Little goddess of chance

August 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

For my birthday two weeks ago, my boyfriend gave me a piece of plastic. That might sound like a rather eccentric gift, but perhaps will seem less so when I tell you that it isn’t just any piece of plastic. It’s black and blue. Sometimes it hangs from a strap around my neck and sometimes it fits snugly in my handbag. It’s cheeky and temperamental, it has quirks and a mind of its own. It shares a name with the Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt…

Diana

Say hello to Diana.

I haven’t owned a manual camera in years – well, in fact, ever. (The one I had before I acquired a digital camera was a little automatic point-and-shoot.) And say what you will about the convenience of digital photography, of knowing you aren’t wasting precious film on a blurred or overexposed shot, of the instant gratification factor, there are elements of analogue photography that a digital camera simply can’t replicate and that thrill my inner Luddite. (If it isn’t completely inappropriate to put ‘photography’ and ‘Luddite’ in the same sentence, that is.) The film itself, for starters, the mere fact of its physical existence, the papery rustling it makes when I tear off the tab and feed it into the takeup spool. (Perhaps as someone who spends her working life looking after prints and drawings I’m especially susceptible to the romance of a roll of 120 film. Or maybe I just really, really need help.)

But what I really love about this plastic pocket goddess is that it restores the element of chance to photography. It isn’t just the not knowing what my photos will look like when they come back from the developers, it’s not knowing what the camera has done to them. I have no idea if they’ll be blurred, if the contrast will be off, if there are any light leaks in my camera. I’m not entirely sure I advanced the film properly for every shot, so there could be a double exposure or two in there. (Or, conversely, a blank where I over-advanced. Who knows?) The only thing I had any control over was the composition, and even then, only the centre – the edges and corners may have darkened or faded. I haven’t even seen how my first roll turned out yet and I’m already in love with the unpredictability, the deliberate imperfection inherent in the Diana. Yes, I know I’m hardly the first person to say that, and I’m well aware that I sound dangerously like one of those hipsters who think having a vintage camera automatically makes you a professional. But to me, it’s mainly about letting go, about letting chance back in. As Bill Brandt, one of the photographers I admire most, once said,

Bill Brandt, Nude, 1952

Bill Brandt, Nude, 1952

I let myself be guided by this camera, and instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced … images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.

I’ll consider myself lucky to produce anything on the order of Brandt’s photos, but that’s not really the point. I dropped off my first roll to be developed this afternoon, and I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas with bated breath. It’s a feeling I stopped associating with photography a long time ago.

It feels good to have it back.

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