« Personal Confession | Main | Planned Obsolescence »

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Comments

I've been working on a project to go to every town I grew up in (five or six) and shoot all the things I remember from them. No, you can't go back again. But sometimes trying is quite interesting. The question is, did the place (or camera, as it were) change, or did you? Usually both.

Mike, I was told the same, 'never go back', probably thirty five years ago. It has been proved right, for me at any rate, ever since. Onward and upward, team!
I think there should be a proviso, do it right first time. Hindsight eh.
Kerry Glasier
Cornwall UK

Nah, not just you. My older brother had a Nikon FM with a 50mm Nikkor that I coveted when I was about 10 years old. I remember the heft of it, the cold metal, and the big window on the world through the viewfinder.

So when I had to send my M6 off for repair recently, I decided to indulge this memory and buy an FM to carry on with until my Leica was returned.

Wow. Big disappointment. I'm not sure if it was simply that I couldn't help comparing it to the M6 I'd already grown accustomed to or if it was just the passing of time. Probably both. Though I think the latter had more to do with it.

The funny thing is, at age 39, the Leica feels a lot like that FM did when I was 10, minus the viewfinder of course. So maybe you can go back... a little.

This reminds me of the time I had my camera bag with all my gear - camera and three lenses - stolen. Of course there were also four rolls of exposed film in the camera bag. In my mind those four rolls were filled with masterpieces never to be made again. And although I'm sure at this point I've built up the gear to be much better than it was, I sometimes catch myself subconsciously thinking about how great it was when I pick up another camera/lens.

I can relate. About 10 years back, I purchased some used Olympus 35mm film equipment out of nostalgia (though I told myself it was to preserve my investment in a pair of mid-grade 1980s zooms). Returning to photography was great - doing so via Olympus gear wasn't what I thought it would be.

In a similar vain, I had my father's 1950s barndoor Voigtlander repaired and reworked, remembering how fondly I had thought of it in my youth. I bet I haven't put 4 rolls of film through it since. I don't like to shoot with a rangefinder (scandal, I know!) using a standalone lightmeter. (The old selenium meter on it is not repairable - or at least not reasonably.) Plus, I'm 100% digital at this point.

11 or 12 years back, when eBay was still a new marvel, I bought a game I had played in high school and had long since lost. I haven't played it 4 times since.

You can't go home again and sometimes you can damage the experience when you try. I had much fonder memories of "Underdog" until about 2 years ago when I watched some old cartoons with my kids. Boy, those were really terrible animation shows! I just never knew it. :-)

Severian

A refrain that grows more dear with every year of life, but surely the words are true since mostly people who want to go home again seek an imaginary home or past that never existed except in the embellishments of memory. Perhaps if it's a state of mind that one wants to recapture, maybe it's possible, even if improbable.

That's been my experience, mostly. Found my old Olympus Stylus in the bottom of a drawer. Battery still worked, so shot a roll of film, trying to be careful, and I know I used to get good shots with it. But of course I also spent hundreds on film for the few solid keepers....
However, I've had better luck "going home" digitally. I can still enjoy a shot or two from my dusty 3mp Fuji s5000 (nice colors). Also had that feeling with my Olympus 420, really a classic little camera with the kit lens, alas stolen shortly after I started using it again in earnest.

I want to go back home. I have my dad's Retina rangefinders, which he used with Kodachrome 64 to document part of my childhood. I have this nutty idea of buying one with an identical lens, and having it attached to a m43 mount. Can I "see" with my father's eyes? Not at the same focal length, sadly.

Perhaps there will be an affordable full-frame mirrorless camera someday.

I also wanted to go back and buy my Grandfather's Rollei. That's too rich for my blood (and I don't know the exact model.) I've bought a Yashica D, and I now understand how much he had to fight flare, and why he stuck with Tri-X. And why he would pull out a handheld movie spotlight for interior pictures. Slow film and too shallow DOF in medium format is such a pain. The viewpoint - square, normal, is charming, and I can easily see how much tilting the film plane relative to reality changes things. Incredible.

If film wasn't so terribly, terribly expensive (to process, to scan, to spend time with) I might have done a Leica year with it.

