Before my recent trip to NYC, I hummed and hawwed over what cameras to pack. I was only taking hand luggage (to avoid my cases being lost somewhere in the depths of London Heathrow), and so space was at a premium. Considering that I’ve barely taken pictures in the past two years, it seemed foolish to use up valuable room unnecessarily.
I had already decided that I would take the Leica M Typ 240 and the tiny Ricoh GR, and in many ways it would have made a lot of sense to stick solely to digital. However, I couldn’t shake the urge to take along a film camera as well. I have a pretty sizeable stash of 35mm which isn’t getting any fresher, and if I wasn’t going to shoot some of it in New York, then where on Earth was I going to?
p.s. if you’re interested in videos rather than posts, check out this companion vlog I put together, talking through the development process, and some of the shots in more depth.
In the end I decided on the Nikon S2 – an unusual rangefinder that I picked up just a couple of years ago – and a bunch of rolls of black and white film. Specifically: a bunch of Kodak Double-X, which is this professional grade cinema film that I bulk rolled from 400ft reels, and some Neopan 1600. As it was, I only used the Double-X.
Summer in NYC is a riot of colour, and so shooting solely in monochrome might seem like an odd choice. However, when I was in Japan in 2019 I did something similar, and really liked how the pictures came out – so I was hoping to channel some of that energy here.
For the first few days I shot exclusively on digital, and I was pleased with the results. The wee Ricoh is perfect for shooting on the street, especially in a city like New York. However, I was determined to carve out time to shoot film, and so I made a conscious effort to switch formats at some point.
Changing cameras can often require adopting a completely different approach to taking pictures – and I’m not just talking about having to remember that you are limited to a certain number of shots per roll with film – rather, you need to make a deliberate mental shift. The photographs that you can get while using a teeny tiny, discrete digital camera are not necessarily going to be possible when using a larger, more obvious film body. If you’re not careful, this can end up crippling your ability to take any pictures at all. For me, what has worked fairly well in the past – and something I reminded myself of here – has been to focus more on taking photos of things that I find interesting, as opposed to ‘capturing street moments’, or trying to ‘create’ a ‘good photograph’. In many ways, that’s fairly liberating, and the results are much better than if you consciously seek out ‘photographs’.
The other thing that you have to accept when you are shooting with a film rangefinder is that there’s really no way to be all that discrete about what you are doing, and in fact, the more you try to conceal the fact that you’re taking pictures, the more shady it becomes. Ultimately, you just have to own it. In many ways, people are less likely to take notice of you if you are quite clearly taking photographs, especially in a place like New York where there are so many visitors.
When all is said and done, none of these pictures are particularly brilliant, but I do like them together as a set, and enjoy the process of shooting film on the street. The more often I do it, the more I want to do it, and I think the more I learn about it. In some ways I guess that’s the draw of street photography. After years learning about and perfecting the technical side of things, I was bored of taking pictures, because there just wasn’t really any challenge in it any more. Gigs and clubs in particular were something I could do with my eyes (literally) closed. However, the street is far more demanding, because you have to constantly be adapting to factors that are wildly unpredictable.
Next time, I’m going to shoot more film.
If you’re interested in more commentary on the pictures specifically, you can watch a video I put together developing the film and talking through some of them over on YouTube: