Saturday, 12 September 2020

The Kodak No 1

This is the Kodak Pocket Camera No 1, 1921 model. It belonged to my grandmother (and is modelled here by my mother).

The Kodak Pocket takes 120 roll film, which is still readily available today, and shoots in 6x9 format - a pretty large "medium format" with negatives that look like giants next to 35mm.

This camera is in exceptionally good condition for a 100 year old camera. The leather bellows that extend the lens out from the casing are in great condition with no light leaks. The lens is clean inside and out, and everything on it works as well as new. Shooting some film in it was a really fun experience: the whole process of loading it, shooting (all eight shots per roll!), unloading... and then developing.

I had never developed film before, but I thought it was about time I gave it a go. So I bought a kit which included all the necessary equipment and small packs of the required chemicals.

The trickiest stage was shutting myself in a pitch black bathroom to transfer the film into the developing tank. This part of the process must be done in pitch darkness, and it is quite a fiddly process of unrolling the film and then winding it into a cradle which sits in the tank. Doing it for the first time ever blind in the darkness was challenging, but after one false start I got it wound on.

Then the developing itself. I spent time distilling the process down into some notes, including the required dilutions and duration of the stages: washing, developing, stopping, fixing, and then washing again. So there I was at the kitchen sink with the stopwatch on my phone, pouring chemicals in and out and not really sure what (if anything) was going to appear.

So imagine my joy when I pulled the cradle out and saw that there was at least something on the negative, and then seeing that it was in fact my friend Kate and her dog Archie (the last shot I took on my quick wander to test the camera).

I hung them up to dry for a few hours and then digitised them by photographing them. Here are the results, and some shots of the process.

Shooting film is a really wonderful experience and one that I would recommend to any photographer who takes it seriously. Digital alone is not really enough. I know this because shooting film teaches you to appreciate photography in a very different way. Before I started dabbling in film shooting back in 2011, my photography was heading down a very different route, where I was more interested in technical/processing gimmicks and producing more visually striking (but rather unreal) imagery. I am happy to say that's not my approach anymore.

Shooting film teaches you to disregard all that nonsense and just concentrate on taking simple but effective photographs. (And a trip to New York with a Pentax Auto 110 and two rolls of black and white film showed me this very clearly, as I preferred the grainy, blurry images from the film camera to the rather sterile imagery from my digital camera.)

Developing your own film is obviously just one step further on, and one I would also recommend, as it is not difficult. I will definitely be using this 100 year old camera from time to time, and no doubt every time I pull the developed negatives out of the tank I will smile at the miracle of light and chemistry and a bit of durable engineering.