The other day Nicki and the kids were gathering at the gazebo in our neighborhood (they gather there periodically to meet friends).
I wanted to go photograph the kids at play since it’s been a little while since I’ve done that, but wanted to try something a little bit different.
I opened up the closet and lying there was the white Fuji Instax camera. I won this camera at a seminar raffle in Vegas at WPPI (the photographers convention) a couple of years ago. I have not used it nearly enough in that time but saw that I had five frames left on the pack film that was in the camera.
Off I went to the gazebo with my five frames in this funky white camera in hand. It has been a while sinceI used the camera, I had forgotten how to turn it on (Hello. McFly. Pull out the lens). But then I remembered so the shoot was on!
When there’s that amount of limitation it forces you to be really sure about when you fire. With the ease of the modern digital camera whether a digital SLR (like a Canon or Nikon) or even the ubiquitous iPhone, it’s easy to just shoot and delete and shoot some more if you like.
There’s a certain amount of appeal for that because you can just fire at will. But there’s also a certainly different experience when you know you have only so many frames and have to make them count. I find it makes me much more engaged, more thoughtful and more present.
Using the Instax forced me to adopt that “old school” mindset that makes every frame count — or try to make every frame count and be okay with it if it’s not quite perfect.
And when I’m talking “Old School” I’m taking really Old School. As in the 4 x 5 film mindset that the photographers a couple generations before me had.
When I started at the Tribune, I was the punk, the kid. I was 23 and there were guys that were the age of my Dad (or older) working there. And some of them had already been at the paper 40 years.
Those guys saw it all and had shot it all. And most of those old guys had learned and shot on 4 x 5 inch film on Speed Graphic cameras. Shooting an assignment meant shooting “a holder”. That is, a film holder, something that held two sheets of film. Two sheets of film.
When I came to work at the paper, the only thing I had shot was 35mm film, and occasionally a bit of 2 1/4 or medium format sized film but had not shot any large format film such as 4 x 5.
When I would come back from an assignment, I shot a lot — at least compared to these guys — but compared to the modern digital photographer it would be negligible. But to the conservative style of the older generation, I was sloppy and shot way too much.
I remember my night photo editor, Luigi Mendicino, who had been there over 40 years, chiding me for shooting 3 rolls of film at an event.
“What are ya doing? Shootin’ movies??”
So when I’m saying Old School with 5 frames in the Instax, I’m thinking of the Luigi generation.
Another nice thing about the Instax is that there is evidence of your photography. That piece of paper/emulsion/godknowswhatchemicals/amazingmodernscience produces something that you can actually hold in your hand that doesn’t require a battery or screen to view. Plus as time passes you see the photograph emerge and then stabilize. A day later after the photo is made when it has been allowed to process it seems more vibrant and beautiful than the first day. Kinda like lasagna tastes better on the second day.
Even though the actual photographs are small (wallet sized), they’re imperfect. But that’s also part of their charm. They’re a one-off, a one of a kind, a unique little piece that represents a moment that will never be the same, and that makes it cool.
And while I only had 5 frames to shoot, I was really happy with two of them and liked the other 3 too.