For a while now I’ve been making videos for a channel called Photo Chat Vlog on YouTube. You will have seen posts about these here on the blog if you are a regular visitor, and since the videos are mostly scripted, I thought I’d experiment with adapting the script so that it can be read on this blog too. I really don’t know what the point of this is yet, but I thought I’d give it a try. Maybe I will retrospectively do a few other episodes too.
Anyway, in this episode I talk about three pictures, taken in the same place, on the same day, but on three separate cameras, with three separate films.
At the time that I took these pictures I wasn’t setting out to do anything special – I was just taking pictures. But on reflection after I saw the images I had a quite profound thought, and that’s what I want to chat about later on.
But first let’s examine the pure technical facts about these images. They were all taken on Sunday the 3rd of June 2018, in a cafe in Oxford, England in the UK.
That afternoon I had been to meet my friend Andy, and that is the same Andy that gets a shout out in season 2, episode 1 of Photo Chat Vlog when he and I collaborated on some intentional double exposures. But on this particular Sunday afternoon Andy and I had met up in town for a catch-up and had wandered around and done various things and we’d stopped to get a coffee in a cafe.
I had three cameras with me. I had my Olympus OM10, which had Konica VX 400 black-and-white film in it, which was given to me by my friend Denise. I also had my Canon 90uII camera, and in that I was shooting Konica VX 200 film which I had got from Nik and Trick photography in Folkstone in England via mail order. The third camera I had was a Halina telemaster 110 which I was shooting Truprint film in. All three films were expired, and the film I had in the Halina Telemaster was actually in the camera when I got it from a car boot sale a few years ago.
So I had three cameras and we were in a cafe, and I guess I thought I ought to take a picture with all three of them, and at the time what was attractive to me was the light.
It may not be obvious if we look at this first picture, but it was late in the afternoon and if you’re in Oxford the street that’s there in the background image where you can see the word Debenhams is George Street, and it faces West, and as we all know the sun goes down in the West.
So even though it was June and it was actually the middle of the summer, the sun was starting to go down and I was picking up at that sensation of the afternoon coming to a close just by being aware of the light changing in my environment. It was really apparent here as it was flooding through these windows and there was something about the intensity of the light slowly changing, and I was driven by a sensation of wanting to use each of the cameras to capture this moment.
Which, incidentally, was not about me meeting Andy, because you can’t see him in the picture. And it wasn’t about having coffee because there’s no evidence of that. In fact the absolute absence of people in the image is something quite significant I think. Clearly I didn’t want to capture the cafe as a meeting place, I wanted to capture it as being empty at the end of the afternoon.
So in fact the picture manages to record that the cafe’s social function is missing and I think I did a very good job in that because there are no people in any of these pictures 🙂
In terms of cameras and film the OM10 that I took this shot on had a 50 millimeter lens and it looks like I had set the Canon 90uII set to something similar. It has a zoom lens that can be adjusted between 38 and 90 millimeters and I guess without realizing it I zoomed in to roughly 50mm; it may be a touch more, a touch over fifty millimeters but we’re not far off.
However the image created by the Halina telemaster 110 camera is a different story. Everything is different about this camera. I’m going to do a dedicated photo chat vlog episode about this because 110 film is very, very interesting and it deserves its own special episode. But just looking at this image for the time being it looks like I stood in a slightly different position and then didn’t quite take the same kind of picture for this one.
It really does look very different to the other two 35mm shots; the actual composition of the picture is completely different and there’s something wrong with this camera. That isn’t a dark shadow that you can see on the right hand side, that is the film not getting properly exposed. So there’s something wrong with the camera and I need to investigate that.
But you can also see on the image shot on 110 film that the image is very grainy.
Graininess can come about when film is expired, but the graininess that we can see is also partly because a 110 film negative is smaller in size than a 35-millimeter negative, so in order to get this negative big enough for us to see on the screen at the same size as the other 35mm images, we have to magnify a smaller area of film and by basically zooming in we’re getting closer to the molecular makeup of the film, i.e. the grains of light sensitive material.
Now all three of these films are expired, meaning the pictures should have been taken and the film should have been developed long before the day that I actually used them.
