Last winter when I was taking a black and white film photography class, my son lent me his Mamiya 645 1000s camera, a behemoth of a thing (compared to any 35mm camera I have), with a sturdy feel and the most satisfying shutter-click sound. It intimidated the hell out of me with its 120 film and its battery fussiness and well, just the sheer size of it.
It eats batteries like crazy (as in, put in the battery, take a picture, take the battery out–or else you drain the battery mid-roll) and it’s hard to maneuver. The shutter is easy to accidentally misfire (I had at least one, often more, accidental or blank shot on every roll). I swore at it while using it, but always apologized immediately because it’s hard not to be charmed by its quirks, really, and the detail in the negatives of 120 film is enough of a bonus here.
In any case, I mostly happily shot maybe 8 or so rolls of black and white film with it during my class and got comfortable working with 120 film, and in doing so, I really fell hard for the camera. I joked about stealing it from my son, but that would mean a lifetime of lies (“no, really, that was shot on 35mm film, I swear”), and a few weeks ago I very sadly handed it back to him. I was even pouty about it for a few days. I know I can borrow it any time, but it’s not the same as having it in my possession, loaded with film and at the ready.
Knowing I would have to give it back to him, I ran a couple of rolls of color film through it to kick myself in the gut one last time see how it handled color. And, it’s as beautiful as I expected.
I miss you, Mamiya. I hope my kid takes care of you like I did (minus the swearing at you–I still feel bad about that). Even if I end up with my very own camera of your genre and we don’t hang out again, know that you were my first medium format love.
It’s easy to forget where I come from because I don’t live near family, but my genetics are half from hearty Italian stock that settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
We spent weekends and holidays of my youth traveling there from Detroit to visit with a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins. Food, of course, was the centerpiece of these gatherings. My Gram’s pastina soup (later I found out most people call this “Italian wedding soup,” but it will always be pastina soup to me), pizzelles, pasta. These are the foods I remember because Gram made them special for me–pastina soup with mostly the tiny, round noodles and broth, not much else, just the way I liked it; buttered noodles; pizzelle cookies not too dark, but thin and crisp. I was a kid–I never knew any of the politics or family drama. Just the food, the love, the cheek pinches and too-tight squeezes, the hot summer nights on the porch of that house on the impossibly steep dead-end street, the breezes in the dining room coming off the huge cemetery behind, the place where the fence to the cemetery was pried open and we could climb through and read the gravestones (Rose Love is one I particularly remember).
My father and his siblings are old now; some have passed. My brother and I took our dad to see two of his siblings this week, one of whom is very ill. Although our trip was short we saw cousins and second cousins from two families, two uncles, two aunts. In their faces I see my history, my heritage, my story, and mysteries we all have yet to uncover about our family name and the stories of our ancestors. The matriarch of this family enforced our togetherness, but her passing has made those links grow fragile and it will be up to the cousins to maintain the links, the stories, the relationships.
My cousin shared this tiny notebook, which would have belonged to my Pap. I don’t know if this is Gram’s writing to Pap, or something she said to him and he wanted to note it that day in his notebook. Impossible to know, but wonderful to consider.
We went to Jenny’s farm for eggs and wandered into the barn to see the goats and I got sidetracked by the light coming in the open door where the goats (and the cat) wander in and out. This was also the day that we loved up the baby goat (a bottle baby–his mama died shortly after he was born) and he was sucking sweetly on my thumb until his little teeth started to grind in and I had to pluck him off, which I felt terrible about (and I apologized to him profusely). My thumb bled, a bit on my camera even, but I didn’t care one bit because that baby goat was the sweetest thing ever.
Film, 35mm Kodak Gold 200, and I think the camera was the Minolta X-700. But I can’t remember for sure, even though it was just a few weeks ago. Which is a great case right there for carrying (and then actually using) a photo notebook. Sounds good in theory, but I don’t think it’ll ever happen.
I don’t think I can limit myself to a photographic style until I try everything. I soaked a roll of expired film for about half a day in some sparkling mead. Then I rinsed it, soaked it in water for about another half a day, and then let it sit around to dry for oh, I don’t know, maybe three weeks.
And then I loaded it into my Minolta X-700 and…
Dreamy stuff. Soft colors, smeary lines.
I asked the lab first if they could develop this–I know soaked films can mess with chemicals and I didn’t want to screw up anyone else’s film (or my other six rolls they were developing). I’m starting to really love my local lab.
A fog rolled in this morning and blurred the line between the lake and the sky in such a lovely, muted way. There have been boats all day so far, coming in and out of the fog. Some I can only hear the low hum of their motors; others, the tips of their sails peek out from the fog, like this one. Some seem to emerge fully from the fog only to be enveloped again.
I ventured down to the beach this morning to try to photograph the fog with my new pinhole camera. Because of the high water levels on the Great Lakes, our beach is slim (and on rough days there is no beach to be had at all). The stairs go down the bluff from the house, and then there is a short path that is carved through the prolific dune grass. The kayaks lie to the left of the path just as it drops to the beach. I paused for a minute there, for no good reason, and that’s when I realized that something was blocking my way… a short, thick, just-barely-darker-than-sand-colored snake, with no discernible markings. I’m not afraid of snakes, but I don’t exactly feel comforted by the fact that this one was just a few feet in front of my feet, and that this one, or one like it, could just emerge from the thick grasses onto the narrow path at any time. Of course I talked to it, asking it gently to move along, and it did in its own sweet time, in no rush at all. It didn’t seem threatened at all and moved under the kayaks and then back into the grasses.
After many weeks with my kids being here, and then various guests in and out, and then a week of extended family renting a cottage just a few doors down, I am now the only one in our cottage.
Aside from the dog, who is snoring on the couch as I write this.
I really loved having so many people around and catching up with extended family that I don’t see often enough. But I am kind of a loner by nature–I couldn’t wait for the peace and quiet, and now, well… it feels way too peaceful and quiet. I especially miss my kids–their banter, rousing conversation, just having them in the house again. I am sure I’m not the only one who gets exhausted by social interaction but misses it when it’s not available. What’s the secret to that, anyway? How do you marry the two? I’d really like to know.
Anyway, it’s a Monday and it’s back to work for me, albeit from my dining room table overlooking Lake Michigan, where this beautiful catamaran motored by in the late morning light under a bold blue sky and wispy clouds, close enough where I could just overhear the sailor’s voices from where I stood on the cottage deck.
June ended last night in spectacular fashion over Lake Michigan. I don’t recall a month before with so many incredible cloud formations. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten luckier this month, being at the right place at the right time to see just the perfect cloud formation in just the right light. This luck isn’t lost on me.
I’ve also seen more animals this month than I ever remember. More deer, in fields and roadside and in our driveway. More rabbits, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, birds, foxes (three this month!). And more plant life, and more butterflies. More of everything. It’s a healthy ecosystem here, I suppose. I’m lucky to see it.
But the animals are harder to capture in images. The deer don’t wait for me to get my camera ready. The foxes are even less accommodating. I’m not so inclined to wait in the meadow with the ticks and mosquitoes for an opportunity to photograph the wildlife.
The lake and sky? Maybe easy targets, but so satisfying, and different every day.