When something works really well for you, in photography as with anything in life, it’s easy to grow comfortable. Comfort can be just a few short steps away from complacency.
So when my favorite and my best camera, the Pentax 645n that has felt like coming home from very the first roll I shot through her, started getting a bit glitchy at the start of the summer, I decided that rather than replace her immediately (I can’t find anyone who repairs them), I’d lean into my twitchy discomfort at being without one for the summer.
This would force me to spend my high photography season reaching back into my shelf of cast-offs – gear that I’d once loved, but that has been back-benched as I’ve traded up and away first from digital, then from 35mm film to medium format film photography.
The deal I made with myself was to shoot what I had on hand for three months. Not to waste my time thinking about how a scene would have looked through my 645, but to be in the moment with whatever camera I had in hand, and to try to produce as varied a range of images as I could muster with the tools I had at my disposal. I put a moratorium on film purchases too for good measure.
So I changed things, and then I kept changing them. I don’t think I let myself shoot the same film-lens combination twice in a row. I’m a creature of habit, and I can routinely go nine months without changing a lens, so all this variation heightened the intensity of focus I needed to bring to my photography.
I made a bunch of mistakes, the kind you usually avoid when you know your gear like the back of your hand. I had forgotten the quirks and compensations I once had memorized. For instance, that when using the 35mm lens for my D90 on my F100, f/8 was my limit unless I wanted a very prominent vignette. But these mistakes made for a few pleasant surprises, which is, I suppose, the positive inverse of risking flubbed photos.
Had I remembered the trick of this camera-lens combo, I would have chosen different settings here and lost out on the whole Accidentally Wes Anderson vibe which I think makes this image more interesting.
There’s such a fine line between knowing your gear well enough to get to a kind of seamless automaticity with it vs. just going through the motions on auto-pilot. Some time between June and August, and somewhere between the lensbaby, the lomo purple, the prism filters and the macro lens I stepped back into a phase of photography I’d thought I’d forever left behind – that fugue state where you’re hyper-alert and temporarily step out of time as the viewfinder meets your eye and you wait – for a moment or ten minutes – as your image materializes or dissolves before you.
All of this change did me great good. I am making one last ditch attempt at trying to get my beloved Pentax repaired, but if that fails, I suspect I’ll replace her. Our summer apart has shown me that while I can live without her, really, I’d rather not. And now there are so many new things I can’t wait to try with her.
Do you have any old friends – once-loved gear that’s accumulating cobwebs? Why not dust them off and take them out for a spin sometime. If you do, I’d love to see what you make together.
Keep your eyes wide open,