wrong chemicals for crazy colour shifts, in coffee even. Of flip it backwards, expose it multiple times, soak it in all kinds of stuff. Endless possibilities.

I could go on. These are just a few reasons why I still use film camera´s. But really, my love for analogue photography is like all love: you can think of a thousand reasons, but in the end it’s still a bit irrational.