Photo Chat Vlog Season 1 Episode 10 – Konica C35, San Francisco and why I #believeinfilm

So the camera I talk about in this photo chat vlog is the Konica c35, and as you can see from this picture it’s a small rangefinder type camera which means you’ve got manual focusing but you’ve also got automatic shutter and exposure.

I’m really fond of this camera. Mine cost me four pounds from a car boot sale and it was as dead as a doornail when I got it, so I brought it back to life thanks to some instructions from the internet and it really turned my head on a trip that I made to San Francisco.

I had it loaded up with 400 ASA Tmax film and I also had a little Sony cyber-shot digital camera. Now at the time, which was 2007, the digital camera was what I took the majority of my pictures on and my film cameras were a kind of arty hobby. I was searching for something, something akin to Lomography where the emphasis was on pictures that had a dreamy, artistic whimsical quality, and I did the majority of what I want to call my “holiday reportage” with my digital camera, with the result that I didn’t actually develop the film from this trip to San Francisco for about six months.

But when I did I was absolutely astonished by what came back from the Konica c35, and in order to to demonstrate that to you I’ve put together a couple of comparison photographs to try and illustrate that.

So what we can see here on the left is a view of San Francisco from outside the City Lights Booksellers and as you can see I took roughly the same picture with both cameras. I should know what to say, but I kind of don’t know what to say, and by that I mean that. to me. the difference between the two pictures almost speaks for itself…and the difference for me is that the black and white picture on the right is just a nicer picture.

In fact it’s not just a nicer picture. it looks like an amazing photograph, and I’m amazed that I took that photograph. because all I did was stand in the street with a little camera, exactly like I stood in the street with a little camera on the left, a little digital camera. But on the right I stood in the street with a little film camera.

There was something about that camera and that Kodak Tmax film that just rendered this picture of San Francisco in a far more pleasing, far more evocative and much more satisfying rendering of my holiday. It’s not my intention to try and take pictures that are worthy of being in a magazine or trying to win any prizes with my photography. It’s just a hobby for me, but the notion that this picture on the right is what my San Francisco holiday looked like is amazing. I just was astonished by what the camera could do.

To try and explain this a bit further with this image, again more or less the same image, possibly taken from the same side of the bay. As you can see if you’re familiar with San Francisco this is the Golden Gate Bridge which is a classic tourist destination, and on the left we have my color digital camera image and on the right we have the black-and-white image and I like the black-and-white image better. I like it a lot, lot, lot, LOT better than the image on the left.

Now there’s nothing wrong with the image on the left. The colors are perfectly realistic, they’re definitely representative of what kind of a day it was, but when I look at the image on the right…that’s how I want to remember my trip to San Francisco. It looks cinematic, it looks beautiful, it looks artistic and it looks really nicely done. There’s a really nice range of tones in this image that are simply pleasing and friendly.

There are a couple of errors that I can see on it. There’s a smudge in the top part of it, and there are a couple of hairs in the image, but those are immaterial to me when I look at this picture. Right now I want to remember and I want to publicize and I want to stick on my wall the picture on the right…and I’ll just file away the digital image on the left.

This is the final comparison image between the two cameras. These two images were taken, again, around exactly the same time from the hotel that I was staying in in San Francisco which was in Chinatown. The left hand side picture shows the view that I got from the hotel room and the right hand picture just…looks….brilliant. As a representation of my holiday I like it more. I actually think it looks really really good, in fact my my feeling when I got these pictures back was that I’d invited an extra person on holiday who came along and took all these really based looking photographs. But the truth of it is that it was the combination of the little rangefinder camera and the Kodak Tmax film and the city of San Francisco. They all came together in that moment and for me it changed my mind about things.

It meant from that moment on that when I went on travels, or when I even pulled out a camera, that film is not just gonna be arty and dreamy and lomographic, it was going to be a proper representative tool in my both my artistic expression and my use of photography as a way of remembering events.

I still have a digital camera and I still like to take a mixture of digital and film cameras on holiday. I don’t shoot exclusively film. But the only pictures that I’m interested in sharing with people in a artistic sense are my film images and I’ve got to a point now where I know various combinations of films and cameras are gonna work for me in this reportage and memory-making version of photography, and it honestly all started with the little Konica c35.

So just to talk through a few more pictures taken on this trip, and to give a bit of context to the to the time and place they were taken this was a long trip to America. I think I was there for between two to three weeks, so it was quite a long time and what actually happened was my girlfriend at the time flew out to the west coast and spent a week in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. She took trains to San Francisco and I flew out and met her there in San Francisco, and we had a week together there.

Then she flew back home and I went on to New York and then I flew out to spend some time in Ohio so I needed to take a small camera with me, and I think that’s why I chose the Konica for this trip. I’d had it previously and it had taken some perfectly acceptable pictures on color film, but nothing had leapt out to me at the time, and of course at the time I was looking for that elusive Diana or Holga medium-format dreaminess.

Konica weren’t mucking about when they put together the lens and the exposures and the rangefinder stuff in this camera, so it was always going to take good pictures. But like I say, when I got this black and white film and I used it on this trip to San Francisco something great happened.

This picture of this pavement commemorating Jack Kerouac is a good example of that. We spent a long time on foot on this trip exploring San Francisco on foot, and as I recall this paving stone wasn’t very far from our hotel.

So when we were out and about doing our thing we were wandering backwards and forwards and taking this photograph seems to sum up both the activity on the holiday (what I’m gonna call photography by wandering around) but also the city itself, because Jack Kerouac did a lot of writing in San Francisco and he’s a very good cultural representative for the city.

