For the past 3 or 4 years I’ve been searching out cameras in charity shops, vide greniers or brocantes with exposed but undeveloped film inside. It’s a project I just stumbled upon. In the beginning it wasn’t so difficult as people so often tossed cameras out without checking the innards first, including a Voigtlander full of wedding photographs from the 60s, a Canon AE-1, Zenits and Zorkis, an Agfa Isola and most recently a minty fresh Konica Autoreflex, amongst many of the other rubbish plastic point-and-shoots.
On rare occasions and in older cameras the film is black and white, as in the case of the wedding photos. But most of the time the films are colour. As I said earlier, I hadn’t planned it out but it all started when I picked up a Yashica point and shoot for 20 cents in a junk shop, and when I got it home I found the film inside. The following day was a darkroom day so I tossed it in with the chemicals, curious if there was anything worthwhile.
Imagine my delight when I discovered pictures from a child’s birthday party and children playing, long gone precious memories and ghosts of the past. Well, that set me off on an adventure of sorts. Rootling through any cameras I see and accruing far too many along the way, good, bad and dreadful. I’ve seen all kinds of family celebrations; tipsy women and jolly Grandads (do I need release forms? God I hope not!); family holidays and village fêtes, landscapes and interiors, posed portraits and family pets including this poor guinea pig perched precariously on a balcony with what looks like a mushroom cloud in the background.
I started off developing the films in black and white chemicals initially as a cost-cutting exercise. Why pay for colour processing if the films were fogged, damaged or just not viable? As a result I’ve had to completely guess timings and ended up with some beautiful colour shifts, palettes and tones, sometimes the photographs are almost abstracts.
I was very happy when I was approached to exhibit the series in the town of Pamiers last year, it’s very gratifying when a project is appreciated and seen by a wider audience and gives me the momentum to carry on searching for these gems.
The rubbish cameras get put back in junk shops and good cameras have been sold on, now in homes with other happy shooters. My own camera collection was threatening to overtake our home and I’ve drastically reduced them in the past few months, I have a tendency to only shoot with my few favourites. In fact I like the technique, the happenstance and the quirkiness so much that recently I’ve been making the choice to shoot some of my own work on colour film and cross-processing in Tetenal Ultrafin.
Overall I’m very happy but there’s a couple of issues I need to sort, such as how to time the development accurately. I think the colour films need a lot longer in the tank than b&w, there is much lower leniency too. Too much work in photoshop has been needed to correct the levels. If I get them right at the negative stage it will make life much easier when I finally get my enlarger up and running to make darkroom prints. Also, I’m not sure if Ultrafin is the best developer for this work and perhaps there is something that produces finer grain? Less agitating the tank? If anyone has some advice, please let me know!