Meg Wolf

pixels and parsnips


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Brownie daydreams and my first roll of 120 film

I first had Brownies on the brain in the wake of Kodak’s unfortunate recent bankruptcy announcement. I grew up near Kodak headquarters in Rochester, NY, and always enjoyed the displays of old camera models in the Eastman House’s galleries, from gorgeous art deco enamels to primary-color plastics. Friends and I speculated on how more could’ve been done to leverage Kodak’s nostalgia value to appeal to niche markets and hipsters. I dreamt of a Brownie brand revival, apps emulating classic film stocks, Beau Brownie iPhone cases. (I even channeled this enthusiasm into a Spoonflower fabric). Browsing through Brownie fan sites online, I wondered about obtaining one of my own; but reading about technical details and respooling film, I initially thought that getting a model in functional order would be too arcane an effort.

The idea next came to my attention after a visit to the newly-opened Lomography gallery in Manchester. I started pining for some lo-fi medium format film goodness. The Dianas were tempting, but I waffled over the cost. My thoughts again drifted to the old box Brownies.

The Ensign Ful-Vue

Enter the Real Camera Co, a few blocks away from the Lomography shop in Manchester. I noticed their box camera selection along the top of a shelf on one visit, and was amazed to find out how reasonably-priced they were. Though all the available Brownies took 620 spools, they had other box camera styles that used regular 120 film, no respooling required. I was convinced! I resisted the urge to take them all, and chose an Ensign Ful-Vue, a British make of box camera. According to online sources, this boxy style dates to the early 1940s.

At Stonehenge Hever Castle

The camera got its first try out on a Jubilee week roadtrip we took through the south of England. It was wheeled out for tourist shots of Hever Castle, Stonehenge, Durdle Door and Glastonbury Tor. The point-and-shoot mechanism couldn’t be simpler, but there was a tiny thrill in first seeing the reflected image come into focus through the viewfinder. When we returned, I turned in the first finished roll for processing, and spent the wait time worrying about whether anything would come out at all. Had I loaded the film correctly? Would everything be a frightful blur? Were there major light leaks going undetected after all this time?

Glastonbury Tor At Durdle Door

Happily, there was nothing to worry about – nearly all our bright outdoor shots turned out well (although indoor shots were, somewhat predictably, a lost cause). Now that I’ve seen how these rolls turned out, I’m looking forward to trying out other films with it, in higher ISOs and colour. And though I’m enamoured of the Ensign, I won’t stop keeping an eye out for a Beau Brownie No. 2 to call my own.

Durdle Door

A note on processing: Negatives were scanned by the developing lab. They have had post-processing adjustments in Photoshop. Digital edits have not altered the content or character of the images beyond what could reasonably be achieved by darkroom processing.


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Hipstamarch: recap

Back in March, I devised a Hipstamatic photo-a-day project with the aim of getting to know some of the lesser-used lenses in the app’s arsenal. I used each lens exclusively for a day and posted a daily favorite shot to Instagram. At the time I had 21 Hipstamatic lenses, and combined these with the 10 Hipstamatic Disposable styles to get exactly a month’s worth. (I originally thought of dedicating a week to each lens, until I counted up just how many there were!)

My first @hipstamatic #photoaday lens for #hipstamarch is the classic John S. At the #Manchester wheel. Manchester Wheel on the #Manchester #instameet with @hipstamatic #disposable #Blackeys44

You can see all my shots collected in this set on Flickr, or by searching the #hipstamarch tag on Instagram, which also contains shots from my boyfriend who joined me in the project.

As a Hipstamatic enthusiast, I found the Hipstamarch project to be a valuable and interesting experience. I became more familiar with the characteristics of each lens, and got to know the ones I hadn’t spent too much time with. I was reminded of some older favorites, and coaxed decent images from lenses I’d have otherwise written off. My image for the Susie lens was even picked up as a sample image for this lens on the Hipstamatic web site!

It's a bleached-out pastel day with the @Hipstamatic #Susie lens. Lucas lens lunchtime. The last standard Hipstamatic lens of #hipstamarch!

Along the way, my whole approach to snapping shifted; instead of running through options, trying to find an ideal combo for a situation, I was just trying to get the best shot I could with that day’s lens. The restricted parameter was in some way liberating.

I’d recommend this kind of restricted-combo project to any Hipstamatic fan. It revived my interest in the app, and the commitment to one style is even more retro-reminiscent of shooting on film.

For trying new combo ideas on a timeframe without the monthlong schedule, the @hipstaroll account on Instagram is a great resource; their hashtags and recaps provide an overview of how a combo behaves in various settings. Hipstamatic’s own photo-a-day lists under the ‘Make Beautiful’ project banner also include some film-and-lens suggestions amongst other topic prompts.