Once you get used to all the buttons and dials, a good camera allows you to document and process life without getting in the way – it should feel like an extension of your brain.
Words and Photography by Max Olijnyk
I’ve carried quite a few different cameras in my pocket, around my neck or wrapped in a spare t-shirt at the bottom of my backpack over the years, and some proved to be more compatible with my practice than others. That’s the thing about all intimate relationships, isn’t it? You never know before you give them a try. Here are some of the key cameras of my life so far; I look forward to many more.
My dad gave me a spare Nikkormat with a 50mm lens as my first camera; it originally belonged to his own father. It was heavy and fully manual; bulletproof and unapologetic. This was the camera I learned to take photos with, though I never really made sense of it. I tried to keep a log of what aperture and shutter speed I shot each frame at, but inevitably would forget to write a few down and be none the wiser why one frame was completely blurry or pitch black, while others were perfectly exposed. I was just starting to get the hang of it when the camera was stolen from the passenger seat of my car.
“There was already a roll of film in it, so I immediately set to work reproducing the point-and-shoot mastery of Wolfgang Tillmans.”
SPIDER’S OLYMPUS POINT-AND-SHOOT
I bought this brickish point-and-shoot for $30 from a hilarious guy at work named Spider. “It’s a really good camera, dude,” Spider said wistfully, “I really shouldn’t be letting it go for that price.” There was already a roll of film in it, so I immediately set to work reproducing the point-and-shoot mastery of Wolfgang Tillmans. When I got that first roll back, among my boring photos of indoor plants, empty carparks and people with their backs turned, I was surprised to find graphic and moving images of Spider’s girlfriend giving birth to their child. I’d like to say I delivered those photos back to Spider, but by then he’d been sacked and I was a bit scared of going around to his house. Even though the Olympus was by no means a great camera, it was a relief to be able to forget about f-stops and simply focus on capturing the moment. And when it occasionally held focus, the resulting photo was… passable.
The digital revolution was in full swing in the year 2007; suddenly, everyone was a blogger. My friends all pitched in and bought me my first Ixus for my thirtieth birthday, and I used it every single day until it simply stopped working. I bought a few replacements over the next few years (always the second-to-newest model, always priced around $300) and they all treated me well. It felt amazing to have a camera with a decent lens that fitted in my jeans pocket, which I could access the photos from straight away. I enjoyed the nightly ritual of downloading and sifting through my photos before settling on a final set, then uploading to my blog and adding a written narrative. That process imposed an order and discipline to my creative life, which led to me finding work as a full-time writer.
“I’ve never been obsessed with a camera the way I was with the Fuji; I knew my life would change for the better if only I possessed that beautiful picture box.”
My last blogging camera crapped out on me around halfway through a trip around Europe and Japan – something to do with the memory card slot. The ephemeral nature of digital photography bit me on the arse for the first time, and my eye began to wander to greener, higher quality pastures.
I trawled online forums, annoyed camera shop workers and ignored friends’ advice before settling on my next brain extension: the Fuji X-Pro1. I’ve never been obsessed with a camera the way I was with the Fuji; I knew my life would change for the better if only I possessed that beautiful picture box. The satisfying heft of the camera, the reassuring click of the aperture dial, and the dreamy, somewhat unpredictable images it produced – the Fuji was like a swanky, digital version of the Nikkormat.
Of course, the camera wasn’t perfect – the focus was slow and the video sucked – but its faults sort of added to the X-Pro1’s idiosyncratic charm. I took photos of my son on the day he was born with the Fuji, and am so happy to have them to look back on.
I acquired this iconic camera somewhere along the way as a replacement for my Nikkormat, but its shutter stuck and I became more interested in other types of photography, so it became an iconic paperweight. A few months ago, the nice folks at Splendid Photo fixed the shutter and I started carrying it around again. My years shooting digital have helped me understand the whole f-stop thing, so now my films return with a much higher success rate than in the old days. It’s the perfect SLR camera, really – simple, fast, fully manual – an extension of my brain. I gave it to my dad to use at my wedding recently, which was nice to watch. My son has begun shooting with it, too.