Author: Ian Olive
Program: Reutlingen Study Center
I have a serious and dangerous problem, I will be completely honest. Despite my best efforts to pack lightly I somehow ended up with five different cameras with me here in Germany. Yes I said five. Like I said, I have a serious problem involving cameras..
Initially, my very sound logic was that I was going to bring my Nikon D800 and a single zoom lens as well as my small point and shoot pocket camera. I would have one excellent camera for when I wanted the best possible quality and my small Coolpix A for when I just wanted some casual shots. But then I decided that my German-made Leica needed to come with as well. I mean how could one not bring a camera back to their birth home? Okay, so three cameras is not too bad, but I needed to shoot some film too.. So my old F3HP was thrown in the bag too. Great, now I had four cameras before I had even left the USA.
A few weeks ago I took a small trip to the gorgeous bohemian city of Prague. Filled to the brim with incredible, gothic and communistic architecture as well as having a fantastic pastoral color palette, it was a photographer’s dream. However, I only chose to bring my point and shoot camera. Despite having thousands of dollars worth of gear back in my apartment in Germany, I wanted to travel as light as possible. It was a refreshing change of pace and my back really thanked me. Yet somehow I came back with more cameras than I had packed. Before you call the doctor, hear me out, this camera was different.
While shuffling through the multitude of second hand stores in the center of Prague, I came across and strange old camera hiding on one of the back shelves. Normally I am very adept at identifying camera makes and models but this one stumped me entirely. The camera was a rangefinder style, similar to the Leica. With silver paint and black leather, it looked very retro. The only markings I could read was a large “4”. There was a name printed, but it appeared to be possibly Cyrillic. The price in Czech Crowns worked out to around ten dollars, and I had absolutely no idea if it actually worked or not, but decided it would make a cool desk ornament. It came home with me later that day. After a bit of web surfing, I discovered that the camera was called the Zorki 4. Made in Krasnogorsk, Russia, during the mid ‘50s and ‘60s, the camera was very popular in the Communist regime. It was a very beautiful and durable design and, much to my surprise, was fully functioning.
I decided try it out the next day and bought a roll of B&W Kodak TriX 400iso film. I had never shot this type of film before and figured since it was a new camera and a new location I might as well try something new. After getting to understand the few controls of the camera, I went out to explore the city. While I was used to the way this style of camera functioned it lacked one feature that I typically rely on. All modern cameras have something called a “light meter” which will either pick a correct exposure for you or give you suggestions for the perfectly lit photo. I took this as a challenge, the light was constantly changing and if a photo had a bad exposure, there was no one to blame but myself. It honestly was an amazing feeling to shoot with a completely manual camera. It’s a similar experience to driving a classic car; everything is mechanical and works with a beautiful industrial precision. Each shot was a process, and I felt that I was actually creating photographs instead of taking a snapshot.
The two week wait for the lab to develop my photos was agonizingly painful. I had high hopes for the results and dreamed every night about their swift completion. Okay, maybe I didn’t dream about it, but there is something inherently magical about analog creation. It just seems to be much more real, much more creative. The feeling of having a tangible photograph printed and in your hand is a very proud moment. I have taken photographs that have gotten thousands of hits online but I have rarely liked a photo as much as the set from Prague. The ability to carry prints around and show your friends and art professor is another bonus.
As with any other profession, photographers often get in the mindset that they need the latest and greatest gear. We call it GAS or Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I’ll admit and say that I definitely fit into the category. A very cool Youtube series by DigitalRev TV called Pro Photog, Cheap Camera really highlights how a creative mindset really out does an expensive camera.
My time in Prague with the little Zorki was pretty revolutionary. Never had a used such a cheap, technologically inferior camera and had so much fun while actually creating photos that I can be proud of. I think this is a turning point in my photographic career. While I thought my creative basin was beginning to run dry, I discovered all I needed was a different tap. I have an upcoming trip to Italy later this week and the only cameras I am bringing are the Zorki and the point and shoot. I am traveling light and traveling creative. It’s not about the newest and greatest gear, it’s about how the photographer applies themselves with it. I am more than content with the enjoyment my cheap Russian camera gives me. But then again, a package just arrived from Japan with a new lens, my first Canon! I will never learn…