Monday, April 23, 2012

Black and White and Square

Back in the day I've used a twin lens reflex camera quite a bit. This was a fairly large box of a camera held at  waist level, where you would peer down into the viewfinder. Twin lens because the lens that formed the image in the viewfinder sat above the taking lens, and formed an image on a ground glass. It was completely manual, of course, and used 120 or 220 roll film - which for me was usually Kodak Tri-X black and white. The camera produced 2-1/4 square negatives.

Because of its size and manual operation, using it was fairly contemplative, providing time to thoughtfully select and compose the image before the shutter was snapped. One needed to be able to visualize a scene in black and white, for starters, and the square format brought its own unique composition considerations into play. Because the number of exposures on a roll was limited to twelve, or twentyfour at the most, each release of the shutter was carefully considered - a fairly significant event, thus further adding to the thoughtful preparation for each exposure.

Recently I got a little nostalgic, reflecting on that particular contemplative photographic mood induced by my old Mamiya twin lens, particularly the square format and black and white images. A bulb briefly brightened in my head, reminding me that my Lumix GH2, in addition to providing the option of a 1:1 format, could also be told to restrict its jpegs to black and white. Would it bring back the unique "photo mind" once induced by the Mamiya? I had to give it a try.

Did my little afternoon outing bring back the feeling of using the Mamiya? Well, no. Gone were the acts of manually taking a light meter reading and setting the shutter and aperture, and the careful manual focusing. Gone also was the anticipation of time in the darkroom, first loading the floppy 120 film onto stainless steel Nikor reels, processing, drying, contact printing, and finally making enlargements of selected images.

But I did enjoy thinking in terms of black and white and the square format. And rather than feeling nostalgic about the manual settings and darkroom work, I realized the this little digital camera allows me to zero in on what really matters photographically. I'm proud that I once mastered the darkroom skills required to process film and make fine silver prints, but that is not really what photography is about. 

What I learned today is that my new little camera helps me distill photography to the essence of seeing. And finally I know that I can release all of my stored darkroom gear and film cameras to those that can take pleasure in re-enacting historical photographic techniques.

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