So as well as being grainy and quite flat looking, which could be a consequence of the film being old and expired beyond its best-before date, the colors in the Truprint 110 film are dull and faded, which is also likely to be a consequence of the film being out of date.
In comparison the Konica VX200 color film is much sharper and less grainy, and colour-wise it’s much more vivid, and there’s an overriding pink cast to this shot and to the entire roll of film, and again I ought to do a dedicated episode to this film alone because it’s really quite something.
A lot of people would say the colour is “off” in this picture – I obviously like it the way it is. I don’t tend to tweak these things and I really like the fact that this film has this pinkish cast that covers all the other colors in the image
So the green in the background has got pink in it, and the orange on the chairs has got pink in it and the tables have got pink in them. It’s all very very subtle but it informs the whole picture and it has to be something to do with the age of the film, since I’m fairly certain Konica did not design a film called “slightly pink”. They wanted VX200 to accurately represent the world around us. But something has happened to this particular roll between it being manufactured and me using it that has caused this effect. It could simply be time passing, or it could be something to do with the way it was stored. Changes in temperature can affect the dyes for example. Whatever happened though, I really like it.
Now I think the image shot on the black and white film is great. Konica VX400 is a chromogenic film which means it uses color chemistry but it has no color dyes in it. So it’s a colour film, but it represents the world in black and white. I’ve had experience with other types of chromogenic film being expired and looking really really bad. It didn’t render the image very well and wasn’t even pleasingly vintage looking, it was just very low contrast and not very satisfying.
So I had my doubts about it when my friend Denise said do you want to try this this Konica black and white c41 film that she thought was really cool. I was like “well they don’t make it anymore, right?”, and she said “I know, but I’ve got some, though it’s expired”. So I was thinking “I’m not sure about that…” but as you can see this stuff has probably been looked after really well and it’s clearly a robust film because all the other shots on the roll look cool (and these are turning up at the moment on my Flickr and Instagram).
There is a little hint of graininess but the film has covered all the shades of grey between black and white and so it’s what I’d call pleasingly contrasty; so there’s a nice white-white and there’s lots of nice black-blacks and everything else is proportionally spread in between.
I love shooting black and white films but my feelings towards genuine black and white films which use traditional silver halide chemistry is that they tend to be a lot more sparing with the blacks and the whites and deal out many more shades of grey. I know there are lots of types of proper black and white films, and then there are many options available with different chemicals that you can process them in.
Then of course there are all the different ways that you can experience a black and white image (I could go on about that for ages but a genuine black and white silver print is very different to a black and white magazine image, which is different to something on the screen for example). But for me when they work nicely like this one, these chromogenic black and white films are really nice to use.
So I could stop here and say “there you go, three separate pictures taken on the same day, in the same place, at the same time on different cameras and on different film” and leave it at that. But what struck me about them when I reviewed them to go on Flickr and on Instagram was this profound idea that they suddenly represented for me the fact that we are all individuals on the planet. We are all individuals and we don’t genuinely know how anybody else experiences the world.
So we can stand together, just me and you for example, we could stand in the same place in a room, and we could describe the room to each other and we could objectively describe all of the items in front of us.
We could agree on on everything. We could even have a tape measure and take measurements of everything, and agree very much on all the things that make up where we are.
But we wouldn’t know, we just would not be able to know exactly what the place looked like or felt like to the other person.
Ironically it is photography that is one of the ways that has been given to us to help explain that there is no objective truth in the world.
Obviously we have to agree on many aspects of what the world looks like otherwise the whole of life would just be chaos.
It’ll be no good at all if if I stood outside and you stood outside with me and I said “isn’t it great being outside?” and you said “well, no because I’m actually inside”. Most of us (most of the time) just agree where we are, but we can’t know what “where we are” feels like to anybody else.
It was by looking at these three pictures that I was struck by the fact that I stood in the same room in roughly the same place, during what was probably just one minute. But my three separate camera and film combinations rendered the same scene in very different ways. It made me think about how we experience experiences, and how we share experiences and what that sharing of experiences means to us.
