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Shooting 120 Roll Medium Format Film

The Summer walk incites honest beads of sweat to pierce through small pores on my temples. Each drop flinches in open sunshine and evaporates with the ideas running through my creative investigation as a large black brick of an object pulls at my neck from a black synthetic cord. I am shooting slow photography… analogue film.

Bronica ETRS

The camera nests in the upturned palm of my right hand (or screwed into a black octopod) as I walk down Murray Street toward the wharf area.

Each photograph taken is an investment in time and money. The $12 roll of film provides 15 potential photographs and the cost rises to around $18 when I process the negatives in my bathroom (notice I’ve ignored the capital outlay of a developer tank, darkroom bag and supporting articles like a camera tripod and light meter).

Shooting medium format film on a 30 year old camera is what I call slow photography. It’s about getting photography under my fingertips and challenges me to say that I am a photographer. An amateur photographer. One who creates photographs for the love of doing so.

The process of shooting with a Zenza Bronica ETRS, or any old film camera that only operates in manual and requires a light meter, is critical. It’s easy to get excited by the subject and forget to focus or realise after the shutter clicked that you changed the FStop but not the shutter speed. So it’s about slowing down. Creating. Understanding the elements of the photograph before the camera stops time and immortalises the subject.

I see an interesting subject and investigate. I walk around the immediate area looking at the light and assessing the opportunity. It is sometimes about angle and perspective but more often it becomes about what to include or exclude from the photograph. I ask whether it’s an honest framing that depicts the subject in context. I hold the camera to my eye from several vantage points and assess the best shot.

Because the best shot is the one that I’m willing to pay for in time and money. Each shot is one less that remains on the film. Each shot is a lost opportunity cost for something I won’t be able to capture later in the morning. I need to make each photograph count on the film roll and it’s something that I consciously work on with a nagging persistence.

I consult the light meter by entering the ISO value and move to the desired FStop to identify the required shutter speed. If I haven’t carried a tripod it’s time for some negotiation. I might take the risk or decide to move on for a safer option.

I decide to shoot the photograph and write a short note into my book – the date, ISO, Fstop and shutter speed with a note on the conditions and the number on the film roll to review after processing the film. The feedback loop in analogue photography can be days, weeks or months. Never minutes.

The black brick is a Zenza Bronica ETRS with a 75mm lens that requires physical proximity of the photographer. I set the values and adjust the focus ring until the central focus inside the lens matches the surrounding frame in the viewfinder. I take a breath and consider the horizontal level and the finer detail of the edges of the photograph. My right hand fingers gently turn the ribbed shutter button around to the active state. And I tentatively press. To stop time. To shrink space. To suck a part of the essence of whatever it was that I saw in the moment through that 75mm lens, into that darkened box and onto a single frame of fifteen on the 120 roll film.

The vision through the Bronica’s lens goes black as the mirror inside the camera box goes THWACK.

I lower the camera to the length of its strap around my neck and extrude the arcane handle on the right side. I lock the shutter button and wind the Bronica’s quiet gears for three quarters of an intimate curve that progresses the next frame on the 120 roll of film.

I move away with the happy anticipation that I may have captured a butterfly in my magic light box. Fourteen more photographs on the roll.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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