Will

"Is that me, or is it just true you can't go home again?" It is so very true. I have tried this with cameras over and over. Buy the camera, buy the film, load it up and end up shooting a handful of shots only to find the camera months later, film still partially used and no idea what I had started out intending to do. I think it is in our nature to look forward (not, Look Homeward, Angel!).

I had this old Nikkormat FTN that I just loved. Well it wasn't old when I first got it in 76, but it was my first brand new camera. Ah, you never forget your first. Well several years down the road and I was a little short on cash so I sold it to a neighbor. Years later I just had to have it back so I tracked him down and offered to buy it back. He had no major attachment to the beast but rather than take money wanted another 35mm SLR to replace it. Went to a pawnshop, picket up a Yashica I believe and the deal was done.

Kept shooting with that camera until about 4 months ago when I gave it to a buddy who was thinking about getting back into film. So I guess in this case I was able to "go back".

Well, I recall your 2001 Camera and Darkroom article, and I enjoyed your writing just as much the second time around. Not everything diminishes over time.

It is scary, however, that you can be so convincing even if you have a another viewpoint. What else have you fooled us into believing? :)

When I was very young (just starting school) my Dad brought a new Voigtlander Vitomatic home (1st version - no rangefinder). It amazed and thrilled me. I just wanted to touch it!

During a visit with my Mother, about a year ago - long after my Dad died - she gave me an old vinyl camera bag that contained The Vitomatic, a Kalamar and some odds & sods. I picked up the Voitlander and I felt 5 years old again...it still amazed me.

When I returned home, I checked the meter, popped-in some film and was soon delighted to learn that it worked as well as it ever did. I carried it daily for quite a while afterward and still shoot with it two or three times/week.

Maybe it just takes very little to impress me. However, it is a finely built machine, especially by modern standards.

Oh...the Kalamar is just a "brick". Too bad because the 80mm/3.5 Kaligar lens seems to be in very good shape.

Cheers! Jay

The problem isn't that you can't go back, but rather that your memories are not in a constant state of expansion like our current experiences... Back then, your Wista was the be-all, end-all of your (then) current experience. Since then, you have changed, and your perceptions of a photographic experience have also expanded...

I don't want to go back, but rather have the best of both worlds - take the camera with the best user interface EVER, the Nikon F4, with it's clearly labeled dials and switches, nice grip, insanely good viewfinder, and a bloody aperture ring, and put a 16-ish MP sensor in it.

Update the computery insides, but keep the original U.I. as intact as humanly possible. That is a camera to get misty-eyed about. Past, future, nostalgia and positive change all in one one dream camera. And that's what it's all about, really, the dream of a thing making your experience better.

Sometimes it happens. If you were so lucky in the past, (and have since then changed equipment...) be happy in that memory, but don't think for a second that the camera makes the photograph.

OK, time for a contrarian view. Of course you can go home again! Not always, but sometimes. It's your memories, not necessarily the material factors, that are a bit ambiguous, so don't expect perfection. But you can indeed relive an earlier experience with great nostalgia and pleasure.

A few years ago I was waxing poetic to my first born son who was then in his mid twenties about a childhood toy that gave me many many hours of fun. It was a Remco "Johny Reb" cannon (extreme in its political incorrectness these days what with it's confederate flag and military overtones, but a wonder of 1960s toy production). My mother gave my prized toy to the goodwill when I went off to college much to my dismay. Thirty years later, my son decided it would make a great Christmas gift, watched for it on Ebay, found it, and gave it to me. When I loaded the plastic cannon ball, pulled the trigger, and shot that plastic ball across the room, all the great childhood memories came right back. Yes, every now and then you can go home again!

That said, I never parted with my father's Nikon F, the camera that hooked me on photography and one of his considerable influences in my life. That material object has remained and always will remain in my possession. No need to go home again. Home stays in this heart till death do us part.

Well...you can go home again, perhaps...but it's expensive, and the folks who live there now don't have to let you in...

My first DSLR was an Olympus Pen FT...and several times I've had the "new" Pen in the online cart and taken it out. I know better. I've changed, so have cameras.

My first "fun" car was a '58 T-Bird (for those who don't follow T-Bird lore, it was the first 4 passenger "square bird"). I had one, loved it, sold it, bought another one a couple of years later, loved it, rolled it during a fairly high speed curve...but to return to that today? Drum brakes all around? Suspension that wallows in the curves? No factory belts? Absolutely no emission controls? No, thank you. Remembering is better than having.