It can be as simple as doing something very simple with somebody, for example sitting in a cafe having a coffee, and you say to them “We’re having a nice time aren’t we?” and they go “Yes we are”. Or it can be as complicated as sharing a very intense emotional experience with somebody and afterwards saying “We had a good time didn’t we?” and they go “Yes!”
But what are you agreeing about? It’s such a strange idea; we don’t really know what the other person is feeling. We don’t even know what they’re experiencing.
Now in front of me on on the table where I’m sitting is an orange (the actual fruit) and it’s interesting because that item is named after its color. So everything that is that color in the world is called orange. We say “Look at that orange chair” or you might have an orange jumper or an orange car, and here in front of me is an orange. I know that orange the colour is a mix of yellow and red and perhaps if I was a scientist I might be able to measure the reflection of the photons coming off it in some shape or form to give an objective reading.
But I don’t know that anybody else sees orange the same way as me.
To illustrate this, here is a digital picture of a field in Oxfordshire taken about a month before the pictures in the cafe. You can see this is a yellow crop in a field under a blue sky. But when I took a picture in the same place on the same day with my camera using Lomo Purple film, well you can see that yellow crop now looks purple. This is because the Lomo Purple film interprets the flowers of the crop in a completely different way. When it “sees” yellow…it renders it purple.
So wouldn’t it be odd if scientists said “We can now finally show you what it’s like to look through somebody else’s eyes!” and you say “Okay I’m gonna look at the world through my my best friend’s eyes” and suddenly orange is no longer what you thought orange is. Turns out for your friend orange is your green and what is green is orange to them, and everything would suddenly be topsy-turvy.
We just don’t know that the world really is the way that we agree that it is. We interpret the world within a set of standard parameters in order to get on with life, and to make sense of the time we have on the planet.
But we don’t know what it’s really like for anyone else, and in a strange way although I won’t ever know what it’s really like, these three pictures by being so different are a way of illustrating to me that maybe the way I see the world is not the same as other people.
Now I say that as if I ever needed reminding about that, because it feels like my life story has been exactly that. I know I don’t see the world the same as anybody else, and that’s a whole other issue around “being me” and how my personality is, and being an introvert and all manner of other things.
But I wasn’t quite ready for the experience until I pulled these pictures together of exactly how profound it would be. Of how it really would illustrate to me that the same place can look so different through different materials. Through different manufacturer’s films and different cameras.
In particular it made me think about how by the time we’re conscious and we’re aware that we are conscious as humans we’re interpreting the world through a degree of experience and as I interpret the world today, as I sit here in my little studio thinking about the world, I’m thinking through 48 years of experience of this world.
And if I stand in the world with anybody else they’re experiencing it through all the years they’ve been on the planet, and all the different things that have happened to them, and it’s never going to be the same…and I think we’ll leave it at that.
That’s really all I want to say about how these pictures made me feel. I don’t know that I’ve got a favorite of all three of them. I think they all remind me of why I like taking pictures and why I like taking pictures on a variety of film, with a variety of cameras.
It is variety that appeals to me, and that’s not just in photography, that’s in life in general. But I’m pleased with the way the pictures came out, because if I if I think back to my original intention which was to capture that visual moment of the afternoon turning into the evening during my trip into Oxford to meet my friend Andy, then these pictures do it very satisfyingly for me.
But they also remind me of how I felt at the time…which I’m not going to explain in in great detail, but it is fair to say it was a complicated time in my life and I was really relying on my mate Andy to help me out that afternoon and he did it brilliantly, so thank you Andy.
So as ever if we’re chatting about photography it isn’t just the taking of the picture and it isn’t just the technical details that matter with images. It’s the reflection that is important and it’s one of the reasons why I’ve spoken about slow photography. I took these pictures in June last year, and I got the films developed in July. but he’s taken me until February the next year to really think about them and consider them and in doing so I’ve got a new perspective on my place in the world and on the planet right now, and that is that’s quite a thing.
I’m very pleased about it, if still a little confused about it, so I’ll leave it there.
If you have any thoughts about my pictures or what I just said by all means please leave a comment and until the next time enjoy your moment on the planet in your own special reality, and if you want to hear this read out to you, check out the latest episode of Photo Chat Vlog.