Smile and say Rollei!

The Rolleicord or probably any twin lens reflex camera, is the perfect portrait camera. Now before you get your feathers all in a bunch and start throwing out better options, let me explain what I mean. I am not talking about the camera’s technical abilities, I am coming at this from a purely relational point of view.

More often then not, when I am wearing my Rolleicord around my neck, I will receive admiring glances when people walk by. Trust me, those glances aren’t for me but for the camera. They walk, they glance and if they take the time for a second glance curiosity will take over and questions will soon follow about the camera. Most of the time they want to know what it is because it looks so cool. Other times it will be an old timer who starts reminiscing about when he owned one or more often than not someone’s dad used to have one when they were kids.

It’s not a menacing looking camera like so many of today’s professional DSLRs with a big 70-200mm lens hanging off one end and a flash and a grip hanging off other areas of the beast. No, it’s a rather handsome camera with a friendly face attached to it, a kind of vertical eyed robot face that you might see in a Disney movie. People want to engage with it instead of run from it. It’s disarming nature is one of it’s secret portrait potions. It allows me, the photographer, to start a friendly conversation with a stranger.

These conversations have allowed me access to a stranger’s past. I listened to a WWII veteran’s tale about his time as a prisoner of war and how he bought one of these cameras when he gained his freedom. I met a lovely older couple out for a walk so the husband could exercise his heart. He too used to own one of these beauties. I’ve had people just want to know more about the strange vertical eyed box that is out of place in this digital age. The conversations have been wonderful but then there is the photos. The portraits that I have been allowed to take because I took the time to answer some questions or to listen to someone’s story.

That is why these are the perfect portrait cameras.

Happy wanderings!

Why film?

A little background about myself. Many years ago I graduated with a BFA from a private art school called Kendall School of Design. My major was illustration. Yes I drew and painted pictures. I didn’t use computers, nobody did back then, I used pencils, paper, paint and canvas. These were things that you could touch, feel and smell. It was a sensory connection that helped you translate the communication of your idea into the final image. When you were finished there was a relationship between yourself and the piece of art that you had just created.

Over the years life became complicated and busy and I didn’t have the hours available to allocate towards creating images. I however still had the desire. I took up the camera as my image making tool. I started with film, went headlong into digital and now am back to film for at least my personal work.

Why film? Two main reasons really. First reason came while visiting my father one Easter. He pulled out a nondescript box that had an assortment of old photos in it. An unorganized treasure of my family’s history. It made me wonder what will my children have? Hard drives fail, memory cards quit, cell phone pictures disappear when you upgrade your phone and someday Facebook won’t even be around. There certainly won’t be a box of old photos hiding in a closet. So I vowed to shoot some film and make some prints. Even if I don’t print everything that I shoot, there will still be the negatives that will last longer than myself. My children will have something to look back on and remember their family history and even me.

The second reason I went back to film was for that sensory connection. I needed to have that tactile feeling back into my art again. I needed the craft put back into the images that I was making. Most of my cameras that I use for my film work don’t even take batteries, it’s all springs and gears. I love the way that they feel in my hands. I love that there isn’t any auto settings to save you. I love that you have to figure everything out manually. I enjoy the tactile feeling of loading 120 film into my Rolleicord or loading 4 x 5 film holders in the dark. I enjoy the process of it all.

I choose what film I use like I would choose what type of paint to put on my palette. Each has it’s own look and personality much like the uniqueness of watercolors, oil paintings or even pencil sketches. Do I want to shoot black and white for the mood or Portra film for the more neutral color spectrum? Will the photographs be for a portrait or a landscape? Whatever film I choose it will be part of the relationship between myself and my final image.

Hybrid photographer. I am what is considered a hybrid photographer. I shoot images on film and then the negatives are processed and scanned into digital files. I don’t have a darkroom but I do develop my own black and white film with the aid of a changing tent and daylight developing tanks. The color film gets sent out to Indie Film Lab for processing and scanning and they are terrific.

Developing my own black and white film has put another element of the craft back into my photography. Another part of the tactile process that I really enjoy. Since I don’t have a darkroom I scan and then print my photographs digitally. Like darkroom printers, I try to achieve the best print possible. I choose the papers not only for how they will make my photograph look but also how they feel. Holding the final print in my hand is the culmination of the relationship between this photograph, my craft and myself.

Happy wanderings!