(Although in 2003 I did buy a Mercury Marauder off of the showroom floor, and it was "old Detroit" - 300+ horsepower, huge trunk, torque up the wazoo...fun car. Only kept it a year and a half, there was a new Corvette at the Chevy dealer and I...digress).

But to get to the point - Books and Music and Photography allow you to go home again. The Rex Stout "Nero Wolfe" (no relation to Thomas) series is still fun to pull out and re-read, after decades since my first reading. I've read and re-read Churchill's 6 volume history of World War II until the hardcover bindings are literally falling apart.

Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours", "Only the Lonely" and "Sinatra and Jobim" albums still speak to me as loudly as they did when I first played them in LP version. (For other moods Janis Joplin still floats my boat, nearly 40 years after "Pearl" left the stage).

And Margaret Bourke-White photos speak to me as much today as they did 35 years ago. Magic. If I could do what she did just one time, I'd die a happy photographer. I have the gear - just not the talent.

So maybe hardware doesn't stand the test of time. Maybe it's art, or intellectual processes that can stay fresh decade after decade.

All I know is, when I listen to Joplin's cut of "Summertime" on the "Cheap Thrills" album, she still opens the door for me and lets me in.

Mike, you admit it therefore you have nothing to be embarrassed about. To compensate, just remember those times when you wish you sold an item but you did not:-)

Hhmmm... I never thought of this in terms of equipment, and I think that's more determined by how much better you liked the various things you used in the interim, and how long the interim. Usually this gets asked in trying to recapture a certain photographic moment, angle, or light that you didn't quite get the first time. If it involves people- never. If it's more a landscape or still life, you can sometimes get close, and sometimes even better. The former is rare, the latter even rarer.

Mike, your disappointment hinged on the equipment changing, while many of us have the problem that we've changed. Ten years ago I decided to find a Leica M2 just like the one I had sold 30 years before to go SLR. Well, when I tried one, I found my older eyes with varifocal lenses were not compatible with the viewfinder/rangefinder of the Leica any more.

There's been some fascinating research recently into how memory works, on a cellular level and in terms of the "mechanics" of the process. It turns out that memory is much more plastic than we tend to think, and it changes over time. Some elements of a memory are lost, other elements are exaggerated, and elements of whatever else is in your mind when you access a memory become attached to it. It's even become possible to develop completely false memories (lab work, with suject consent, not conspiracy stuff). So no, you can't go home, because your memory has shifted and no longer matches the real "home".
Oddly though, you can parallel. I started with a Yashica rangefinder, hand-loaded and processed black-and-white film, and a blacked-out but still used laundry as a darkroom. Then as colour print film became good and cheap the darkroom fell into disuse, and all my processing was done by faceless others. Now we have digital, and I'm back in a "darkroom", deciding on tonality and exposure, etc., just like back in my early days. So you may not be able to go home, but you can visit the neighbourhood.

The best answer is: never leave. I've kept every camera that I really loved. And I still love them. I surely don't use them much, but I just play with them on a regular basis and that alone brings back all the fond memories.

Notably, I don't *just play* with my digital cameras. I just use them. I've never had the sense of *home* with the digital cameras. Don't ask me why. It just is.

The very reason I have a standing deal with any friends I buy equipment from. "If you want it back just say and it will be yours again". I have felt that pain and don't want to inflict it any further.

Same here. I sold off my 35mm film cameras a few years ago (I still have a couple of medium format beauties), but, deciding that I missed the experience,I re-acquired a Pentax MX (my very first - 1983 - SLR). It's not the same, somehow. What I was trying to go back to, I think, was the magic of first discovering photography, which is a bit like trying to lose one's virginity again.

I could go home again, up until three weeks ago.
Sold the house my parents brought me to as a young three year old child in 1948. And I still live in the same town although in 1948
the population was less than 2000, now it is approaching 180,000. Living in a two bedroom flat, most of my memories are still with very the house as little furniture came with me. Memories yes, not all them good. Youth and those good and happy times. All gone. To try and return to what was then is impossible, as much as is predicting the future.

