35mm film cameras are back in fashion – but who needs a camera?

I read an article yesterday from the Guardian about how there seems to be a resurgence in 35mm Film Photography. (“Back to the darkroom: young fans reject digital to revive classic film camera”)

The “Reflex” is in development, designed by a group of enthusiasts and is looking to be on sale later on this year.

I last took a film photography back in 2000 when the demand from clients meant I went fully digital almost overnight. Sadly, to fund this change, I had to sell my 35mm cameras and my treasured Mamiya 6×7 medium format camera. But that’s progress and I couldn’t justify keeping them at the time.

A few years ago I got the urge to smell the developer and feel the sting of the fixer on my hands. I couldn’t bring myself to buy all the kit again so (this was just after Christmas) I got our empty Quality Street tins (still metal ones then) painted the insides with matt black paint and drilled a hole in the centre of the lid. I then used a thin piece of aluminium that I’d pierced with a sewing needle to cover the hole. My “shutter” was a black piece of card that was taped over the aluminium.

I bought some 6″x4″ black and white photographic paper and chemicals online, loaded my sweet tins with the paper by taping it to the back of the base and trooped out into the garden to see what would turn out. Luckily it had been snowing so the contrast was high. I set my camera up on a tripod in a rather Heath Robinson (one for the kids) fashion and peeled off my shutter. I had no idea how long to leave the shutter open but timed it at about 30 seconds. It was a flat day, clouds heavy after the snow but bright.

At the time I didn’t have a changing bag to replace the paper so I took two exposures, one with each “camera”: one of the front of the house and one of the rear. Composing any shot should take time and thought, even in the “machine-gun” days of digital where the physical image has no financial penalty (35mm meant 36 shots per roll and that cost money) but knowing you only have one chance makes you think about every aspect of the scene, slowing the process down, making sure everything is just right. The Decisive Moment as Henri Cartier-Bresson said, although he was talking about fleeting moments not 30-50 second exposures!

Then I dived into the garage to develop the images and see what I had. There is something mystical about seeing a picture develop slowly in front of you. Almost a Frankenstein moment where your creation comes alive. I spent 7 years photographing and developing black and white images when I first became a press photographer and the thrill never left me.

And so the pictures finally came into being. Out of the developer, into the fix and a bit of a rinse. And here was my first pinhole image.

Or at least the negative of an image.

Now I had to go back to modern technology, scan the negative, stick it in photoshop, invert it and flip the horizontal.

And there we have the front of the house!

And the back garden in the snow.


Sadly (and fortunately) soon after this work became manic again (January is always a little bit slow) and after a brief trip to Oxford to try it out again, the cameras were forgotten about.

But this article in the Guardian has jolted my interest again and I’ll be looking to make a few more cameras in the near future. I’m told iPhone boxes make great “compact” pinhole cameras.

The irony


I can’t wait.

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