Light at the End of the Tunnel
The first camera I purchased was a Kodak Retina Ia (1a), in 2003 via eBay auction, before the apparent death of film photography. At the time, I didn't know much about the camera other than the fact that it made pictures. I had little interest in photography, with an even lesser interest in documenting my life or anything happening around me. This all changed when I bought the Retina—my springboard into the world of still-photography.
The Retina camera was a German built camera produced by Kodak from 1934 to 1969. The Retina I own was produced around 1951. It has a Schneider lens and is absent a rangefinder and light meter. I later bought the model outfitted with both but it doesn't feel as good as the Ia, in hand. This was the first time I realized the importance of a camera design, noting that if a camera didn’t feel good to the touch, I simply wouldn’t use it—something I swear by, to this day.
I was learning to develop my own film at the time by way of trial and error, enduring the frustrations, mishaps, and time crunches that followed, as a result of this method. I didn't know that starting out with photography and having complete control over the process of producing images start-to-finish would forever influence my approach to photography and the art of making pictures. The cost of film and photo chemicals alone, were enough force to stamp out the desire to create pictures that didn’t speak to me. It really gave me a way of thinking, a method with which to archive my experiences, and provided a reason to record, remember, and connect to notable people, places, and events in my life, through pictures. My images have been and always will be the pictorial representation of the events that have shaped who I am as a person, who I want to be, and most importantly, where I’m headed.
Through experimentation, I worked out a set of mental recipes for capturing and developing scenes in varying conditions, without the assistance of a light meter. When I learned that acquiring a light meter could potentially enhance my ability to produce entire rolls of film with perfectly exposed pictures, bypassing the disappointment of losing meaningful pieces of my history, it became the ultimate motivational tool.
I set my sights on a Pentax digital spot meter. Aside from my Vivitar 285hv, it would have been the most technologically advanced piece of equipment I owned, as a beginning photographer. I never did buy that flash. Instead, I joined a photography class at the local college, to purchase a Sekonic L758DR at a student discount. I found the class to be extremely boring and quite unnecessary, but I was determined to get that meter. Soon after, I purchased the L758DR, adding to the ever-growing pile of photo equipment— the crux of photography. I soon discovered that the meter was more complicated to operate than the camera itself. Unbeknownst to me, I did not need a meter in the first place! I had already gained an understanding of visual metering in photography, through practical application. Disillusionment aside, I did learn to use the meter but to this day, only reach for one when setting up flash lighting. For everything else, I rely on experience.
I recently found a Sekonic Auto Leader L38 in a second-hand store. This vintage meter is beautiful and far more enjoyable than my L758. It's small, metal, fits in my pocket, and came equipped with its original leather case. The case does not allow for quick access to the meter, but I appreciate the design and feel of it, nonetheless. While this meter requires a bit of time to dial in the settings (similar to the L758), the fixed information provides ease of calculation. The L38 is fascinating in that it has a rotating needle that moves back and forth, providing an incident reading in real time time, similar to that of a compass. Also fascinating is the fact that the Auto Leader L38 made in Japan shares similar design characteristics to The Kodak Retina Ia produced in Germany. Needless to say, the two make for a stunning visual pair.
After a handful of cameras, some old, some new, I have settled into using Leica and Hasselblad. I use them for the same reason I used the Kodak Retina Ia—they feel great! At times I miss the simplicity ofthe Retina Ia or even some of my older Fuji models but in the end, the future trumps nostalgia. After all, the future is the light at the end of the tunnel.