Shooting Blanks: Part 1

Lately I’ve been photographing exclusively with the CL. Film, you know, not digital; manual focus, not auto focus; basic center-weighted metering – no CPU-driven wizardry; and no auto-exposure modes. Just me, the shutter dial, aperture ring, focusing tab, and depth-of-field scale.

It’s been ego crushing.

I’d bought the rangefinder for . . . for size, for unobtrusiveness, for silence. I’d bought it to change the way I photographed (looser, less squared-off) and what I photographed (people – living, interacting). I knew it’d be different, but I never imagined I’d have a hard time adjusting. It’s a camera, I thought, I know how to use those. Didn’t quite work out that way . . .

First there’s the film. Being limited to 36 frames (or, shockingly, 24 frames) per roll changed the way I photographed. I became more selective: changing rolls is a pain, and processing is expensive. Do I really want to waste 20 cents on that? And sure, I’ll take a safety shot here and there when I’m waffling on the exposure, but I’m even trying to limit those. There’s something very disappointing about getting back an index print with only a few unique shots and a whole lotta repeats. Less of a sense of discovery I think. Plus you know you played it safe. And then there’s the processing time. I drop my rolls off at the beginning of the week, pick ‘em up at the end. There’s always that . . . anticipation . . . on pulling out the index print. A week’s gone by after all, and I’ve lost track of what I shot. Oh, I may remember the odd moment or two – really hope I didn’t fumble those – but the rest is simply one long string of click, wind, click, wind, click . . . And so, when I pick up that envelope I always wonder: did I get anything good? I’ll walk out – it’s a hot summer day – lean against the car shirt sticking to my back, and tear it open. Pull out the index print. Squint, then start the tally.

Shit.
Shit.
Shit.
Could be OK.
Shit.
Shit.
What the . . .?
Shit.
Repeat.
. . .

It never felt as bad with digital – when I was pulling photos off my CF cards. Maybe it’s the money. Or maybe, with only 36 frames, it’s a lot easier to get a sense of your hits and misses, calculate your keeper rate. Or it could be the index print itself – now there’s tangible evidence of your success (or lack thereof). Whatever it is, it hits a lot harder. And I’ll lean back and think to myself: Wow – is that it? Is that all?

To be continued . . .

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