Just to swim against the tide, my second Leicaflex SL was every bit as nice as the first one I had, both as a mechanical device and as a joy to use. It's the only repeat camera purchase I've ever made (sale of the first one was to pay rent!), as I still have my first Leica (CL), my first MF (Pentax 67) and my first 4x5 (Arca-Swiss). I've never owned much "stuff," but I believe in buying the best when I do.

Well, I never left either. I have most of the cameras I have owned, plus a couple of my Dad's cameras. He is 100% digital. I have a digital point and shoot. I use mostly large format now, but if I use a 35mm camera, I use the Canon F-1 my Dad gave to me, my old FTb of the same vintage, and also very happily his old Pentax MX with its tiny 40mm pancake and other petite lenses.

I am thinking, however, of trying to go home and to a new destination at the same time. Size and clunkiness is one of the things that I dislike about most of the DSLRs out there. If I want big and clunky, I can pull out a view camera. I would love to reproduce the enjoyment (and the portability) of that MX in a DSLR. So, I am thinking about a Pentax K-x (after first reading about it here), or its rumored successor. Will I be able to get there? That's the photographic question on my mind lately.

Timely. Early this month I was bitten by an occasionally recurring itch; to somehow retrieve my first "real" camera, the Canon TLb and its 50mm F1.8 FD lens. I recalled it being a wonderful, trusty workhorse that solely served me throughout my college days. I had no idea where mine had gone, lost sometime during the intervening 30+ years.

Through the magic of eBay I managed to locate a truly mint-quality TLb body and, separately, a similar quality FD 50mm lens for a grand total of $75.

Next I knew, there it was in my hands. The camera's heft, the texture of its finish, the clack of the shutter, yes that was my old 1970's TLb reincarnated! A very enjoyable experience!

But my eyes and hands were no longer those of a college student. I had not been striving to "go home again" in the deeper sense; it is, indeed, impossible and not even very desirable. Just revisiting the antiques of my photographic youth.

The thing is, you're not even still you. The You that was you back then is long gone, just like the cameras and houses and friends you knew. Every moment is unique and time is a stream in which we all swim. Just do what brings you joy today and know that it will bring you joy in reflection years from now, too. Meanwhile, I just bought a bunch of film today to shoot through the Pentax ME Super I recently got for $40 at a flea market, so what do I know?

All I can say is I love the clear path between your thoughts and your writing delivery... (spot the guy that just started his own blog lol).

I don't have to go home. The camera I've loved above all others, my Pentax LX, still lives here on my desk, wearing the SMC-A 50/1.7 and sporting the end tab from a roll of Astia.

hm.

i tried to "go home" twice, and both times ...

well, let me tell the stories from the beginning.
the first camera that i bought myself and that really made me happy was an olympus OM1n, which i sold several years later in order to upgrade to a nikon. long time ago. then, on a photographic flea market, i found this early OM1 (no MD) for a ridiculous 30 euro, nostalghia got me and i got the camera. and .. it was the same feel in my hands, only that this grandma of a camera was a bit sloppy. even though, this OM felt even better. so - home again! (part1)

fast forward, to part 2.
at some point, i was not interested in photography any longer, and the nikon collected dust. my other number 1 hobby requested picture taking, so i looked for something rugged, compact ... it turned to be a leica. this brought me back to photography, and with my M4-2, i was truly happy again. then came digital, and in order to get the newest fancy thing, i raised money by selling this M4-2. of course, the digital one i got then did not stay with me for long. now ... recently i happened to stumble across a poor beaten M4-P. good price, so i take the risk. and what happens? it is even better than the previous one. smoother, and inspiring.
so, home again second (big) time.

happy sebastian :-)

Mike, I am pondering now a possibility of selling some of my gear to which I have certain emotional attachment. So, in a sense, your article was spot on the money.

Also, I've a (slightly different) story of my own. I bought a soft focus lens from a fellow Pentaxian some years ago. Loved it dearly. Then for some reason which I don't remember I sold it back to its original owner. These days, whenever I look at the pictures I took with it, I feel sorry I parted with it... Go figure...

"You can't go home again."

