I carried around a camera over the weekend but I didn't see anything I felt compelled to shoot. That's okay because I was busy with other aspects of life. Sunday brunch with my parents, the acquisition of a new car and some last minutes searches for important papers that ended up in the very last place I looked. In the process of looking for a car title I came across a sheet of negatives from many decades ago. I was not a (capital "P") photographer back then, just a happy amateur and many of the negatives in the sheet were overexposed or poorly developed. But I pulled the negative for the image above and put it into the Epson V-500 scanner in my studio and fiddled around with it for a few minutes. I'm pretty happy with the resulting images and happier still that the image prodded my memory and reminded me in exquisite detail just how free and easy the hobby of walking around taking photographs was in the middle of the 1970's.
I took a semester off from college to walk around a much different Europe than we have today. I am amazed to look back in a contemporaneous journal and discover that my girlfriend and I spent a good part of the semester backpacking, staying with new friends and occasionally splurging and staying at hotels and pensiones for about $800 each. That covered food, transportation and lodging but not our plane fare from the U.S. and back.
We camped out in the south of France in dozens of towns from Avignon to Perpignan, pitching our small tent in rustic campgrounds and making meals with a little blue gas portable stove. A frying pan hung from one of the straps of my backpack.
My camera of choice for the trip was the only camera I owned at the time, a Canonette QL 17 III. I took that little camera, a few extra button cell, PX-625 batteries and a small plastic bag with about 30 rolls of Kodak Tri-X film which I bulk loaded into blank canisters in order to save nearly a dollar a roll. I used the strap that came with the camera. It was a thin nylon strap with no logos or branding, just a little rubber shoulder gripper that kept the camera from sliding down my arm as I walked around. I mostly used the camera in a completely manual mode because my friend, (and fellow photographer) Alan Pogue, took the time to teach me how much more accurate my little system could be if I used the pictogram sheet that came packaged with every roll of Kodak film as an aid to calculate my exposures. Sometimes I didn't even bother to double check the increasingly worn and poorly memorized sheet and depended on the vast exposure latitude of the film to save my ass.
I also shot some color transparency film but unlike the black and white negatives there is nothing on the color film that interests me, even for a moment.
The primary mission of the trip was not to have a primary mission. My girlfriend and I were going for adventure and fun. We wanted to see Rome without our parents in tow. We wanted to lay out on a beach on a Greek Island and waste full days doing nothing more than watching clouds and drinking beer with other tourists from all over the place. That made the camera incidental. That meant I used it when I was intrigued by something rather than spending useless energy lurking around trying to goose the muses into giving me a little something for posterity.
And when I looked at the images I stuck in this blog post it got me thinking about how easy things are to do when you don't focus all of your energy directly on them. It's almost like dating where aggressively stalking someone and calling them all the time are counterproductive. Better to have a bit of insouciance and reticence in your pursuit and not care overly much about tightly controlling the outcome.
Shooting with the small rangefinder camera was such a wonderful way to add small doses of documentation to the experience. The camera had few controls and demanded little attention. The battery with which it arrived in Europe was still going strong as we headed home. The rangefinder was pretty easy to use, and accurate, and the lens (when one paid attention to technique) was quite sharp and charming. But the real beauty of the photographic part of this experience is that nothing was riding on the outcome. No clients would "die." There were few expectations.
When I returned to Austin I spent happy months learning to print in our little co-operative dark room. It was located in the Ark Cooperative near the UT campus and the whole dormitory (according to rumors) had once been the Tri-Delt Sorority house. The room the darkroom occupied rumored to have been Farah Fawcett's old room. The one she lived in before being drummed out of the sisterhood for some indescretion. Whatever. It was a magic place and I spent many long nights getting a tan under the dim red safelights as I printed very personal images from the trip onto box after box of double weight Ilfobrom graded photographic paper.
The girlfriend exited the scene a few months after our return but the camera is still sitting on top of the equipment cabinet to remind me that a lot of good work can be done with minimalist tools. When I go on a digital camera buying spree I remember to stick the little rangefinder in a drawer before I head to the store. If I don't do that I imagine it sneering at me in superior derision for wasting my time and money buying cameras that are barely as capable as that thirty seven year old tool.
What an odd collection of ideas for today....