Since my job keeps me so busy and I don’t get to shoot quite as much as I used to, it takes longer than usual for me to get around to developing my rolls and getting them scanned. My turnaround on entirely digital shots isn’t much better, so although this is being published in the middle of June, I promise that it’s cold enough in Vienna now that we have to wear thick coats. This is a short story about my Nikon FE and the fascination that analog processes can still have for others. My Nikon FE is easily my favorite camera in my “collection” – it’s small, the meter is accurate, the batteries can last the lifetime of a midsized dog and it’s just a fun little camera to have around.
While riding home one day in the train, I had my Nikon around my neck and sat down across a father and his young son. The dad pointed at my camera and asked if it was a digital or if it was really an old film camera. I told him it was, indeed, a film camera and that yes, you can still buy lots of different kinds of film emulsions. His son was looking at the two of us rather skeptically (he had no idea what film is) as his father inquired as to why I was using a film camera in the digital age. He was reminiscing about an old camera he used to own and how many great memories he had with it (why do people get rid of such sentimental items knowing they’re later going to regret it?) before finally tossing it after getting a digital camera. His son interrupted us and asked me what film was and how the camera worked, which kind of threw me for a loop. How do you explain to a 10-year old first what film is and how it works when he has absolutely no frame of reference? He’s used to making a photo and having instant gratification. Of course I tried, though, and he thought it was the coolest thing!
The coolest part was when I gave him the camera and told him to make a photograph and watched his eyes light up as he got to use something he’s never seen much less heard of before in his entire life. This wasn’t a light digital camera with a plethora of buttons or a fancy-schmancy autofocus system. This thing doesn’t even have a zoom lens! I set the shutter speed and aperture, explained how he had to focus (this is always the hardest part since you can’t share the viewfinder with someone) and told him how to make the photograph (just press that button down until the shutter clicks… he didn’t even know what a shutter is, much less what it’s going to sound like). He didn’t quite get it, so I did a quick demo on his father, cocked the shutter again and handed the camera off to him.
I wish I had had the presence of mind to record it with my phone or have his father do the same, because those few seconds of him focusing and firing the shutter (the sound and haptic of it all seemed to actually startle him!) was too cool. I hope that my own children will have a similar experience, albeit they might not find it all quite as mysterious or exotic since they’ll be growing up watching their own dad do it.
I happened to be at the end of the roll after he made his photograph and luckily enough he asked how he can see the photo that he just made. I told him he couldn’t but I’d show him where his photo was stored and started winding up the roll into the canister. He didn’t quite get it but then I popped the canister out and explained to him that the film was in this little container and had to be processed with chemicals before you could see what photograph you made and even if it worked. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a second roll with me to show him how to load it and what the film leader looked like and had to get out of the train, leaving the little kid with a look of wonder in his eye. Who knows? Maybe he bugged his dad for a camera once we parted ways and another photographer was born?