This next image marries two things together; the place that it was taken, but also how it was taken. This image of Hyde Street Pier was taken up at Fisherman’s Wharf, and again I’m not explaining this quite as well as I as I thought I would, but it’s both evocative for me of the trip but it’s also what I loved about getting this roll of film back. and why I have this fondness for this camera, because it got me this picture.

It looks like it was taken by somebody else, and when I say “somebody else” I mean “a really good photographer with a really good eye and a really good technical sense”. If you go to San Francisco as a tourist you may well end up at Fisherman’s Wharf, and it’s full of photographic opportunities.

I think I was drawn to the large lettering of Hyde Street Pier; it’s pretty much a kind of no-brainer. That big sign just says “take a photograph of me!”

In a similar way this is a photograph of the actual City Lights bookstore. If you’re familiar with the Beat poets then you’ll know that city lights were the publishers of Allen Ginsberg’s poems (amongst other people) and they were a central figure in that movement in American literature, so it was inevitable when we visited San Francisco that we’d have to go and check out the City Lights bookstore.

San Francisco is a hilly city so I quite like how I managed to get this photograph. This is untreated, right out of the camera. It’s not squared up or anything and I composed a reasonably horizontal image that’s quite nicely done. It’s not quite the rule of thirds but it all seems to fit into the picture okay for me, and yet we’re clearly on a hill so I must have been doing something right that day. It’s not the greatest variety of tones and so forth visible, but it was a nice little snapshot that I think demonstrates the versatility of having a small rangefinder camera in your pocket. I just would stick it in my coat pocket, I didn’t even use a case for it. It’s very easy to very quickly pull it out, compose, take a photograph and wind on and move on.

Here’s a picture taken on the ferry between San Francisco and Alcatraz. Now you’ll notice immediately that this picture is a lot granier than the rest, and there’s two reasons for that. The first is that I had moved on from the Tmax film to a variety of film that I had not used before or even heard of before called Promax, which i think is a Chinese film. This is pro max 100ASA film, and I bought this on my first day in San Francisco.

But the other thing about this picture is it’s actually quite a crop from another image. Here’s the original image that it’s taken from to show you how I cropped this, because the thing about this trip was I was entranced by all the groups of kids who’d come from somewhere like Taiwan who were taking pictures of each other.

Wherever you turned they were snapping these snapshots of each other, and this was in 2007, so I just got Facebook by this time and social media was kind of in its infancy. I don’t think people were using cellphones to take these pictures but there was this thing of “we-are-here-we-need-to-commemorate-being-here-we-need-to-have-photographs-taken-in-front-of-these-things-that-show-us-that-we-were-here!”

It was so fun to see them enjoying themselves, and I wanted to to capture that but I had to do it discreetly. I didn’t want to sort of wander into their image and brazenly take a photograph of them, so this is it’s not quite “shot from the hip” as it were, but it was taken as discreetly as I could and you can see how much I had to crop this down.

It should be immediately apparent that the Promax film is not only grainier than the the TMAX film, but it’s got a much higher contrast; I guess there’s more white, there’s more black and there’s much less mid-tone gray. I don’t have a problem with that, it’s a nice, different flavor and it works I think really nicely in this picture with the skyline of San Francisco in the background and the kids having their picture taken in the foreground.

Similarly on Promax film this is back down in Fisherman’s Wharf again, and these is a little breakdance show that spontaneously sprung up in the street.

Again I was trying to be discreet, so in filming in a crowd I’ve got the back of that lady’s head quite prominently in the foreground of the image. For me that’s cool, that is all part of taking this picture in a crowd, and being a part of the crowd, and I love how I managed to snap this guy mid move as he was body popping and breaking on this mat they got down on the sidewalk.

The two guys that are part of the show that are also in the image…the guy with the white t-shirt was like the MC who was describing everything that was going on and I think he was doing a bit of rapping. Then the guy to his left who’s got his hat on back to front…it’s not immediately apparent but he was drumming away on a plastic bucket that was turned upside down, and I seem to recall we got on something like a trolley car or tram going back and and they were on the trolley with all their stuff packed up as well.

Finally I’m gonna look back again at two of the images we talked about earlier, and a third one. These are pictures I’m proud of. They look like pictures that I see in magazines, though if I was a magazine editor I might reject all of these three for reasons which me James Davies can’t explain (because I’m not a magazine photo editor).

But in terms of the way they look I can see qualities in these that are just not apparent in the digital images that I was taking at the time. The pictures look really cool and I think they really do justice to San Francisco as well.

They represent not only the beginning of my relationship with this little rangefinder camera, but they actually represent the beginning of believing in shooting with film, because it’s worth saying I never stopped taking film pictures.

There was no photography other than film photography when I started as a kid, but it wasn’t like I sold all of my analog gear at some point, bought a digital camera, shot that for six years and then suddenly decided I started to shoot film again. I never gave up taking film pictures but I didn’t realize that I could really use it to my advantage with a fairly basic four pound camera that had to be brought back from the dead.

You’ll notice if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter or Flickr that I like to use a hashtag called #believeinfilm, and I’ve only used that in the last couple of years. It was started by a guy called Gordon, and he’d seen one of my pictures on Twitter and encouraged me to use the #believeinfilm hashtag, but it was at this point in 2007 when I got these pictures back six months after a trip to San Francisco that I think I really started to “believe in film”.

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