So true. I went to Roberta, Georgia, a couple of years ago; that street sign that said "Hicks Road" never existed in the past. And cousin John's grocery store wasn't a spiffy antique boutique. And the M6 wasn't that ratty old M2 that made those wonderful pics of my relatives.

I ended up photographing exactly nothing. Nothing had any meaning. It was just a wide spot in the road as it always was. But for a short time it was my wide spot, now unrecoverable.

-jbh-

You should be glad you got rid of this Exakta 66 soon enough. They suck. Big time. I owned two of them and they spent more time at Pentacon's repair facility in Dresden than in my photo bags.

One nice sunday afternoon, I wanted to take a picture with one that had just returned from Dresden, the day before. It made a very odd noise and the shutter stuck open. Again!

So, I took off the beautiful Schneider lens and the prism, removed the Rollei viewfinder screen and the carrying strap and then... Splash!!!

If anyone wants it, it's still lying at the ground of the river Meuse in Liège, Belgium, in front of the Arcelor steel mill.

I've been using the great Schneider and Zeiss Jena lenses for a few more years on a Kiev 60 which - believe it or not - never gave me the slightest trouble.

Mike...It`s not that you can`t go home again...it`s just that you can`t step into the same river twice....

Heh, well there is a reason I never sold my D40...

Mike, have you ever tried dating an old girlfriend after a long break up?

Actually, I once sold a Leica 75mm summilux that I had bought used because I wanted the 75cron. Then the lux was discontinued and the price skyrocketed. I thought I would never be able to buy that lens again. About six months later, I walked into a camera store in a small town and bought a consignment lens in pristine condition at exactly the price I had sold mine for. The moral is: "Never sell any Leica lenses."

I got lucky in a pawn shop several years ago. I don't remember her name, but coincidentally they also had an Olympus 35 RC with the SL39-3C UV filter and PS200 flash - fairly uncommon extras - all in very good condition, for around $20. I'd been looking to replace that camera since selling my first 35 RC years earlier during a lapse in sanity. Still one of my favorites, and currently loaded up with Tri-X.

BTW, going home is overrated. It's the place where they remember all of your vices and none of your virtues, but thoughtfully wait until dinnertime and holidays to discuss it.

After holga and seeing the 6x6 slide the first time, I immediately went out to get 6x6. Got a 124G and take the first roll. Great. Start to trade in and upgrade. Never got those first roll picture you know until I spent more than 10k US$ later. Even buy back a 124G did not help.

Still want to go home again.

I think there are two facets to this - one is the way that the feeling of home we're looking for is never about the equipment, and the other is about the way the equipment defines what home is.

I don't have any particular urge to get myself another Spotmatic II and 55mm Takumar. The home that those represent wasn't about the equipment. In many ways, it was about not knowing or caring about equipment. About not knowing enough to think "what if i had a...", but just looking, reading the meter, twiddling the controls, and shooting. That's an innocence I've lost. It's an innocence that wasn't particular to the equipment, either, although I am grateful to have started with the right equipment to make that innocence possible for me at all.

On the other hand, how much a camera feels like "home" for me has pretty clearly been influenced by that experience. The most conspicuous, and weirdest, example is that I typically feel most comfortable at about 55mm (or the equivalent). I've had fun playing with some other focal lengths, and even come to respect some of them as more sensible, but getting back to 55mm always feels right - like I'm finally letting down and kicking off my shoes. There are lots of other things that contribute to the home feeling - especially tactile things like metal construction and fluted metal focus rings, but also interface stuff like aperture rings and needle meter displays. I don't need any of that. Sometimes I'm even better off without it. But, every once in a while, it is nice to come home to visit - and I know exactly what equipment defined that "home" for me.

Still, even though I know I'm welcome to stay as long as I want, it is always a visit, and never quite moving back in.

"The most conspicuous, and weirdest, example is that I typically feel most comfortable at about 55mm (or the equivalent). I've had fun playing with some other focal lengths, and even come to respect some of them as more sensible, but getting back to 55mm always feels right - like I'm finally letting down and kicking off my shoes."

I think it's really valuable--and fairly rare--to be able to say that. It means there's a way YOU see, a way you're comfortable framing the world, and you've found a lens that matches that. I don't know how many people ever get that comfortable with a way of seeing, a point of view. (Whatever it might be.)

Mike

The comments to this entry are closed.